Saturday, December 20, 2008

Late, Staring

There was one lamp burning.
Some were asleep, but of course
Jesus was dead. All together,
but in the late hours
after the first rooster crows
when the deep dark still rests
everyone is alone.

Matthew was the most
abandoned. Peter and John
could return to fishing, but
he had left a cheating
lifestyle, thrown a party
for Jesus and
all his thieving friends.
He had come out.

His life would not refold
into tax collecting. He knew
no other work.
Had he ever cast out demons,
traveled preaching,
run off children? He
could not account.

He was cast off
in the upper room, in
a corner saved
for sinners, any dreams
for three days rotting
in a new grave.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Being alive

In October, when my mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery, I was driving home in the late afternoon. My goal was to beat any traffic congestion, but inexplicably, I hit some on the expressway near an interchange. As I crept forward, I could see it was an accident that was slowing things down. By the time I drove past, much of it must have been cleared. There was only a single car, in a middle lane, with ambulance workers at the driver's side door. As I drove past, I glanced over and saw a pool of blood flowing from under the car, towards the lane where I was driving. No matter how many action movies you have seen, I do not think you are ever prepared to see carnage and violence in real life.

My thoughts immediately went to the family of that driver. If the person in the accident survived, he or she would be facing extensive surgery, recovery time, and therapy. An ordeal like that accident changes your life and the lives of those immediately around you. Initially, friends and acquaintances are concerned, but that eventually falls away and it seems the world goes on without you and your family, while you plod through recovery.

At some point, I will lose my health, my family, my stuff. At some point in my life, I will only have Jesus. I will come to a place where only God can touch me. Jesus will be enough for me then, and He is enough for me now. I actually need Him, in all things, to give meaning: with my family, my stuff, my mom's cancer, the car accident I pass on the way home.

This year, I have been unable to be with my parents during the holiday, because Mom's immunity is compromised by the chemotherapy. She is going to beat this cancer, and I am so grateful for that, the holidays seem minor. We got our tree up eight days before Christmas. I completely forgot the Christmas mugs, and I haven't yet hung the stockings. But I am satisfied this Christmas.

I pray that you will enjoy what you do, this December and all year through. Brushing past death always makes me appreciate the joy of health, of life itself. Last night I arranged three colors of grapes and two kinds of cheese cubes on mini bamboo picks for a potluck my husband is having today. I am alive, I am healthy, I can create. The mug I drink my coffee from has no holly or bows, but Jesus is looking through my eyes and speaking to me, and life is good.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Toys for Tots

I suppose I need to give a little background. Several years ago, there was a Marine in our church who connected us with the Toys for Tots program. The Marines collected the toys, and we were a distribution point. But we didn't just hand them out: we did a show with a skit & dancing for the families, then a party for the kids while the parents shopped. We told the story of Jesus and gave people an opportunity to be baptized. Not every Toys for Tots distribution is like ours, but the Marines initially involved with us were very gracious to let us host the event with our own flair. One summer, while I was doing a Backyard Bible Club at an apartment complex with some people from my church, a man told me that he and his wife had been baptized at our Toys for Tots event.

My family has been involved in this from the beginning. It is my favorite event of the Christmas season. This year, we registered 5,400 kids and our church provided the majority of the funding for the toys and the party. Our staff and some volunteers shopped for tens of thousands of dollars worth of toys the week before (believe me, it is actually challenging to spend that much money on $10 toys, two per child) and stayed up until wee hours decorating the church. I wish I knew how many volunteers were involved in putting on the production, but I do know that everyone in my family helped.

This is the first year that we have all been able to play a part. We divide the people registered into four shows, and I am team leader for child pick up, coordinating the task of reconnected thousands of children with their waiting parents who have just shopped for their Christmas. My husband worked security, and my two teens helped serve cookies & do a craft in the children's party. My youngest daughter is a dancer at church, and she was part of the team that danced in all four shows, for every person that came to the event. We arrived at church that morning for worship and our regular time of service, and then stayed until 10:20 that night, when my team saw the last child picked up.

It was glorious. I am going to skip all the stories I could tell from my own service and simply say this: by the evening time, I could hardly walk. Our church was formerly an outlet mall, and the floors are concrete. I walked constantly for eleven hours, and my feet were so painful I could hardly move. This is mostly my own fault--I like to be active and kept volunteering to communicate with part of our team in a separate part of the building, or fetch hot coffee for our volunteers standing in the ice storm. I rarely sat. When I took off my shoes at 11:00 that night, my small toe had cracked and bled all over the nail. How often do you get to spend yourself to exhaustion to serve others?

My youngest daughter, who is 8, was equally exhausted. She began crying on the way home, because she hadn't had dinner. They served macaroni and cheese, but she didn't like it. Johnny and I knew that she was mostly crying because she was so tired. Next year I will remember to send snacks with her, but last night Johnny told her that when we serve God when it is hard, He takes notice. There are many times He will ask us to serve Him when it is not easy.

With my swollen feet and exhausted body, I cried a few tears myself, but just from being tired. I was curled up in front of the fireplace in my own home, in my pj's with a warm blanket, and I thought of all Christ suffered for me. He was mocked and beaten and brutalized. He was tortured to death. I hope that when He finally got home, God had a warm bath ready for Him.

And think of the Heavenly Father. I let my own daughter serve when she had a cold, which I knew might knock her down further. She was hungry and worn out and completely away from her family all day. Every time she passed me, she would give me a hug and a greeting, but on the way home she cried. Mothers, you know how your child crying tugs your heart. God let his own son suffer so much more on my behalf.

Isaiah prophesied about Jesus: "When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins" (53:11). In a very small way, I got to imitate God yesterday at Toys for Tots. No wonder this event is my favorite Christmas moment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I find it intriguing that holidays are God's idea. If you read the Old Testament, a lot of the laws God made for his people involved special celebrations they were to have. A dear friend of mine, who is monastic in her worldview, rebels against the holidays. She loves the simplicity of her everyday life, the rhythm of the known and the chosen. What's so great about stress and company and expectations and extra food and spending more money? If we make healthy daily choices, where is the health in our holiday insanity?

I used to pause from my mandatory baking of gifts for everyone I know, drafting a letter to send in bulk to my closest forty friends and relatives, and scheming on three different ways to serve the community to just look at her in bewilderment. How could holidays not be GREAT? It sounds like sacrilege. Especially Christmas--does she not love Baby Jesus, or WHAT? (Everything associated with holidays should be in ALL CAPS.)

When my kids got old enough to understand the concept of "present," I began to have birthday parties for them. Inviting friends, planning fun activities, shopping for great gifts. I remember being very pregnant with Rebekah and feeling panicked that Abby should have a fantastic 6th birthday party. We had the party several weeks before Abby's birthday because I was having pre-labor contractions, and what if I had the baby and she missed her party?!! There are photos of me standing on our porch, looking like a large mammal has climbed under the front of my dress, holding the rope for a pinata, while blindfolded children swing dangerously close to the large target of my belly.

This birthday party thing began to build on itself. Every year had to be GREAT, and somehow that means "better than the year before." I would try to scale back, I would try to limit the guests, and I'm sure someone looking on would not think I was out of control. Inside, I was mounting a huge altar of expectations, on which something was sure to be sacrificed.

I really don't know if I have the birthday HOOPLAH under control. But I am enjoying holidays more, feeling less stressed and pressured. And have you noticed how often holidays happen? They pockmark our year with their presence, and no sooner do we settle into "regular life" than here one comes again.

I think they are exams that God gives us. We think we are learning all sorts of wonderful aspects of character: patience, love for fellow man, generosity, etc. We feel pretty good about ourselves. And then our regular life is interrupted for a HOLIDAY and darned if we don't look pretty lousy at one point or another. Like a student taking an exam, we discover what we do and don't know. We see the places where we still need to study. Holidays are revealing, and didn't God describe himself as a light shining in the darkness?

I hope you enjoy the spotlight this year. Don't take it too badly if you screw up somewhere along the way; you won't be alone. Like Red Green says, "We're all in this together. Keep your stick on the ice."

Anger and fear

This morning I was angry. I like to think more than feel, so I began to muse that God told us to "be angry and sin not." He told us we could be angry. However, over and over again, God and his agents said, "Do not fear." Note the contrast: we are never supposed to sin, but we can be angry. However, he did not say, "Be fearful, but act anyway." He flat out said, "do not fear." (In case you're curious, the angry command is in Ephesians, and the do not fear that springs to my mind is in Joshua, although God says that often, like when the angel came to Mary.)

Why is anger more okay than fear? Anger has all sorts of warnings that go with it, warnings against bitterness and vengence. But we can be angry. Anger always makes me think of Jesus, picking up a whip and driving the money changers from the temple. God himself is sometimes angry--with his enemies, with his children for their idolatry. I don't want to lay out a welcome mat for anger, but it is an active, energetic type of emotion.

Fear is not. Fear shrinks from any kind of action. Waiting and restraining can be actions that God values, but shrinking back is not something he admires. Remember the parable where three servants received money from their master? Two invested and had a return for their boss, but the third said, "I know you are a harsh master, so I put it in a hole, and here it is." The master was very angry with the third servant, and he received no reward. In fact, he was fired. His fear was not pleasing to God.

I believe we are called to imitate God. There are times he is angered by things around him, but he is never fearful. Instead he is fully confident in the outcome. From our side, that confidence is probably called "trust" or "faith." Fear is the opposite of faith, and it totally cuts us off from God.

It is interesting, though, how much more righteous it looks to be afraid than to be angry. It is easier to justify shrinking back from a task or a situation, and think we are making the right choice. But God says, do not fear. Perhaps we should boldly screw up and try and fail and try and sometimes succeed and risk and become angry and let him help us. . .just don't be afraid.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marry Christmas

(I wrote this last year, but I didn't blog then. And my daughter still can't spell. . .)

My daughter gave me a card that said, "Marry Christmas." While I could be appalled at her spelling, I think she raises a good question: what will you marry Christmas to? All holidays have an element of contrivance. Early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ near the winter solstice because this was a time of feasting and celebration throughout the Roman Empire. They wanted to marry the festivity of their day to the gospel, the good news that God came down to dwell with humanity, to make Himself known.

What will you marry Christmas to? To the parties and the special foods? Will you marry Christmas off to the materialism of our day, to the finding of the perfect gift? Or will you marry Christmas to family and the traditions that cluster this annual season?

The religious may answer, "I will marry Christmas to Jesus." What does that mean? Do you add religious phrases to your cider mugs? Put up a manger on your mantle near the stockings? Attend religious observances of the holiday? Remember that the Jesus of the gospel was not convenient. He was conceived in an unwed teenager, causing scandal and embarrassment. He arrived on a road trip when there was neither proper shelter nor skilled support for the birth. His presence in Bethlehem led a mad king to slaughter the boys of other families. Is this the Jesus you want to invite to your holiday?

Beware. You may have to open your home to relatives. You may have to give up your comfort. Your traditions may be trampled. You may find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances & forced to lean on Someone invisible who is directing your life for His own purposes. Listen--do you hear angels singing outside of the city? Where is your John the Baptist, who prepares your heart? Repent--someone holy is coming. He is not comfortable. He is not safe. But He is meaning and purpose. He the bridegroom, coming to you with a ring and bended knee.

Monday, December 8, 2008

6:58 a.m.

The sunrise spoke to the light hidden
in the bricks and the trees and
the forms on the earth began
to glow, pink and alive to
the adversity of an awakened day.

The sun skipped a little higher
and the blue tones sang
of morning and ending and
possibility. And then dawn
was over, and it was Wednesday.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Watching the universe

On a church marquee the other day, I saw this quip: "We trust God with the universe. Why not trust him with our lives?" Well and good, but to me it highlights the problem.

We don't trust God with the universe. The universe is so big and unknown and beyond us, that we largely ignore it. Have you ever lost sleep over the force of gravity possibly failing in the night? Have you ever fretted that the sun will not rise and made plans for what you intend to do about it? The universe is completely beyond us, so we do not have to actively turn it over to anyone's care. We ignore it, and it seems to plod along fine.

Similarly, I think many of us ignore our lives. Things happen that are beyond our control, and it frustrates us and we don't know what to do. So we get busy or we shut down or we talk louder or we take some action and then tell ourselves that we have control. It seems beyond us to actually fix the problems that hit us: a parent with cancer, a spouse that dies, a child that chooses badly. Just as we don't actively choose to trust God with the universe, we don't choose to trust him with our lives. We cry out as victims or we create the illusion of control.

Perhaps I am being too critical of the poor marquee. Looking at the universe does cause me to marvel. God, the creator, tilted our planet just so, placed us just so far from the sun, caused the earth to rotate, put just this amount of water and just this amount of oxygen--he seems pretty good at details. He also seems pretty good at cranking out a working design. And he notices all sorts of things, from subatomic forces to insects crucial to a food chain. I have observed that mankind is not as good at producing a working system (for example, our cars with their struggling infrastructure on one hand and their environmental impact on the other). We're not so good at handling details, like the chemo that destroys good and bad cells at once, or the insecticide that kills an essential element of an ecosystem while trying to fix a problem for our farmers.

If I look at the universe and conclude, hey, God's pretty good at the job of being in charge, and then look at man and think, hey, we're not so good at running things--maybe I would choose to trust him. Maybe I would choose to believe he notices all the details of my life, from the subatomic to the motion of large bodies. Maybe he left the universe as a message to me, that he is big enough and good enough to be trusted with my life.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The courses I take

I learned a lot in school. I liked learning. But after graduating from college, I have learned the most from my friends. Over the years, I have come to believe that God brings new relationships into my life with the purpose of teaching me something. Each person that God brings to me is like enrolling in a new course, something with a vague title that makes you really curious what you're going to get. . .What would you expect from a course simply named Susie?

My friend Julie loved to promote her birthday. She would remind everyone when her birthday was, ask what you planned to get for her, etc. I loved her exuberance. Her example helped me to throw off my shyness about my "special day", when I expected others to make it a "great day" for me and I just humbly received their kindness. I learned to be loud and assume people loved me and wanted to be kind to me. It was a lesson that carried beyond just an annual celebration.

My friend Bonnie taught me that people can change. When we met, I was listening to talk radio and coming from a very politically polarized environment. I was quite good at categorizing people, and once I had you pegged, my expectations for you were set. Bonnie used to say out loud, "People change," and I would think, "No, they don't." But a friend helps you see the world from another perspective, and just from simple conversation I began to see things more how she sees them. I have learned to hope the best for people and expect God's best for them, assuming that his gentle love can wear on all of our hearts. And in our friendship, we discuss our own growth all the time. As I hope for my own change and have the humility to admit that I do change, I see people around me differently.

My friend Ginny has taught me how to screw up publicly and laugh it off. (I know, Bonnie, you thought you taught me this. . .) She says & does the most ridiculous things, and there are many times people really laugh AT her and not WITH her. But I have noticed that she brings the sweet aroma of freedom into any room she enters, and she enjoys her own mistakes right along with yours. The other day, everyone laughed at something stupid I said in community group, and I felt like Ginny. I felt free of my own perfectionism and the need to control my image. Joy!

Judy has taught me to value the zeal of youth, no matter how many years we collect. Bethany has taught me to be hungry to learn, to say, "I don't understand, please explain." Jennifer has taught me that it's okay to cry in front of people. My list can go on and on. . .

But the main point is this: none of these dear people set out to teach me anything. God is about the business of building my character, and he uses people around me to do so. They don't need to have any intentions towards me. . .although, a good general sense of honesty does help! Remember when God said, "Look at my servant Job"? Remember when the apostle Paul said, "Follow my example"? Those statements seem a bit scary, but it's not really up to us to model or teach. If God wants to use us, he can, and it may be he uses us to teach something we didn't even know we had to give. Maybe that's the best kind.


Do you believe that you can know God? Can you come to understand him? What would it be like to even begin to do so? When you know a person, a friend, you know what he or she likes, the way that person views situations. Sometimes you can guess what your friend will do in a situation, but because of your relationship, you are more interested in talking over things with him or her than simply guessing from afar. My friend Bonnie is valuable to me, not because I can guess what she might think about something, but because I can talk with her about things in my life that I need help with. Most likely, if you bother getting to know someone, it is because you benefit from the relationship with him or her.

Does God want this kind of relationship with us? Someone to talk to, to share things with? Sometimes, when I am praying, I will ask God, what do you want to talk about? and then sit and be quiet. After all, God took Abraham to overlook Sodom and Gomorrah and said, hey, I'm going to destroy these cities. Then he listened to Abraham plead for them not to be destroyed. Abraham was called "a friend of God." Do you want that kind of relationship with him?

One of my girls has a piece of flair on Facebook that says, "A friend will bail you out if you end up in jail. A best friend will be sitting beside you saying, wasn't that great!" Does God want to simply bail us out of trouble, or does He want to walk along side of us, through our good moments and our screw ups?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Taking some time

Life is tricky. I've always wanted to have purpose in how I make my choices and how I spend my time. However, I often find that instead of having purpose, I am either busy or bored. I am amazed at how much time one can waste on the computer. . . But it is equally true that I can be cleaning my house and teaching my kids and going to church and accomplishing no more than if I were just pounding around the internet from my keyboard.

Purpose, for me, is living in such a way that God is in the midst of my words, my actions, and my perspective. The more I learn to walk with Him, the more I am addicted to the adrenaline of His Spirit moving in me. There are times when the activity that engages me is not necessarily fun or exciting, but I have a deep sense of rightness, that I am doing just what He wants of me with that block of time. Helping my mom battle cancer, encouraging a friend in a difficult marriage, doing my part at the preschool ministry at church...and also cleaning my house, teaching my kids...God has placed me where I am in my life so that I can be salt and light. He has purpose for me in every day.

I know that time moves fast, but I am also amazed (especially when I am wasting it) at how much time we are actually given. Years seem to fly past as I get older, but still every morning when I wake up, there are quite a few hours ahead of me. Every day I choose how I live. May the Lord give me eyes to see the time He has given me, and may I be still enough to hear Him direct me in how to spend it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Write a letter

I wanted to encourage anyone who sees this blog to check out a new website I found: This site is run by Voice of the Martyrs and focuses on believers who are imprisoned around the world. They have a tool that allows you to write a letter in the language of an imprisoned pastor or lay leader. I am certain that officials take note of those prisoners in China, North Vietnam, etc., who receive mail from the United States. It takes very little time, and will cost you about $1 to mail the letter.

The following describes the "crimes" of a man arrested over a year ago in Vietnam:

Location: Vietnam
Arrested: March 2007

In May 2008, Nguyen Van Dai, a Vietnamese Protestant church leader and lawyer, was sentenced to five years in prison and followed by four years of house arrest. Nguyen was accused of a wide range of crimes, including “conspiring with terrorists, in their efforts to promote human rights efforts, including religious rights and democracy.” He was also accused of compiling “evidence of Vietnam’s suppression of the Protestant religion and providing it to the U.S.-based Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam and the U.S. embassy.”

Friday, October 24, 2008


"When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, 'I would like some meat,' then you may eat as much of it as you want." - Deuteronomy 12:20

I was so excited when I read this verse--God sanctions indulgence! Whoopee! Later on that day, I was driving to the hospital to see my mom, and I wanted to stop for a mocha. After all, I reasoned, I deserved as much expensive coffee this week as I wanted.

But even with a verse about indulgence running in the back of my head, my spirit was checked. Was this really the time for feasting? Has God brought me to a place where his promises are fulfilled? Actually, we are in a time of asking God for healing for Mom. We have not arrived; in fact, we are in the early stages of the journey, and the trail is not downhill.

I have practiced and wrestled with fasting for several years now, and recently God used Romans 12:1-2, a verse I have known a long time, to nudge me: "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. . ." Fasting, for me, is a way to offer up my body to God--not an animal slain on an altar, but me, denying my appetite, to wait on him. On the way to the hospital, was it time to indulge, or time to fast?

God himself is my food. When I turn to him in prayer, he stills my heart. He is my peace, and while it is easy to seek all sorts of things to steady my soul, he is the only one who satisfies me. The coffee is not the point, nor is God a religious bandaid to slap on top of how I am feeling. He is my shelter, and when I run to him, I am safe.

Sometimes, Jesus and I even sit down to a cup of coffee together.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Discussing the candidates

This post simply continues my thoughts from the last post. They are presented in reverse order, but I trust that you, my two readers, can figure it out. :)

If I felt that there were reasons to criticize Obama's character, I would. I believe that you cannot predict all the situations that will arise in an office like the presidency, and the character of a leader affects how he or she will respond to certain crises. However, I don't find very much to criticize in Obama's character. As far as politicians go, he seems pretty clean.

Yet I would criticize Obama for his political views. I hear him talking about giving 95% of Americans a tax cut without cutting much government spending. He said in the last debate that people like himself and Warren Buffet should be willing to give a little bit more. Is that what kind of country we want to live in? Where only the very rich contribute generously to the government? If my church were financially supported by only five people, wouldn't those five people have a large say in what is done? And if you are very rich, there is a chance that money is not your main goal--you might be more interested in control & power. Yet even with larger contributions from the very rich, does his plan seem like it will balance the budget? I really believe that fiscal irresponsibility, from Wall Street to ordinary Americans overusing credit cards, have led to the financial mess we are in. Our government needs to cut back, and begin spending responsibly. So do you and I.

He wants to increase the government's responsibility over people's lives. He wants the federal government more involved in education. By and large, I don't agree with federal controls. There is a homeschool group in my town that I cannot join because they do not support parents who choose to place their children in public school. One of my daughters goes to public school; two are schooled at home. When I explain to friends who are members why I cannot join this organization, it pains them--they want to support me as a member of their community. Yet they cannot choose to let me join because the organization is governed by national guidelines. National rules break down community and remove the individual's sense of responsibility. Instead of this local group deciding to change their bylaws, they are faced with a large national platform that they cannot easily dialogue with, so they are left helpless.

I disagree with Obama because he leans towards socialism. I think his motives are good, and I like a few of his ideas. I am watching his campaign closely because if he becomes president, there is some legislation he will advocate that I want my representatives to oppose. With a Democratically controlled legislative branch, however, there may be little we can do to stop these policies from becoming law. Such is majority rule.

As for McCain, I agree that he often has a rather painful public presentation. (Obama looks so presidential.) But do presentation skills always coincide with leadership skills? I was impressed in the final debate when Bob Schieffer asked McCain specifically, what government spending would you cut, and he began rattling off item after item. We know McCain--he has served intelligently and faithfully in the Senate for decades. His plan to veto any bill that comes across his desk with pork built in, to name names & stop this practice, is the first plan of action (not just policy) that has excited me in a presidential candidate since the Reagan era. And I think McCain is gutsy enough to do it. This action would be political suicide, unless Americans rallied around him and said thank you for finally controlling the run-away government. I wonder if we would? Do we want a responsible, limited government, or do we the people just want to be taken care of by a large parent?

Almost every politician I have ever heard is willing to have the government come to your aid if you clamber for it. Politicians are elected by making us, the constituents, happy, and the place you see this at work the most is in the tax code. Today's "tax break for small business" that gets someone re-elected becomes tomorrow's "loophole for big business" or "tax break for the very wealthy." They spend all their time playing around with very complex tax law to manipulate us so that they (and a few savvy people and organizations) benefit--sometimes financially, but also in terms of power. Power is addictive, and the founding fathers wanted to limit its intake by those who wielded it. We have moved very far from the limited government our constitution intended us to have.

No one proposes what I would like to see: a flat income tax. Let every American pay 2%, from the wealthiest to the poorest. You get a postcard in March showing the amount you owe; you pay it. Everyone has ownership in the government, so that the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy are concerned with how our money is spent. We the constituents are diligent, instead of demanding. We are not manipulated by the language of class warfare that is so often tossed about in campaigns because we all play a part. Think of the government savings we could net by cutting down the IRS. That reduction alone might create a skyrocketing unemployment, until we could find some way for these former government employees to support their families.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Discussing politics

One of the things that disturbs me about our culture is the apparent inability of people to have a discussion. With the talk show hosts & blogging & email, we have lost our politeness. At a time when we are most connected, we have learned to only connect with those who are like us. We have lost our ability to reach out to learn and share and really discuss.

I admit that I'm not all that good at discussion. I've spent a large part of my life thinking I'm absolutely right. But now that I'm gaining years, I'm realizing I don't know everything, and behold, listening to others is a good way to learn. And frankly, listening to real people is more pleasant to me than listening to Rush Limbaugh. So here's my two cents on this year's political race. Please feel free to leave comments. That would be kind of like. . .discussion.

I'm am a bit disgusted with the emails I have received from the evangelical, Republican camp that strike hysterical notes about Obama being a Muslim. It is not difficult to go to Snopes and check out the veracity of these claims. There are many sources of information on the web, but an email claiming to be true because of some list of sources is only true if you check the sources and they are accurate. Often I find that the sources contradict the presentation of information in the email. If someone approached you and said, "What I'm about to say is true, I read it in the newspaper..." would you automatically believe them? You might believe a friend who told you that their statement was true "because of this newspaper." But what if they said that a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone who read it in a newspaper said something? This is the definition of a "forwarded email".

I am tired of the smearing of Obama. I personally believe the man's claims about his Christianity. Why would you be willing to believe McCain or Palin's Christian claims, but not Obama's? Perhaps we believe the Republican but not the Democrat because we cannot believe someone would love Jesus and disagree with us on something so significant as abortion. I disagree with Obama's pro-abortion stand. But I have also known Christians that I disagreed with, and this experience gives me a platform for understanding how someone could love Jesus but still differ from me politically.

This post is getting too long. I will stop now and leave you wondering if I am a scary liberal cloaked as a Bible-belt evangelical.

Tunnel vision

Several of you, who are reading the blog about my mom's trouble, are wondering how I am doing. The simple truth is that I am not thinking very much. God has blessed me with the warm, snuggly blanket of shock and numbness and the gift of tunnel vision. My whole life used to be a balance of kids, husband, parents, friends, church, school, writing, housework, yard work. I was a spinner of plates, and I like that life. Now, my life has two states: taking care of something for Mom, and not taking care of something for Mom. There are times when she needs me to call the doctor or update the blog or handle some thing, and that is what I do. When I am done, I find something to occupy me (reading political blogs, listening to a friend's problems, crunching numbers for my church's preschool ministry) until she needs me again.

Those around me, who are not as emotionally engaged in this situation, can probably speculate about what we are facing. But I am in a plane whose engine has cut out. I have a problem to address, and I will consider the why's and wherefores later, after the plane has safely landed. Talking to me now about my mom serves little purpose, but I am very appreciative when someone hands me a screwdriver or yells out the reading on the altimeter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

God redeems

Crappy things happen in this life--and I don't mean the little fish. One of the prime examples in my own life is how sick I became with each of my pregnancies. For three months I couldn't move or talk without vomiting. I lost 10-15 pounds each time, and was hospitalized for hyperemesis two times. Day in and day out suffering is hard to endure, especially mentally. You get so sad or angry or just bored. It is a misery unlike having a cold or breaking a bone.

I would love to be pregnant and miss being sick (something that has never happened to me). I think that would be a great experience! But God has truly redeemed that time of illness for me, especially now when my own mother is suffering pain and nausea on an almost continuous basis. She is taking the same medication I took with my third pregnancy. I can say to her, "I know what this is like, Mom" and she knows that I know. It is immensely comforting to know someone else has had to walk the road God has placed before you. I have been much more empathetic of people suffering with long term illness because of my own pregnancies, but now to get to be there for Mom--I wouldn't trade the knowledge for the easy path.

I'm not sure that walking the easy path is ever helpful to other people. I have a great marriage. But I am rarely able to counsel and comfort from the platform of "my life is great." Good counselors almost always have the empathy of "I have also suffered." It's as if suffering is God's school to fit us for service.

Maybe if the goal was being perfect, those who "do it right" could help the rest of us. But I think that life's greatest lesson is that God redeems our screwups. So when someone has failed or suffered, and God has pulled them through. . .that's the person we learn from. That's the lesson we are all required to learn.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


The situation with my mom is dominating my life right now. It is so hard to wait. I thought when we had an appointment, it would get easier, but today has been hard. She is in a lot of pain, and didn't sleep last night. Waiting for Monday seems like eternity.

I keep thinking, none of this caught God by surprise. When I am numb, or crying, or angry, that one truth keeps running through my head. He is God.

I don't believe in having faith in faith. My own faith is fallible. I can't perform well enough to make something happen. But God is big, and he rules the universe. I don't always understand him, but I trust him. I hate the illness ravaging my mom, but I know that God is and that he loves us.

That said, I still wanted to break all my dishes today. Good thing I wasn't home when that urge came over me.

I think I'll go rip up my sunflowers now. Lovely weather outside.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


At ninety my grandmother begins
to recount stories we had never heard.
How her mother screamed when Ann
was born, at home, no drugs, and
my Mimi whimpered at nine, brave
enough to hide it all these years.
I always knew that she, the oldest,
was responsible and linked by duty
to a woman who was unsafe by
our standards, sad and lonely, who made
great stuffing and biscuits. Mimi
has lost her baking at ninety but still
pays tribute to her mother, who
(we now learn) buried a fetus
in a shoebox, made her eldest help
and promise not to tell the other six,
a promise Mimi kept to her death.
The miscarriage, the blood, who knows
how far along she was but not
too far—enough to deliver
something dead, at home, no drugs,
and handle it. Like Mimi has always
handled things, like each of us, a line
of the oldest, responsible, and tied
in some way to women stringing back
who screamed, bore children, made biscuits.

My child bounds in my womb,
a daughter, a promise. What will I say
at ninety, that she will scratch down
in the morning, things I have hidden
now flushed into light by my own
aging and leaving, my desire to live
in the stories I tell.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bad things, good people

People ask, why do bad things happen to good people? This question is usually posed as some kind of judgment against God, for letting things happen to us or someone we love.

It seems to me that bad things happen to everybody. If you live long enough, something "bad" is going to happen to you. Life has a lot of suffering to it. My question is, do you want to go through the bad stuff on your own, or with God? I don't remember God promising us a rosy life if we walk with him. But he does promise to be with us. His presence and involvement in my life is a huge comfort. I cannot imagine tackling all the bad stuff without his help and his perspective.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Your Father in heaven...causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). This is the same part of the sermon where Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Maybe God is just doing what he told us to do--loving those who hate him.

And the sun rises, and the sun sets. My mom is currently being tested for cancer, and is probably looking at surgery for an ovarian cyst. I believe that no matter what the "sin level" in my life, how many good deeds I stacked matter how sweet and kind my mom is, or whether she lived a debauched life, we would have to live through this week. A cancer test and waiting for the doctor's appointment on Monday. For me, I like to wait with God sitting next to me, his arm around my shoulder, than to start thinking at this point, "Hey, what are You doing?" He's worth wrestling with, because when you reach a "bad" point, it's not the best time to start working out what you believe.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The other day I hit a bird--or thought I did. There was a thump, and no body in my rear view mirror, so I resolved to check my grill at my next stop. However, I forgot. Really forgot.

The next few days we noticed a lot of flies in our garage. And a funny smell. I thought maybe some milk had leaked in our trash container. Johnny thought maybe a toad had found its way into our garage and perished. We were neither one sure how to locate the source, and it wasn't getting any prettier.

Then on Sunday night we went to our community group (a church small group that meets at a friend's house). One of the guys walked in and said, "Nice bird on your grill, Johnny." We both looked puzzled, and he said, "You know? The dead bird on the front of your van?" At that point I remembered the bird incident, and voila, our garage-smell problem was solved.

Isn't it lovely to be part of a community? There are times that parts of your life just stink, and you don't know why and you don't know how to fix it. But when you regularly hang with people who care about you, they may be able to pinpoint your problem. I guess this close-knit group used to be called family, but in our fast-paced, splintered society, it seems to be something you have to consciously choose.

Thanks, Steve, for your useful observation!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Being female

Our church is currently in a sermon series about the differences between men & women. The teaching is similar to Jeff & Shaunti Feldhan or John & Stasi Eldridge, and I find it a point. I find myself continually inspired by the "men are warriors" messages, and somewhat uninterested in the "women are beautiful" messages.

Perhaps it is because I have heard this teaching before & absorbed what is useful to me, but I do not feel moved by the idea of femininity as presented in the sermons. Instead, I am recalling something Donald Miller said in To Own a Dragon. He struggled with all these men's seminars declaring what "real men" do. And when asked to speak at one himself, he carefully researched all of Scripture, seeking what the Bible would call real men. His conclusion: in the Bible, real men are those who have a penis. If you ever wonder if you are a real man, he says, sneak off to the bathroom & check your shorts. If you find male plumbing, then God has spoken: you are a man.

I think the same can apply to being a woman. Check your plumbing; God has spoken. And in the beautiful creation of womanhood, you are part of the song. Your note may be high and fluttery, or baritone and strong, or maybe you screech more than sing--but whatever you sing forth, you are helping to create the concept of womanhood. In fact, God is continually shaping the idea of womanhood through the variety of women He makes.

I think God is a bit ornery about categories. Think about creation. He made birds to lay eggs. All birds lay eggs, and in a variety of nests and with many patterns of care. He made mammals to bear live young, who feed on the mother's milk. There is a certain order to His work. But then there is the platypus, a mammal that lays eggs. Maybe that ornery sense that we humans have of wanting to buck the system just a little doesn't only come from the rebellion in the Garden. Maybe we are ornery in part resembling the nature of God himself.

What do you think?

Friday, September 26, 2008

What the world thrusts at you

"Deal as sparingly as possible with the things this world thrusts at you." - 1 Corinthians 7, The Message

The NIV translation of the Bible renders the same passage: "...those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world and its present form are passing away."

Not much to add to that, is there? Don't get attached to your stuff. Of course, there are times when your stuff is something God uses to get your attention or accomplish his purposes, and you have to parse when he is involved and when you are getting caught up in what the world thrusts at you.

And the world does thrust stuff at us, doesn't it? I have more filters & fences in place, now that I am almost 40, but I watch my kids. . . By definition, they are immature, and their brains simply can't filter our society the way I can. Even when they know "what mom & dad think", they have sex and greed thrust at them everywhere they go, like enticing candies offered free with "no strings attached!"

It is not enough to say, don't pursue this world. They must have something they can actively go after. I have heard all sorts of counsel about "get your kids involved in sports or some extracurricular activity" as a drug prevention or something. But that is an easy fix, involving them in an activitiy just because it is controllable and defined from your perspective. Behind it, you must have a strong sense of what skills God requires to live in this world. When is he involved in some earthly pursuit, and when is it going to be a distraction to hearing him?

Jesus himself wants you (and your kids!) to be safe as you navigate your life--but he's not going to take you out of the mess that is this world. He prayed for us, knowing himself what it is like to have the world thrust things at you: "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one...Sanctify them by the truth." Protect me, Jesus, from getting in on someone else's plan for me instead of your plan. Use truth to keep me awake to my choices.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The big picture

I work in our church's preschool ministry, placing teachers & tallying roll. We recently expanded our area, and now have two information desks at two different wings (North and West). In the old area, I used to place all the teachers, making decisions like "the 4-year-olds will have to get by with only one teacher and a youth helper because I need a set of hands to hold crying 1-year-olds." These decisions were easy to make--I could hear the one-year-olds crying, and since I was responsible for the entire area, I had to choose where to place the people I had.

Now I simply place teachers for the older group of preschools, ages 3-5, in the West Wing. Three weeks in a row, I have received calls from my director, asking for teachers for the younger classes. Yes, you heard me: she has been taking teachers away from me to work in the North Wing holding babies. MY teachers. The ones caring for MY preschoolers. How audacious. I am sure you are as equally affronted as I.

This past Sunday, the director was gone, and after I had placed teachers in the West Wing, I moved to North to check on their situation. Because I could see that they needed a teacher, I pulled one from the West Wing to make things work...and promptly laughed at myself. Sure, when I can see the Big Picture, I play like a team. Put me in my own wing, and I become introverted and selfish.

Long set up to say--don't you think God is the Big Picture guy? I'm down here moving my people around and making things work in my own corner, but for the sake of the Big Picture, he will sometimes take things (and people!) away from me. And he never vacations for a weekend and puts me in his place--I don't really get to see things from his perspective. I have to trust. I have to believe that there is a Big Picture, and that sometimes it is more important than my corner.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Boxing God

People like to keep their God in a box, which
I never seem to have on hand, either
for religion or that gift needing
to be wrapped. So I use a zipper seal bag,
and despite the advertising, it leaks,
and God spills all over my refrigerator.
Perhaps I should try a decorative tin or
one of those accordion folders with
tabs, to help with easy reference.

He doesn’t seem willing to be contained,
always turning up in the bottom of my purse
with pennies and old receipts. Once I found
the Lord beneath the cushions on the couch,
and one time late Sunday the children left him
out with their toys. I spied him through
the kitchen window as the rain began.

You have heard the Lord is like the wind,
which I might try to bottle and sell
at roadside stands or home-based parties.
I have labels in coordinated colors, and
on my birthday I received a little gadget
that prints my name, over and over.
God smiles, and affixes my offering
across his workshirt pocket.

Not feeling it

I love church, but yesterday I was not feeling very hyped when I entered the service. The music was already going, and since my church is contemporary, I had the feeling of walking into a rock concert for a group I just wasn't very excited about. However, church is about worshiping God, and I do love God, so one would like to feel more...adoring.

This is where my understanding of grace comes in: God knows me inside and out, and His expectations for me are pretty low. On my own, I don't have a lot to bring. So here I was on Sunday, entering the very throne room of God Almighty. I give a small wave and say, "Hi, Daddy. Not feeling much today, but I'm here, and I'm just going to go sit in the corner."

He smiles at me. I am welcome. Wow! He is truly holy and awesome, and He welcomes me that easily.

Now I feel adoring.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


When I hear the word lament, I think of being sad. In Beholding & Becoming, Graham Cooke defines lament as worshiping God when our circumstances are bad. Here is an excerpt:

God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things, and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, "I will help you to will to worship God." The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do.

Too often, we either back away from our grief when we come to worship, or we quit worshiping at all in the face of the pain. We feel like we have to come to Him at our best, highest point. But God's heart is to accept us as we are. He wants us to step into that pain and worship him with it.

. . . .This worship isn't done in order to have God remove the pain. It simply recognizes that God stands in the moment with us. Lamentation elevates God in the presence of our enemies. It brings out a side of God that other forms of worship simply cannot touch.

He calls this "though/yet" worship. "Though" (and you fill in the blank), "yet" (and then you worship God). He comments that if life is going good for you, then rejoice and skip this section, so initially I did. But I find that it is a powerful tool. Last Monday, I was just feeling BLAH, and so I began to lament. Though I feel emotionally flat, yet I will sing a song to you, Lord. I find this powerful because it does two things: it brings your heart to God in complete honesty, and it moves you to worship (which we often talk of but don't always DO).

Friday, September 19, 2008


Everything in my life comes in snippets.

I write poetry because it is short. I make biscuits (as opposed to yeast bread or three layer cakes) because they are a quick bake. I call friends only if they understand that I may need to get off at any minute.

My life is very interruptible. Why? I suppose because my kids are a priority to me, and I like to be able to stop whatever I am doing to attend to them.

For example, I must now stop blogging to take my daughter to church.