[Reflection] Lessons from a man in white

Today marks eight years since my first dive into the pool at Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center for the UIL State Swim Meet and six years since my last. This story is about the bumpy journey to that initial plunge. 

Disbelief. Anger. Tears.171371_10150153496860049_797308_o

The emotions and side effects of a medal lost and accomplishment gone unnoticed at the twitch of my right shoulder.

It was the regional swim meet and I’d swam a personal best in the 200 free when a man in white slowly approached my lane … threatening to crush a goal I’d trained my tail off to achieve.

And he did.

Sorry ma’am your shoulders flinched before the whistle and we have to disqualify you.

Those words sparked a firestorm of emotions that were the farthest thing from godly.

I threw stuff. I yelled. I cried … because that’s what teenagers do when they’re self-absorbed and frustrated. I’m not proud of how I conducted myself, but it happened and I’ve learned a lot about God’s abounding grace through this bout of rage.

Thankfully I have a pretty great Mom. Seriously, she’s the bomb and loves me in my ugliest, most unlovable moments. She reminds me a lot of Jesus.

Momma Bard–as many of my friends affectionately call her–rushed down from spectator seating, wrapped her arms around me and took me on a “walk about” … something we’d do when I was upset about an athletic performance or my lack of recruiting prospects.

I still remember looking down at the red paw prints painted along the sidewalk as we prayed together and casted our cares to the One in control of life’s outcomes.

Overwhelmed with confidence and faith that things would work out exactly as they should, I returned to the pool deck. A few hours later, a medal hung around my neck along with a ticket to the state meet.

My 15-year-old self thought that punched ticket was the victory of the day, but looking back I’d have to say the victory came from the lesson learned through the interaction with the dream crusher dressed in white.

Let me explain…

My greatest fear is that many will spend their lives filling the pews of churches only to find out they’re disqualified because of a false start.

Just like I didn’t receive the prize at the conclusion of my race, I fear many will miss the reward of eternity in the presence of their Maker because they failed to get a clean start from the block.

In America (especially in the great state of Texas), many of us are born and bred in the church pew … but many people fail to experience a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. We attend church out of obligation and tradition, but there’s no heart for the One behind the worship.

That’s the catalyst of my own story.

For 12 years I attended Sunday school and sat in the back pew of a small town church, but I was completely blinded to God’s displayed love on the cross … in fact, I often prayed in hopes that my parents would sleep through their alarms.

Church was boring and I didn’t want to go.

By God’s grace alone, the blinders fell off at an FCA camp. That’s the first time I realized the truth behind the song I’d grown up singing…Jesus loves me. My life was forever changed.

So today I’m writing to the one who has never skipped a Sunday service.

The one who claims to know Jesus because that’s the cultural norm.

The one who owns a Bible, but rarely cracks it open.

The one who quotes Scripture, but doubts its promises (and just so you know, I have those days too).

The one who thinks they can earn salvation (been there, tried that … see Isaiah 64:6 and Romans 3:10).

The one who does what’s morally right, yet experiences no freedom.

There’s an abundant life to be lived in pursuit of Christ, and it doesn’t start in a church pew … it starts with belief in His love.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Pause for a moment.

You’ve probably heard these words countless times, but do you truly believe them? Do you believe the Creator of all things sent His only Son on a mission to die for your failed attempts at achieving His holiness?

Because He does, and my heart sure hopes you’re overwhelmed by the depth and height of God’s love.

So how’s your start? God is pursuing your heart and your life clock is still ticking … maybe this is your moment to confess and believe.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. -Romans 10:9


P.S. I’m super proud to be an El Campo Swimming alum today … the FIRST-EVER state-qualifying relay team is making history by competing in the finals this afternoon. Go ‘Birds!

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[Reflection] The Perfect Package

A dear friend’s call last night led me to reflect on the perfectly packaged message in Matthew 6.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. –Matthew 6:25-34

It seems that anxiety creeps into my heart when I fear lack of provision … suddenly I forget God’s faithfulness in providing everything I need and Satan tempts me into worry.

Post-college I spent a year fumbling through adult life (and I’m still fumbling…I don’t think it’ll ever end), and the Lord was faithful through the doubts and fears that ensued in that season.

When I needed a place to stay, families from church and sweet friends opened their homes to me.

When minimum wage didn’t seem to add up to what I needed for the month, there was a miraculous abundance.

There’s never been a moment I’ve needed more than what was divinely given, yet in my sinfulness I still worry.10320519_10153010338145049_639198545787317458_n

But a mark of the believer is one of trust in the face of the unknown. We must combat the temptation to fret over the details of our days with the truth of God’s Word.

Matthew 6 resonates with me because God–in His infinite knowing–pairs the issue of finances with the cure for anxiety. He knew my sweet sister would need encouragement in His provision for days like yesterday. He knew I would need encouragement in His provision during the year I searched for work and shelter.

There are days we won’t know where the finances for (fill in the blank) will come from … but we serve a God who promises to nourish and clothe us.

When the cents don’t add up and worry begins to surface, cling to the prescribed antidote for anxiety …

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” –Philippians 4:6

Anxiety is never from the Lord. After all, He’s the Prince of Peace and meets the deepest of our needs.

There’s infinite proof of that at the Cross.

Our deepest need isn’t food or shelter, but the forgiveness of our sins. He rained down an abundance of forgiveness through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

If we can trust Him to provide for our salvation, we have every reason to trust Him in providing our daily bread.

[Reflection] Jesus: The Ultimate Valentine

Sometimes I spend time reflecting on what the Lord has taught me. One of those moments happened last week. I’m so glad I stumbled on this post I shared a couple Valentine’s ago. These words ring true today, and always will. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

February 14, 2012:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, flowers are being delivered and bellies are growing from a plethora of heart-shaped chocolate boxes, all of which have become symbols of Hallmark’s biggest holiday.  Despite receiving a cookie from my coach after 6am practice – Happy Valentine’s Day! – and a bag of M&M’s from my professor – I know, pretty good haul – it hit me hard this morning that the greatest Valentine’s gift doesn’t come in a heart-shaped box. In fact, the best gift I’ve ever received came in the form of a blood stained cross. Has Hallmark sold one of those lately?

Valentines

Despite my opinion that we should show love daily, Valentine’s is meant to be a “special day” centered around showing affection towards the ones you love most.  As a Christian, the greatest act of love I’ve ever felt was that fateful day when my sinless Savior was tortured and hung on a cross for every sin I’ve ever committed, am committing, or will commit.  Chick-flicks – my favorite movie genre (Yep, definitely going to see The Vow tonight with my lovely FCA ladies) – constantly emphasize loving someone enough to take a bullet for them and that is exactly what Jesus did for us.  He was sinless, yet suffered the most shameful death of His time to save our lives (I’d just like to take a moment to emphasize He died for us WAY before we were even thought of on this earth – pretty awesome, right?)…now that is true love.

I’m going to pose a challenge for today: Don’t dwell on the gifts you receive or your relationship status. Instead, bask in the love of Christ, keeping your eyes focused on what is eternal.  After all, Jesus doesn’t give us gifts that will wilt or be devoured in a few days – or in my case, minutes – He gives us everlasting life!

Praying you are overwhelmed by Christ’s unconditional love today and always,

-Mer

[Reflection] Thieving

My heart broke as I sat across the room witnessing my friend’s joy drain from her face. Conversation was flowing back and forth from person to person while she surveyed the room, measuring herself next to the people around her. I understood the pain she experienced. After all, until a few weeks ago I moved through life with the same tendency to weigh my gifts against the people around me.

It all started with the ending of a relationship. There wasn’t a big fight, it just ended. Since nothing technically “went wrong,” that must’ve meant there was something wrong with me, right? I guess I wasn’t tall enough, athletic enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, or godly enough. The list goes on and on.

Hi, I’m Meredith and for two and half years I’ve battled with comparison and it’s stolen my joy.

Sure, to the people who know me best I was still my quirky self, but exposed to the rest of the world I hid so much of who I was designed to be. I don’t watch much television (my cable is currently broken), rarely listen to the radio, laugh like Elmo, am taller than the average human, haven’t worn a Size 0 in a decade (and most likely never will), am a nerd, enjoy nerf gun battles, have a natural sway when listening to music, and so many other things that many people wouldn’t consider normal or attractive. I’ve resented many of those qualities for so long. Maybe if I knew what happened on the latest episode of The Bachelor, if I dropped 10 pounds, or if I didn’t laugh as awkwardly, she would want to be my friend or he would want to ask me on a date.

I’m here to tell you that all of those thoughts were lies straight from the pits of Hell, and so are the ones you’re contemplating right now.

I’ve known for a while that comparison owned me, but I didn’t want to enter back into pain where it started and I certainly didn’t want to tell anyone how I felt. I fell right into Satan’s trap. For over two years comparison kept me from growing closer to my Maker. For over two years I rejected the person God handcrafted me to be. For over two years I suppressed some of the very characteristics of God that He chose to manifest in me. That’s sin-full, y’all! In the words of one of my closest friends, Satan is a heifer!

The day I confessed my comparison struggle to a friend was the day freedom flooded my heart. Ask some of my running buddies (who still says that?! I guess I do…). I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you all about my worship jazzercising. And guess what? I’ll let them without being ashamed. Why? Because I LOVE the joyful spirit the Lord’s manifested in me. In an earlier post, I claimed love as my resolution for 2014, but I’ve realized I can’t love the God who created me, much less others, without first loving the person God has made me. Talk about conviction. The Spirit pierced my tainted heart with Truth.

Comparison

Comparison is the thief of joy, and frankly it’s stupid. Here’s why:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

-1 Corinthians 12:4-20

 How well would the body work if everyone was a foot? Yes, we could get places, but we wouldn’t be able to see where we were headed. Knowing how clumsy my feet are, I’m certain that wouldn’t work out very well for God’s kingdom. I’m convinced that’s why God arranged the members in the body, each of them as he chose, knowing best how they would be used for His glory.

Don’t let comparison steal your joy. You aren’t lacking anything. You’ve been given everything you need to fulfill God’s purpose for your life. Don’t let Satan win by making you believe God has shorted you. The Lord’s too good to leave any of us lacking gifts we need to grow His kingdom. Just because your gifts are different than the person’s next to you doesn’t make you inadequate. Chunk those lies straight back into the pit they came from.

[Reflection] Laced with Love.

Love. That’s my goal for 2014. Not the mushy, chick flick, lasts-a-couple-weeks kind of love, but the selfless, entering-into-pain, unconditional, messy kind of love. I want to love God, love Jesus and love others more recklessly abandoned than ever before.

Why?

Because Jesus tells us love is the most important thing we can do, and there’s not enough love flowing in the world. There’s a lot of like disguised as love, but when the going gets tough, like walks out the door. Love stays. Think about it. Jesus had the power to remove himself from the cross, but he stayed. He stayed for me. He stayed for you. What are you going to do about that kind of love? I’m going to lace 2014 with it. Will you join me?

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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 22:36-40

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:35

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” -1 John 3:16-18

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” -1 Corinthians 13

[Reflection] Walking Tall

Today marks the end of a season of waiting. For a year, I’ve been allowed to trust The Lord more than I’ve ever experienced before. Notice that I’ve been allowed to trust The Lord. I could say I was forced to trust God during a year’s worth of interesting circumstances, but that makes it sound like God doesn’t give us the option to follow and trust in His divine plan. We have two options in every situation: to follow, or not to follow. I could have easily wiped my hands of God when the going got tough, but pressure creates diamonds. This year has been a refining processes. I’m still flawed, but I walk taller and with more pep in my step knowing that God is worthy of unwavering trust.

If you asked me on December 15, 2012 how the next year would unfold, I would have responded with internships leading to full time positions, a cozy apartment in Austin draped with excessive decorations, and a comfortable salary. Today, I woke up on a pullout couch, am starting a new job in an unfamiliar place (which I’m ecstatic about!) and will be moving into an apartment with minimal furnishings soon. My cup overflows in ways I was not expecting, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that the The Lords plans trumped my own.

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

My heart wanted comfort, The Lord wanted my trust. I haven’t seen my bed in a year. I’ve lived in a condo, the spare bedroom of a family’s home, and a photography studio. I’ve interned at a university and minor league baseball team. I’ve worked for a non-profit, wedding planner, and photographer. I’ve spent a week in a third world country. I’ve made life-long friends. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve prayed. And The Lord has been trustworthy through it all. I’ve often sang “You are faithful,” and now my heart believes it. When I replay the events of this last year, I see God’s fingerprints in every frame. I’m thankful for every unexpected turn, every closed door and every moment I’ve had the option to stay in the boat or walk in faith across unchartered waters.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

[Reflection] White as Snow

Current state: Snowed/iced in, slightly delusional.

I’m an extrovert, so I naturally gain energy from being around people. Due to frozen roads, I’m completely isolated from humanity – okay, that’s slightly dramatic, but you get the point. Cabin fever is beginning to set in. So far, I’ve named my heater “Sonny” and have been referring to my situation as hanging out with “Sonny and Mer” (get it, Sonny and Cher…). It’s getting harder to convince myself I haven’t completely fallen off my rocker. On the upside, my window faces a fall-colored tree and a yard blanketed with the icy mixture that’s graced North Texas over the last 24 hours.

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As I stare out my window concocting an escape route, I’m pleasantly haunted by the following: Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. My view is breathtaking, and I can’t get over the juxtaposition of bloodstained, red leaves and pure, white snow. Scripture tells us creation points to the Creator (Romans 1:20), yet it always stops me in my tracks when I stumble on such a beautiful depiction of the Gospel right outside my window. As I pout about my circumstances, God is reminding me of what the cross accomplished. My past, present and future sins: washed as white and snow. My debt: paid in full. My soul: accounted for in the book of life. My joy: complete in Jesus.

‘Tis the season.

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“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.” -Isaiah 1:18

[Reflection] The Porch: Enjoy Your Life

As promised, here’s the link to the message from The Porch mentioned in my most recent post: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Wccaudio/20131112Porch.mp3

Take an hour or so to listen to the message and reflect on what it means for your life.

Be blessed!

[Reflection] Abounding Grace

I’m constantly blown away by God’s grace towards rebellious people. We repeatedly miss the mark, yet He continues offering us grace after grace. When I was new to the Faith, the Old Testament terrified me. Why? Because it tells stories that reveal God’s power to destroy disobedience. As I’ve matured, I now see these stories in a new light – laced with grace and hope in the coming Savior, rather than wrath. Traces of grace can be seen throughout the entire Old Testament, beginning with the moment we first tasted death.

At the fall (Genesis 3), God had every right to kick Adam and Eve out of Eden without caring about their livelihood. He didn’t even owe them a “Sayonara!” God clearly stated they were not to touch or eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, and all it took was a serpent spitting promises of false wisdom for them to break God’s only ground rule. I’m not a parent, but I’ve spent several summers coaching. I’ve felt disappointment towards athletes I’ve invested in when they’ve disregarded clearly stated instructions, and can only imagine how much more disappointment and anger God felt towards the very people He breathed into existence. He had no reason to show an ounce of compassion towards Adam and Eve, but…

…the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. -Genesis. 3:21

The very same God who was betrayed, showed grace. My heart can only praise Him for that undeserved gift and what it foreshadowed…Jesus.

At the fall, we became incapable of communion with God because of our sinful nature. We needed someone or something to bridge the gap. We needed to be clothed by robes of righteousness, not rags of corruption. A little over 2,000 years ago a man named Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, preached the Word of God, was beaten to the point of being unrecognizable, spat on by the very people He came to save, and hung on a cross to die with criminals. Three days later He conquered the death we ate in Eden and bridged the gap.

At the cross, God clothed us – again. The leather garbs from Eden foreshadowed the coming of a greater garment – the righteous robes of Jesus Christ. Those who’ve confessed with their mouths and believed in their hearts that Jesus is Lord are no longer draped in rancid rags, but instead are covered in the righteousness of Christ. We’re given grace upon grace upon grace. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. -Isaiah 61:10

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Corinthians 5:21