Begin Again

Let begin, again.

Let’s start the conversation and move forward. We certainly won’t be picking up where we left off, time stands still for no one. Walking in the everdayness of our lives, we celebrate who we are in this stage of life and move forward – today.

This reprise was not something I expected being away from writing for so long. I have come to accept there are seasons in life – coming in waves as circumstances ebb and flow in and out of what you expect life to be and how it truly is. Grappling with what once was, what you hoped for and what’s before you now is a daily dance.

Often we have been told life is what you make of it. You can reach the “American Dream” if you work hard pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Anthems that are meant to inspire us and bring hope can actually have the opposite effect. What once inspired can run through your mind taunting you for where you are now – your lack of success, your lack of achieving your goals and the daily fight you face as you strive to move on. How did I get here? How did this happen? Words designed to encourage and inspire become the medium for self destruction and shame.

The dream you chased turned into a false sense of reality revealing that the American Dream is not all it’s crafted to be. The relationships you make, the organizations you join, the community that surrounds you may not be the place where you truly belong. Upon this realization your life spins out of control. All you took for granted or crafted into your daily life has been turned upside down – everything that was, is no more. Like any other transition, unrealized hopes and dreams can bring an onslaught of emotional pain to wade through. Navigating the deep waters of accepting who you regardless if anyone else stands by your side.

It’s not like you got where you are right now in life without making choices. Of course you made choices, and with good intentions too. But we don’t all have the same life story. Choices are hard. They are carved out of living through social and cultural experiences: broken families, abuse, trauma, pain, physical disease, financial ruin and difficult times. Standing alone facing a different world than you once felt comfortable in is terrifying.

Life is beyond your control. Unexpected things happen that you can’t reign in. Becoming self aware and moving into wholeness is not something for the faint hearted. It’s hard work. It’s purposeful. It’s intentional. Learning to breathe through adversity and begin again is more than a choice – it’s a gift to yourself.

Breathe.

In John chapter 8:3-11 this story unfolds:

 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group  and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus was in the village and Scripture says the teachers of the Law were looking to trap Jesus by His teaching and His words. They brought this woman caught in adultery to Jesus, encircling her they threatened to stone her. In that moment of accusation they looked to Jesus for his authority and teaching on how to handle this woman – “Now what do you say?”

Breathe.

In that moment you can feel the tension. The woman terrified for her life, the mob of men angry and taunting Jesus to twist His teaching and use it against Him. So what does he do?

“… Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.”

What?

He paused.  All eyes were on Him.  He spoke, His words transformational.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

Breathe.

With that one sentence Jesus taught us what we all need to hear. Mercy triumphs law. Jesus knows what the law says about adultery, yet this woman laid bare before Him mattered more. There was more to her than what others saw in her. She was not a result of her choices or circumstances. She mattered. When justice was sought, mercy reigned.

If there is anything you can take away from this amazing story of Jesus Christ is that you matter. That love is much more transformational than religion and its laws. That knowing a person and their life circumstances and what they go through is part of their story. All the men and the teachers in this story could only see the outside of her but Jesus knew her heart. He knew her story, her choices, her circumstances and even why she does what she does. Have you ever stopped to think about that? 

Jesus knows.

No matter what is going on in your life right now, Jesus knows. Perhaps it’s not going the way you want it to be or something unexpected came your way. You lost your job. Your diagnosis is terminal. Your depression battles you deeply.

Whatever it is and however it looks in your life – Jesus knows.

I know the upside down, turned around unexpected life. No matter what choice you made today, remember that tomorrow is another day. At any moment you can choose to follow the one who brings hope to the darkness in your life, and mine.

Jesus waits for you, and for me, to sit at His feet and look into our eyes and say

 “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

Say it with me, ” No one sir.”

No One! What looked to be an ordinary day of stoning according to the Law become a day of mercy and grace in the heart of a woman saved by love and the ministry of Jesus Christ. I am that woman – you can be too.

Breathe.

Allow yourself to sit at the feet of Jesus, hear His words of healing as He whispers to you. 

Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Remember those choices I talked about, this is the only one that matters. 

Choose Jesus.

In the most unlikely place

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I was sitting in a courthouse of all places –  a courthouse.

The place were laws are made, upheld and enforced. Peering into the reality that what I was about to face -well – it’s wasn’t going to be pretty. I owed a debt. Not a large debt, but one that had gone unpaid. Questions surfaced and attacked my sense of reality – just how had this debt accumulated that I was unaware of?  Why hadn’t this been handled earlier? I had always been a responsible person. Exactly how did I get here?

Perhaps that story is for another day, for what came from this experience is so much richer than how I got here. This story needs to be told, why else would I admit such hard things?

My arrival on the courthouse steps wasn’t this scene from Law & Order or anything significant. When I walked in, not one person recognized me or was there to fight on my behalf. I walked in – alone. As I opened the doors to the crowded courtroom I could hear the judge as he read off the names of people waiting in the gallery for their turn to speak and be heard.  When my case was called, I somehow needed to find my feet and rise up to stand. All eyes from that sea of faces were upon me, gulp, yes me. I knew in that moment, I was no longer alone. I was a part of this plethora of people who hurt, who are broken and have fallen and just might need a new contract on life.

Make no mistake I was there to take ownership and  be responsible for the things that transpired. Yet somehow I realized this debt that accumulated over time, had brought doubt and shame to my own sense of who I am as a person. Who had I become that I let a small amount of money determine  my sense of self and purpose? This is what I truly had to face – not the debt.

Myself.

As the judge dismissed us, more waiting began outside in the lobby of the courthouse. The benches filled up with souls awaiting their turn to speak their story, to tell their tale – and to be heard. I sat among them and as I looked out at the morning sun, I smiled at the beauty of another day, even the hard ones. The benches filled and chatter ensued. Yet I stay enclosed in my thoughts, sitting on my bench all alone, just me. Until.

Until she sat down.

We both looked more alike than the rest of the crowd, our clothes were a bit cleaner, our hair a bit neater and our conversation much quieter. I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow we talked, sharing our stories with one another. I found this such a gift to prepare myself to speak to the lawyer when it was my turn. As our stories unfolded I found our lives intersected in so many ways, our dreams similar and our hopes just as dashed. At one point she leans over to me quietly and says, “you know, you should really talk to the free legal team here, they have really helped me.” As I awaited justice, judgement and punishment, I heard the first whisper of mercy.

Mercy.

I thought for a moment, could this be? My questions were answered as quickly as I posed them to myself. The free legal team was searching me out, they called my name. We met and discussed my case. In fact, I didn’t have to discuss much at all. I walked in alone to the courtroom but now I had someone to defend me, someone who heard my story. Next thing I know I am filling out paperwork and they meet with the judge.

Case dismissed.

Just like that. The wheels of justice turned and once set in motion, they blew right past me. Not only was my case dismissed, it will now be expunged from my record. My name, my good name, is back intact.  My years of hard work and reliability, of consistent payment of debts, restored.   Erased. Redeemed. Forgiven. Like it never even happened.

Mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone when it is within one’s power to punish. This is what I experienced today, awe inspiring mercy. It was within the courts rights to hold me to this debt, yet I was freed. I can’t ever express what this has done for me. Not for my bottom line financially, but for my spirit. I tasted mercy and forgiveness and now I am  called to offer the same. Freely I have received and freely I must give.

Parable of unmerciful servant.

“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Mercy.

I was now walking within this very parable, in God’s story for my own life. Like the man forgiven of his debts, I too had been forgiven. Okay, so I didn’t owe 10,000 bags of gold, but I had a debt, one I couldn’t pay. What would I do? Would I return home from the courthouse, renewed with hope, and show mercy? Or would I be like the unmerciful servant who demands from others more then he himself could give? Could I truly grasp the gift of mercy God had bestowed upon me? I. Couldn’t. Breathe. I needed to stop and take it all in –  and weep.

This wasn’t about money, oh no. It was about me.

About me loving, trusting and believing in God  – and receiving mercy. The most precious gift of all, compassion touching my heart in places that laid bare before Him. Places I didn’t even know existed, but He did.  Remember, I had let money define and determine my value. Money is a currency – but not one of the heart. There is no price tag on our value, no balance sheet that can hold all our debts. No. We are valuable because of His love. We are valuable because of His mercy. We are valuable because we are His.

His.

I don’t know what debts you owe. . What situation you have in your life that might throw you into your debtors court. This I do know, it’s humiliating. But if I had never walked up those courthouse steps, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the incredible mercy of the Living God. YWHW. Perhaps your debt isn’t financial – but you feel it. There is forgiveness that needs to be offered, hope that needs to be restored and hearts to love and encourage to turn to Him.

Just take one step. Let mercy win.

 New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986