Just Receive

*Warning at the end of this post is a semi-graphic photo of stitches.  If you are queasy, I apologize!*

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“I think we need to go to the hospital,” I heard as I looked up into the concern faces of my college-age students, who had just analyzed the damage I had done to my hand. “It looks deep.”

Those words shot through my gut like a sucker punch. “I’m the leader,” I thought. “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

I’m a teacher, mentor, and small group leader at Oceans Edge School of Worship.  I had my small group over to my home one Friday night to enjoy a meal together, hang out, and make fun memories. I had no idea that that night would create probably the most memorable experience of this school year.

Over dinner I felt led in my spirit to do what I call an “edification circle.”  As we ate, I asked the students to declare what they love about the person sitting to their right and their left.  It was amazing to hear what they had to say about one another, but as it drew nearer to my turn, I felt anxiety rise in my heart, not because of what I had to say about my students, but what they had to say about me.

I don’t like receiving compliments. I have a difficult time receiving feedback. I feel uncomfortable receiving gifts.  I’m not good at asking for help.

I’m a giver.

It was then that I felt God say to my heart, “Just receive.”  My eyes filled with burning tears, my cheeks blushed with embarrassment and my throat began to tighten as I listened to the students to my right and left edify me. Their hearts were genuine and their sentiments were true.  I heard their words, but was I really receiving from them?

Twenty minutes later, after we had finished eating, I was at the sink, washing the dirty dishes that indicated full bellies and full hearts.  Suddenly, the plate I was scrubbing slipped from my soapy grasp and crashed into the side of the sink.  My instincts told me to reach out and catch it, but I was too late.  The broken dish sliced my hand.

I’m not good with blood, especially my own.  All of my students rushed around me and the sink as I proceeded to squat down for fear of passing out or letting them see the tears that threatened to drop from my eyes.

“I think we need to go to the hospital,” I heard… “It looks deep.”

“I’m the leader,” I thought. “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

Again, I also heard, “Just receive.”

I had no choice but to acquiesce. That night, I was escorted to the ER by two of my students who prayed over me and kept me calm amidst all of my panic.  The rest of my small group stayed behind and cleaned up my house, my broken plate, my blood.  My roommate met us in triage and relieved my heroes.  She stood by my side while we waited for hours, making me laugh despite the tears that rebelliously rolled down my cheeks and filling in as a nurse while the nighttime ER doc put six stitches into the web and ring finger of my left hand.IMG_6812

“You’ll have to clean the wound and change the dressing every 24 hours,” he counseled. “And then after a few days, put some Neosporin on it leave it open to heal.”

“Doctor, I’m a musician. Will this affect my ability to play?” I questioned.

He told me I wouldn’t be playing for a few weeks, and I began to panic.  I’m a worship leader.  My church and my team need me to play for them.  What was I going to do?

There was no way I could do it myself. I needed help.  And I would continue to need help as long as my wound needed time to heal.

Again I felt the familiar sting of tears forming in my eyes and the squeeze of the tourniquet around my throat. A million thoughts rushed through my head.  “How am I going to do my job if I can’t play music?  Just thinking about blood is enough to drain it from my face.  How am I going to take care of this hand?  My car is a stick shift.  How am I going to drive to work?  Or get food?  Or take a shower? Or… Or…?”

“Just receive.”

God was reminding me that I can’t do it alone.

I have a tendency to need to prove that I’m strong, independent and capable.  I don’t need anyone.  I’m a big girl now, living on my own away from home. My stony heart can take care of itself, thank you very much. 

But that’s not the truth.

We were very much designed for community.  Admitting we need help doesn’t make us weak or incompetent.  Receiving from others teaches us how to freely receive from Father God.  And while we are receiving, we are allowing others to practice giving.  My small group bonded in ways I never thought possible.  My roommate gently took care of my wound, drove me around, and cooked for me.  My worship team stepped up and some substitutes stepped in and filled the gaps that my 6 stitches had left.

The care, love and support I received from my small group and my roommate/chauffeur/nurse/chef and my worship team helped solidify this crucial lesson in my life.  It was a lesson I thought I had learned before, but must have forgotten.

The Father looks down on us and says “I love you. You don’t have to do anything.  You need me. Receive My love.

When I look down at the scars on my hand, I will forever be reminded of the lesson He gently chiseled into my heart of stone.  As I watched the wound on my hand heal, gradually, day by day, and unassisted by any conscious effort of my own, I also felt my heart soften by Love, engraved with a scar of its own:

“Just receive.”

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 36:26

Choosing Joy

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“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been informed by maintenance that this plane has irreparable damage at this moment and we need to change planes,” our captain broadcasted over the PA system onboard my flight that was scheduled to leave before 8am. The sleep and caffeine-deprived Jersey-bound passengers were not happy as muttered expletives resounded about the cabin like ripples in a pond.

As we de-planed, I heard the flight attendants announce that any complaints or suggestions should be made at the information booth in the airport terminal. They anticipated the backlash.

An hour and a half later, I found myself on a new plane in the same seat, but the difference was the grumpy attitude that had filled the air.

“I have to cancel my spa reservation now because, of course, there was a delay.”

“I need to speak with the Captain. We shouldn’t have to pay for refreshments now, because of the inconvenience.”

“Ugh, I am so tired and I have to be at work in a few hours.”

I was dumbfounded by the entitlement mentality that my fellow passengers exuded. It was toxic. I felt myself almost give in and agree with them:

“Yea! This is ridiculous! I deserve a free cup of coffee because you guys are trying to keep us safe!”

In moments like this we have a choice. We can choose life or death.

I’m really into chalk art right now. A few months ago I found a quote by Henri J. Nouwen that I handlettered on the chalkboard that’s in my house.

“We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

I think about the quote daily because I’m reminded of it every morning as I leave the house.

I also came across an article recently on the seven secrets to live a happy life, as taught by children. One of them was embracing joy! When was the last time you squealed with wonder at snow falling from the sky? Or how often to you jump up and down with excitement at just the sight of someone you love? As adults, we lose our ability to express childlike joy. We choose to grumble. We choose death.

What’s the use in freaking out about something that you can’t control? What makes you so entitled that you feel the need to be compensated for a minor inconvenience? Why is your immediate reaction a negative one?

My God is so sovereign that He knows what’s going to happen before it happens. So perhaps we were delayed so that my dad wouldn’t get in a car accident on the way to the airport. Or maybe the mechanic that was fixing the first plane needed overtime to feed his family. Or maybe I just needed to learn this lesson in choosing joy.

So, early this morning, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of complaints, I waved it along and chose to ride on my tricycle of joy. My circumstances will not affect my attitude. I’m sitting in a padded chair, in an air-conditioned cabin, traveling over 600 mph, miles above the ground on my way to see faces I love. Wheeeee!

Today, and everyday hereafter, I’m choosing joy. What about you?