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How Close Do You Want To Get . . . Really?

You should’ve seen it. This Sunday, the church gymnasium was transformed into the bustling city of Jerusalem around A.D. 30. After I’d joined the tribe of Ephraim and received a bag of denarii (Roman money), I sat down cross-legged in the temple, right in front of the veil leading to the Holy of Holies (where I never would have been allowed in real life).

That’s when little Sarah came over and squeezed herself onto my lap. Then, when the shofar blew signaling it was time to move on to the next station, Sarah slipped her little hand into mine as we walked a few steps to the synagogue. She sat in my lap again as we learned to sing the Shema in Hebrew and stayed close all morning as we went from booth to booth.

And then, while we were at the potter’s shop, I heard a shout, “It’s Jesus!” If I hadn’t already been told that the Sunday school teacher Chris was playing the part, I wouldn’t have recognized him with that wig of long, curly, dark hair. He slowly wove his way through the crowd of 400 people, hugging the children as he went.

Sarah pulled me forward, not content to watch from behind a wall of people. I let her pull me so far, and then I slowed, not wanting the adults to wonder why I was crowding Jesus and not letting others have their turn. But Sarah wouldn’t let up. I stopped, she strained. She pulled, I resisted. Finally, she dropped my hand and went around the mountain in the middle of the room so she could get to Jesus.

Sarah wasn’t the only child who did this. Instinctively, all the children wanted to get as close as they could to Jesus. Maybe that’s why Jesus told His perturbed disciples so many years ago,

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:16–17).

As I saw the difference between me and Sarah, I couldn’t help but wonder how close I would’ve tried to get to Jesus if I’d been alive when He walked this earth. Would I have been willing and desperate enough to cry out loudly with Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”—even when everyone around me was telling me to just be quiet? Or would I have been more like Nicodemus who came to Jesus under the cover of night so no one would see?

More importantly, how desperate am I today to get as close as possible to Jesus? Am I content to hang back and observe Him along with the grown-ups, or am I pressing forward with the children to stare up in wonder at Him?

I’m afraid I know the answer, and oh, how I long for that to change. So thank you, Sarah. You have no idea what you taught me this week. I want to be like you when I grow up.

PS: What do you think it looks like to want to get close to Jesus today?

How Close Do You Want To Get . . . Really?” was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.

Confessions of a Crummy Friend

Confessions of a Crummy Friend

I’m a crummy friend. I didn’t even realize it until last Friday, when Revive Our Hearts asked their employees to spend four hours on an exercise called the Personal Vitality Plan. We were to look at twelve areas of our life and evaluate what’s been going well, what’s been being neglected, and what some achievable steps are to replenish that area.

It didn’t take long to realize what was anemic. My relationships. Specifically, my friendships.

Until now, my idea of a good friend has been one whom I don’t have to spend a lot of time with, but when I do, we pick up right where we left off. But now I wonder if my definition of friendship has simply been a sorry excuse for neglect and selfishness on my part.

Oh, I haven’t painted it that way. I’ve chosen the busyness of “ministry” above friendships, investing more time in those who are “needy” while my iron-sharpening-iron friendships have simmered on the back burner.

As spiritual as that has seemed, I wonder if it has had more to do with pride and fear than love and compassion. There’s something self-inflating about being the one people always look to for help and answers. But since when are friendships one-sided?

When I look at Scripture I see friendship described with words like:

  • talking face to face (Ex. 33:11)
  • your friend who is as your own soul (Deut. 13:6)
  • loyalty (2 Sam 16:16)
  • kindness (Job 6:14)
  • trust (Ps. 41:9)
  • celebrating together (Luke 15:29)
  • grieving together (Ps. 35:14)

Now I see that I’ve been treating my closest friends as if they’re optional. But Jesus tells me in John 15:12–17 that friendship isn’t optional (and in the process, He calls me His friend!):

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. . . . These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

It took me less than the allotted four hours to realize that I was a crummy friend, so I spent the remaining time sending emails and setting up specific plans.

I asked one friend if she’d be willing to spend time together regularly. I don’t want to get spread so thin maintaining all kinds of relationships that no one really knows what’s going on deep in my heart. I asked her to meet with me regularly for several reasons:

  • She loves and cares about me.
  • She already knows me well and runs in my circles.
  • She’s not afraid to ask me hard questions. You know, the kind that make you squirm.

Once that was taken care of, I began making plans to choose people over pixels: scheduling a party for artists in April, inviting neighbors over to roast marshmallows in the fireplace before spring arrives in full vigor, exploring the possibility of a getaway with two other about-to-turn-thirty-year-olds.

Since Friday, I’ve attended a birthday party, two movie nights, and am headed to the Art Institute in Chicago with the girls in my family this Saturday. Oh, and I’m asking God to teach me how to be a good friend. To learn to love . . . and be loved.

How about you? What do you tend to value more than friendship? What’s your excuse for letting your friendships simmer on the back burner? And if you’re the one feeling undervalued in a friendship, how can you continue to extend grace and reach out to that busy friend?

Confessions of a Crummy Friend” was originally posted on TrueWoman.com.

The Bitter, Salvaged Life of Jennifer Smith

Jennifer cussed the chaplain out when she arrived at prison to serve her sixteen-year sentence. But in the privacy of her cell, she repeatedly beat her head against the concrete wall until it bled. Without drugs, she knew no other way to mask the anger and bitterness she had known from childhood.

For most of her twenty-two years, Jennifer’s parents said she was a mistake—that she was supposed to be a boy. So, Jennifer believed that God makes mistakes.

At ten, a nineteen-year-old from church began molesting Jennifer. At this point, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with God.

She started drinking at age eleven to make the pain go away. By twelve, she was cutting, participating in criminal activity, and abusing drugs. By seventeen, she was a “mule,” trafficking drugs from Tulsa to Memphis.

One night, wondering how her life had turned out the way it had, Jennifer breathed a simple prayer, “Help. If You’re listening, help.”

She didn’t think about that prayer again until twenty-seven days later, when she saw six squad cars in her rearview mirror. As Jennifer was slammed to the pavement and cuffed, a load lifted from her. While she didn’t know what it would look like, she was certain life as she knew it was over.

After arriving at prison, Jennifer mocked the inmates in the Christian program. But she watched them. Their joy haunted her because it was something she had never known.

So she caved and joined them. For ten weeks, she heard things she’d never heard before: Forgiveness equals freedom; God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. And, if she would believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins, He would give her a new identity.

Ten weeks came and went, and the chaplain asked Jennifer to stay ten more. She couldn’t understand why—after the trouble she’d caused—but Jennifer agreed.

And on December 21, 2000, God’s Spirit interacted with her through His Word for the first time in her life. When that class ended, Jennifer got on her knees and told God if He could salvage what was left of her life, it was His.

And it has been, ever since.

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

PS: Jennifer got out of prison on May 31, 2011, only to go back in . . . this time as a denominational chaplain. God is now using her mightily to help salvage other bitter, broken lives.