And then...just like that...some word...some person...some inspiration...(some folks would call it "muse")... hits me and I start pounding keys...pouring words...weaving memories...to help make sense of my journey through this always-compelling, often-confusing upside-down kingdom.
As many of you know, the past two-and-a-half-years have brought challenges and emotions that, quite frankly, I never thought I'd have to wrestle with--disappointment, loss, grief, anger, despair--feelings that, at times, have threatened to take me down for the count.
But...through the darkest of those days...SHE's been there--talking with me, crying with me, praying for me. Even making me laugh over our shared Alabama quirkiness-es. So...you see...it's only appropriate that today...when I thought there might not be any words left...any more "diary entries" to share...that SHE became my muse.
SHE is Marla Murrah DeLong. (That's her and her beautiful family....Keith must have been snapping the picture. But...he's cute too!)
That day...neither one of us realized God had somehow orchestrated that cubby-meeting. You see, we each had "dreams and visions" of making a difference in the church we loved. Marla was a lay-counselor; I was something called a "communications specialist"--you figure it out.
But that church-work "stuff" calls for something I just didn't have. (Maybe that, after all, is the lesson God wanted to teach me.) So, after about three years, with my proverbial "tail between my legs"--with no more dreams and not one single vision--I left that cubby. (Marla's leaving came about a year later.)
And...through those mutual-yet-different experiences, God began growing a friendship.
Over the years, I've learned she's not "bubbly," although one might mistake her for that. When I'm describing her to people who haven't met her, I usally describe her something like this: "She's one of the most passionate followers of Jesus I've ever known. She truly believes...with all her heart...that Jesus didn't die just to get us to heaven...that He died to bring us Life...right now...this moment."
Don't get me wrong. Hers is not a rose-colored, PollyAnna faith. She completely understands that life is hard. After all, she's a Christian counselor. She's walked with people through some of the darkest days and most challenging times of their lives--depression, divorce, addiction, death. (And she's faced quite a few sorrows of her own.)
One time, as I was working on a Bible study that dealt with the Holy Spirit's work as "Counselor" in our lives, I asked her, "As a counselor, what do you do?"
She answered, "I pray. Listen. Ask tough questions. Speak hard truths."
(Hmmm...exactly how He's used her in my life.)
Many of the words Marla has spoken have become little soundtracks in my brain...which...sometimes...is a downright pain in the butt...especially when it would be easier to just stay STUCK...At least I know STUCK... But then I'll hear her voice in my head:
"It's our secrets that keep us stuck."
"God wants us to walk in Truth. Only the Truth sets us free."
"You've gotta have a healthy boundary right there."
"You can't get pizza at McDonald's." (One she admits to borrowing from a fellow counselor.)
"If this were Garrett or Jackson facing this decision, what would you want them to do?"
Or...(this one is also my least favorite):
"Now...what are YOU going to DO about it?"
But...ALL of it...is said and done with what I've come to think of as "guileless love." Marla simply wants everyone...everyone...to truly KNOW the incredible love, forgiveness and grace of Jesus...and then to give it back out.
Is she perfect?...No. She'd be the first one to share with you her stumblings and shortcomings. But all that just makes her more real...more approachable...more aware of why all of us so desperately need Grace as we journey home through this upside-down kingdom.
On more than one occasion, she and I have butted opinions, with me typically stomping off mad. (That passive-aggressive "thing" I do is SO much easier than confronting.) But she never lets me stay in that corner. She always forces me to talk...to learn to confront...to look a little deeper...for the nugget of Truth buried in that situation, which Jesus longs to use in his ongoing Freedom project.
And...the rare times I've actually taken one step forward out of STUCK, I can always count on her to cheer me on with those classic words that make my heart smile: "That's the way to put on your big girl panties!"
I think she would want me to share her life-verse with you. It truly is the theme of her life...And she truly does want you to believe it and live it too:
"A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.
I (Jesus) came so you can have real and eternal life,
more and better life than you ever dreamed of."
(John 10:10, The Message)
So...Marla Murrah DeLong..."HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"
As the card I found expresses so perfectly:
"If you had come into the world with a gift tag attached to you,
it would have read:
'Here is a blessing of joy, laughter, love and friendship.
Enjoy! Love, God"
Here would be my card back to Him:
"Dear God, THANK YOU for the gift!
Everything you said about her is true!"
Gratefully, Karen (aka a-wannabe-big-girl-panties-wearer)
By the way, you can read more about Marla's journey of faith and obedience in the book she wrote last year, "The Simple Way of Love". In it, she shares many life-transforming truths that Jesus longs to whisper to our hearts and help us live throughout our journey. Its pages are also filled with the beautiful photography of Christine Patterson. It is a beautiful work of obedience! You can order it from their website: http://www.thesimplewayoflove.com/