The Cross Took Care of That


My friend Hannah has three sons with autism, all under the age of six. I’ll let that sink in a little bit, because that fact about Hannah alone is as extraordinary and overwhelming as it sounds.

But Hannah doesn’t come across as overwhelmed. She’s tender, often tearing up as we moms gather every Friday morning with one main thing in common: the parenting of kids with special needs. We share our struggles and our triumphs over a living room coffee table, and for some of us, our weekly gatherings together are the only place where we feel truly understood.

I want you to know Hannah as I know Hannah, because not only is she tender-hearted and kind and extraordinary and yes, sometimes overwhelmed, she is rock-solid. When she tells stories of the escalating tantrums her sons stage, complete with violent bouts of throwing objects at each other and kicking and biting, of the daily phone calls from school because of yet another behavioral issue gone down, of the screaming and the lack of sleep and the way in which their family has had to change everything about how they even live inside their home, she also reminds us that God is there in the chaos of their environment, that He gives her what she needs in each singular moment, that she knows, because He has always been faithful, that He is unshakably faithful. Hannah is a rock of a woman.

If Hannah were to read this, that’s what I would want her to know: that each of us feels as if we’re about to be pummeled by the next big wave, but standing outside of each other’s catastrophes, we can see the strength and courage and beauty of each other when we often cannot see it in ourselves.

I hosted our gathering on a late autumn morning before Thanksgiving, and only Hannah was able to come. We poured steaming mugs of tea and sat together at my dining room table. Hannah’s youthful smile was hiding behind weary eyes, but it emerged as it always does, especially when she talks about Jesus. Hannah doesn’t know the details of our story — of the legalism and religious gate-keeping we slowly shook out of nearly a decade ago — and so when I made an off-handed remark about doing something for God, she replied without any sense of self-righteousness, “Uh-uh. The cross took care of that.”

Just when I think I’ve grasped the whole impact of the gospel, I am shown, again, how much I really want to prove to God that I am worthy of all that Jesus did for me. As if I could.

Boom. If there were a word for the gospel slapping me fresh across the face, I’d use that. It would be better than “boom”. Hannah’s words caught me with my law-loving pants down and I felt thrown a little off-kilter, too. In that disorienting moment, I saw once again that in my heart of hearts, I am a legalist who continues to look for ways to add to what Jesus has already done for me. Just when I think I’ve grasped the whole impact of the gospel, I am shown, again, how much I really want to prove to God that I am worthy of all that Jesus did for me. As if I could.

For more than 40 years, I’ve misunderstood grace. Seven years ago we left a church culture that informed us of all we must do, how we must strive, work, gain, grasp, and earn God’s love for us. When God gently began to peel off the layers of religion, as He reminded us of Who He is and what He’s done (done: finished, already accomplished, put to bed), our lives began to change in remarkable ways. First of all, we finally understood what Paul was talking about in Romans 8. Truths like “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and “God has done what the law could not”, changed everything. The cross changed everything.

We began to grasp what it actually means to “live in the flesh”, too. For all of my religious years within evangelicalism, I was led to believe that those people who ran to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll were the only ones living in the flesh. No one ever pointed to our own religious, law-loving hearts as also rejecting the freedom of living in the Spirit. But when God pulled us out of our legalistic environment, my religious heart finally understood that by trying to add to what God has already done, I was living far more “in the flesh” than all those heathens I thought were doing so because they wore their worldly sin on their sleeves.

That’s what it looks like to live in the freedom of the gospel.

We’ve been pursuing a relationship with the loving God now for the past seven years, and it looks very little like the old religious lives we led for nearly a decade before. Our choices are made in freedom, our daily lives influenced by the solid knowledge that God loves us, and there’s nothing we can do to make Him un-love us. But even so, I am, in my very human heart of hearts, still wanting to try harder and do more. And God shows His love has no bounds, no constraints, no end, when he brings into my life the mother of three little boys with autism and she looks me square in the eye and declares, “The cross took care of that.”

That’s what it looks like to live in the freedom of the gospel. It eternally redeems the worldly and it beckons and restores the religious, freeing both from sin and sure death. The gospel seeps into the dark corners of autism and uncertainty of every pedigree, and it declares, with a resounding boom, “The cross took care of that!”

We're All Messed Up, and I'm Not Just Saying That

Pontoon - Sandy Cove

Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

That guy you think for sure has all of his ducks in a tidy little row and singing out of the hymnal every Sunday morning and in church on time? He's messed up, too. I confidently know this and my expertise is backed up by decades of experience in a variety of churches, but then last week my husband Fletch and I spoke at a family camp all the way across the country and let me say this again in case you doubt: Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

The 600 people we hung out with at Sandy Cove's homeschool family camp were not more messed up and broken than any others, but like us, they are really good at the "shiny, happy people" masquerade. And then we got up on that stage on Monday morning and just put all our own messed up, broken, neediness out there, and it began what was at first a slow trickle of the broken, messed up, and needy moms, dads, brothers, and sisters that grew day by day into a deluge of the most sinful junk and yuck hidden beneath years of shiny, happy Christianity and laid bare at our feet. And we wept.

How have we missed the truth of the gospel in this? The truth that Jesus paid it all, just for us? The truth that He weeps over us, not because we are messed up, broken, and needy, but because He is the answer, the way, the truth, and the life, and we sit in our musty little corner polishing our shiny, happy people idols and missing all the fullness of everything He is. 

And aren't you tired of it all?

Laughing - Sandy Cove

Laughing - Sandy Cove

After we spoke about shifting our hope off of Jesus Christ and onto, oh, everything and anything else, we followed up with a session on what it looks like when we live remembering how loved we are by God, and then a session on living confessionally, with all our stuff out there, living lives of authenticity, and then a big, loud, beautiful reminder of how very much loved by God we are.

Many of the people there were tired of it all.

They came wounded, bleeding, hemorrhaging. They waited by our door in the morning and grabbed us on the way to breakfast. They scooted their chairs next to us as the salad was just about to hit our lips. They even pounded on our door late one night in a last attempt to confess and break through the chains of addiction that had bound them for years and years and years. 

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

And lest you be tempted to think it must just have been this wacky group of people out there in Maryland, let me reiterate: We're all messed up. And I'm not just saying that.

Isn't it grand? It is, because >>> Jesus <<<. Because the gospel. Because the truth that there is not one of us who does good except for our loving and generous and perfect savior, Jesus Christ, and we get to lean in, hide under his wings, and be seen by the God of the universe as complete and whole and not messed up.

How does that change the way we think about Jesus? About the good news of his death and resurrection? Does it make it truly good news? It makes it great news. Excellent news. Perfect love and grace for messed up, broken, needy people. Like me.

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove

Cracked, Flawed, and Broken

I've been listening a lot lately. Listening to recorded books while I endlessly drive all over the county, listening to conversations at the next table, listening to my teens in my kitchen. 

Characters in books, adult women, teens - we all have this in common: we like to talk about each other. This isn't news, is it? 

If I'm being honest with myself, I can confess to anyone that I am cracked, flawed, and broken without the hope of fixing any of my flaws all by myself. To be sure, there are many tools I've used over the years to help heal the areas of my life that have seen damage, but ultimately, as a woman who puts her hope in Jesus Christ's finished redemption, I believe that God is the only true healer here.

I also compensate for my overly-nerdy, introverted, "gifted", think-too-deeply, live-inside-my-head tendencies by talking far, far too much. Dead conversational space makes me physically queasy, and I cope by talking. By saying what could be said in 5 words with 105. Only the most patient of friends put up with me (and that's like two). 

In all the recent listening, I'm learning about other women what I have missed in a thousand conversations I've listened to before. We are all cracked, flawed, and broken.

That uppity woman who needs for all the other women to know how much money she makes or that she writes her thank you notes on Crane stationery and bought her boots at Bergdorfs? She's probably wildly insecure.

That teen who heartlessly puts down all the other teens around her and surrounds herself with a friend or two who giggle at her insults and snide remarks under her breath? This is an obvious one, isn't it? She's so insecure in who she is becoming that she's creating a wall no one else can penetrate. She'll have to spend the rest of her life tearing it down, brick by brick. 

That overly-chatty friend who seems to talk endlessly about the things going on in her world in profuse abundance and droll detail? Well, that would be me, and I'm trying to compensate for my own social ineptitude. 

How does it change us, as women, to realize that the woman sitting next to us at the swim team parent meeting is just as cracked, flawed, and broken as we are? How does it alter our view to realize that she is compensating, too: for a failing marriage, for a lack of love growing up, for her personality that isn't endearing or funny or "winning"? 

Here's the charge: Let's love each other well. Let's be the brave women who smile tenderly and openly at the woman chattering incessantly next to us. Let's be the generous hearts who see past the exaggerated accomplishment stories and bragging about children, who reach out and say, "I'm cracked, flawed and broken, but I can be your friend."

There is a time for boundaries, you know? Sometimes cracks, flaws, and brokenness lend themselves to lashing out and hurting others. I'll write more about that next time.