Friday, January 30, 2009

Slow motion

When I am behind a slow-moving car, I assume that the Lord has put an angel in front of me for His own purposes. Perhaps he is helping me avoid a speeding ticket. Perhaps he is keeping me back from a dangerous intersection. I like to think of radical possibilities, because it helps me be more patient. This slow car becomes, in my mind, a pace car--which I will go around if given the opportunity.

In life, does God ever put a pace car in front of you? When my husband doesn't instantly see a decision the way I do, he delays us moving forward--he is my pace car. When my three children are with me and we must stop to deal with their issues, instead of just mine, they are a pace car. Perhaps that annoying person who answers the phone in some office, who cannot seem to understand your question and patch you through quickly to the solution--perhaps she is a pace car. Look for them; they are present all around you. Now the question is, why is God pacing you? Something to think about next time you are stuck on a narrow road, going 18mph...where do you think I came up with this post?

Caught up in judgment

Ezekiel is a scary book. The people of God have aroused his anger to the point that judgment WILL come, and it will not be pretty. In Ezekiel 21, the Lord tells Ezekiel to make a map and trace two routes for the king of Babylon to follow: "Put a signpost on the road that comes out of Babylon where the road forks into two" (verse 19). Do you have a signpost in your life, to direct the enemy? Do you put up anger or bitterness or depression and say, "This way! Come over here!" Lord, show us the signposts we have put up for evil, and help us pull them down. Make new maps for our lives, Father!

The other thing that struck me, with that same weird comfort that I spoke of in the Perhaps post, is that God's wrath fell on "the righteous and wicked alike." He was very clear that he was not going to spare the righteous in his judgment on Israel. Wow, what a heads up. When the church my husband & I had attended all of our married life split, I saw all sorts of damage to righteous people. I felt damaged in my own life & ministry. And here God says plainly: I will not spare you when I bring my judgment.

Knowing something is good, but it is also nice to know what to do next. The end of Ezekiel is full of promise, of God's plan to restore his people. When you are caught up in a judgment, some kind of wrath that seems to fall from God's hand, you might get hurt. But he is the God that restores as well as the God who judges. When you look at the wreckage left over from his sword, begin to seek out his restoration. It is there. He is faithful and good--both to tear down and to build back. Remember that he is holy, and he will triumph. No one said that getting there was a pretty skip through daisies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


In Joshua 14:12, Caleb asks for the land that he was promised forty years before when he and Joshua helped scout out Canaan. From the older generation, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the Promised Land, as a reward for their faith, and now Caleb wants his piece of the fight. He has been faithful to follow God whole-heartedly, and in his old age, he is willing to pursue God's gift to him.

Notice his language. In the NAS, this verse reads, "perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I will drive them out as the LORD has spoken." He knows that God has promised to drive the inhabitants from the Promised Land, that the Israelites will take this land as their new home. Yet he uses the word "perhaps."

This passage was drawn to my attention by Richard Dahlstrom, and you can find his excellent blog at Caleb knew that God would accomplish his purposes for Israel. He also knew that things could go wrong. He had seen Israel routed at Ai after the remarkable victory at Jericho. Even though things were set straight, people died in the initial battle. Following God has a large risk component--and still Caleb plunged ahead.

Following God will not allow us to stay in our comfort zones. Ever. Even when you follow him for a bit and find that you like it, and get rather used to the crazy life he gives you...when you reach a comfort plateau, hold on, because following God intentionally will put you at the front line of battle, and things are messy there. Oddly enough, I find Caleb's "perhaps" comforting, just like I find the book of Ecclesiastes comforting. I want to live a life where I see signs, miracles, and wonders from the hand of God, but sometimes life is confusing and overwhelming. Because the bible shows me life as I witness it while still giving me something to reach for, I am both comforted and inspired. Thank you, God, for being real, and yet so very amazing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Jesus loves you
sang her bumper,
just one small tasteful
sign. Jesus rode
in the backseat,
hunched down
flipping the lid
on the ashtray as
the car left Wal-Mart,
passing the remarkable
young and handsome
homeless man, hastily
lifting his cardboard sign.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The faith of teenagers

God surprises me sometimes. I tend to be more surprised when he says "yes" to a prayer than when he says "no"--that's rather funny for a person of faith, but it's true.

My daughter invited a friend to a discipleship weekend at our church that began this last Friday. For a week, we had high drama, with new stories every day (or two hours) about why she couldn't go. It was like holding on to a shape shifter (if you have handy sci-fi images in your databank to draw on...). Just the uncertainty of it drove me crazy, but my daughter persisted. I would have given up so many times, but in the end, her friend went. Furthermore, she made friends at our church, had a blast, and now wants to attend every time the doors are open.

We told stories about this weekend in our community group that had the chorus of "but the adults said." Always, these kids were out-faithing us. They thought they could make an effort, and God would respond by working in the lives of people around them. We adults thought they should seek their own comfort, stay within boundaries, put God on the spot a little less often. We were safe. They had the faith of...children.

Don't tell my teenagers I used that word!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rambling about books

I just finished reading the second book in Anne Rice's trilogy, Christ the Lord. The first book is Out of Egypt; the one I finished is The Road to Cana. Anne Rice is the vampire-guru from pre-Twilight days, best known perhaps for Interview with a Vampire, which was made into a movie with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Her vampire tales never appealed to me--too creepy. But one afternoon I did catch 20 minutes of the movie, and was even more convinced I should stay away. The movie screamed "Danger!" to me--not because it was occultish, but because it was too seductively attractive to me.

A few years ago a Mormon friend was late dropping her daughter off for my daughter's birthday party, and she was gushing to explain why. She & her daughter were reading this GREAT book by a Mormon woman about vampires. Don't get freaked out! she said, It's not weird! It was a love story without any sex, blah blah blah. From my first introduction, Twilight was clearly a book I wasn't interested in.

Then one day I chanced on Out of Egypt--Anne Rice, writing about Jesus? And she was not only writing about Jesus. She was writing Jesus in the first-person. Wow, that's bold, I thought. I researched her on the internet before reading, and who knew. She was raised Catholic, married an atheist, and after decades with a man she loved, she lost him to a brain tumor. Somewhere in her grief, she came back to the church...and to Christ the Lord.

It was a bit freaky to me to read a fictional book about Christ in first-person. However, I love Rice's portrayal of Jesus. He is human; he is divine; he is the Almighty in flesh, and her depiction does not conflict with the Jesus I am in love with. She is using the writing skills honed all of those years on vampires in order to write about Christ.

I wish I had some kind of conclusion or observation, but really, I simply enjoyed this book that I read. So I blogged. Thanks for reading. :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

What we hold

Pharaoh finally told the Israelites that they could leave their place of slavery to go worship their God. As they were leaving, God told them to ask their Egyptian neighbors for jewelry and clothing and things made of silver and gold. In essence, they plundered their captors as they left the country. This must have felt sweet to the Israelites. They were kicking butt!

Some of them probably ate every day from their new silver plates, or toasted their neighbor with the fancy gold goblet that their overlord used to drink from. Some of them probably donned their new beautiful clothing for special occasions. Some might have kept their new treasures tucked away, a bit overwhelmed by all the splendor but quietly very happy.

After a few months, the Israelites watched Moses ascend Mt. Sinai. We know he came back with the Ten Commandments, but it was really more than that. Moses returned from meeting God with a whole new culture, a way for the Israelites to live that included a system of justice and a way to worship Yahweh, the God to whom they had been formally introduced during this Exodus experience. One of the components of the new religion was a Tabernacle, a tent where God's presence would live.

And guess what? Anyone who was willing could donate articles of silver and gold and fine fabrics of all kinds! The Tabernacle would need jewels, too. Can you see Ben looking down at his tunic, Ruth thinking of her bracelet tucked in her bedroll, and Levi considering the fifteen gold plates on which he's been serving manna? God does not require them to give their plunder over. He asks anyone who has a willing heart to give.

When they enter the Promised Land, forty years later, they are forbidden to take any plunder from Jericho, the first city. Subsequent plunder will be theirs to have, and they will settle in a land of wealth. But now, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, with their new goodies in hand, God says, "Do you want to give those things to me?" God is always more concerned with what we hold in our hearts, than what we hold in our hands--but what I'm holding onto physically might actually represent what is holding my heart.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Free to worship

The Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt, the place of their slavery, and wandered around for a while before coming to Mt. Sinai. Everyone, whether they are a bible scholar or not, knows that Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt--duh. But what struck me this time as I was reading Exodus was what Moses told Pharaoh: we're going into the desert to offer sacrifices to our God. Over and over, Moses and Pharaoh argue over the details of this worship. Pharaoh says only the men can go, or you can't take your possessions, etc. Moses insists that they must go worship God, every Israelite man, woman, and child, and they must take everything they own. After all, you never know what God is going to require of you when you get to the place of worship.

There is a duality even in Scripture over their going: are they going for freedom, or are they going to worship? Obviously, Pharaoh does not think they will return, so this "worship" thing seems like a ruse. Was it really? Why did God direct Moses to ask about going to worship? Couldn't Moses have just approached with the demand, "Let my people go!" All the movies give us the non-confusing version, the simple "deliver us from slavery." Yet God added another dimension: let my people worship.

I wonder if the Israelites should have payed more attention to the worship demand. They were thrilled to be free--until it got uncomfortable. They were thrilled with God's deliverance--until he seemed distant, and then they wanted a god they could SEE. Maybe if they had kept in focus that they were going out of slavery in order to worship, they would not have screwed up as much as they did. When we are leaving our slavery, are we seeking worship? Are we looking to praise and adore and know the God who can set us free? What other reason could we have to leave slavery behind?

Friday, January 16, 2009

What to eat

Is there a situation in your life, where you feel you are moving from slavery to freedom? God took Israel from the slavery they suffered in Egypt, and with signs and wonders, he delivered them to the Promised Land. However, the story doesn't read like a fairy tale.

The Israelites were slaves. They were miserable, and they cried out to God probably for hundreds of years before he sent Moses to lead them away from their slavery. Hundreds of years. . .yet when they found themselves in the wilderness, free men and women, they grumbled that at least in Egypt, they had had bread and meat. In slavery, they had plenty to eat, and now they were hungry! I wonder if their prayers for deliverance hadn't lapsed into just a status quo repetition. Familiar misery is at least familiar.

God did give them food in the wilderness: manna. Manna came every day, and it was just enough. If you are moving from an area of slavery to freedom, ask God for manna to sustain you. Someday you may get to a land flowing with milk and honey, but for the journey, sometimes there's just manna. Enough for the day; it cannot be saved; it rots if you hoard it; a little extra when God says you need it (Sabbath).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No news is good news

I don't watch the evening news very often, and I rarely read the newspaper. Does that horrify you? I suppose my thinking is similar to why I don't watch Law and Order any more. It preoccupies me with the wrong things. I have other things to do with my life.

The other day I received an email about a new law addressing lead in children's products. This law requires testing of all products to be used by children ages 0-12, including clothing, to make sure it is lead-free. Clothing was included (not just toys) because a child once swallowed a button colored with lead paint and died. The law passed through the House and Senate very quickly and almost without opposition because of the recent problems with toys during the past few Christmas seasons. I researched the information via the internet and felt assured of its validity.

Perhaps, because it was passed quickly, the law wasn't well-thought out. But unless local merchants ignore the law and it is not enforced, consignment shops will be largely forced out of business. Who can afford the $50,000 to test inventory of used clothes? Even if the cost of lead testing were brought down, with consignment stores earning an average of $2.50 per item sold, this law is devastating to them. And since the economic news turned bleak, second-hand sales have been booming.

When I heard about this, I felt compelled to take some kind of action. I wrote my U.S. Senators; I posted a note explaining the situation on Facebook. Studying history in depth with my homeschoolers, I believe it is essential that we the people participate in our government, or we will not long enjoy its freedoms. But it is a daunting task, this responsibility to be engaged.

My mind is occupied with many things: schooling my kids, parenting them all, having a good marriage, keeping the house clean, the preschool ministry at church, situations my family and friends face, growing with God. I try to responsibly respond to news I encounter in my daily life: emails, phone calls, Elizabeth coming home from school. The BBC or Jim Lehrer or Charlie Gibson bringing me news from the world, some of which I can have no response to, almost shuts me down. Until I teach current events, for the sake of my own sanity, no news is good news.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The ministry of listening, part 2

Now that we've established that my advice isn't as valuable as I might think, and that listening is one of the best ministries we can have, I would like to add one thought: blessing. My favorite people to talk to are those who bless me. Just yesterday, I was talking to my friend Terri and we were encouraging each other in our homeschooling endeavors. At the end of the conversation, I said flippantly, "We should record this conversation to encourage us later." She immediately said, "You are a great mom and a great teacher."

To bless someone, you have two choices. You can tell them some truth about themselves, something that may be obvious to others but they can't see. Or you can (in the words of Gary Smalley, who wrote The Blessing) "picture a positive future" for them. Terri may not know whether I am a great mom or a great teacher. But she knows that I want to be those things, and so she paints a picture for me to live up to. Her words somehow strengthen me to attain the very thing I want.

Verbal blessings have great power. Cultivate them and give them away freely. My mother once told me, "You must be very special to God, for him to trust you with such a trial." My dad repeatedly tells me, "I trust your ability to live your life well." I surround myself with friends who will tell me I am a good mom, because my beautiful, adored teenagers are not saying so. Hallmark moments are not the best time for blessings. They should be used like your everyday dishes.

Do not forget the opposite of blessing: you can curse someone by picturing a negative future for them. As much as I love my girls, I too often fall into the trap of harmful words. May God cover up my mistakes with his grace, and water my words of blessing in the lives of my family, my friends, and even clerks at Wal-Mart.

The ministry of listening

I talk to a lot of people, because I like talking. I like discussing my own viewpoint, because half of my thinking is done when my mouth is moving. Sometimes I advise people (which is very similar to spouting my own viewpoint. . .), and I often consider time with friends to be times of ministry.

Recently, listening to one of my friends, it occurred to me that the bulk of the conversation is not valuable because of my advice. Mostly, people need to talk--not just me. Who knew! When we say things out loud, we hear ourselves, separated from the chaos in our heads. Speaking gives us a steady stream to follow, and when we don't like where it is leading or where it has flowed, we can change it. Thinking is not always so clear.

Sometimes, don't you just want someone to listen? It's not that the comment made to you at the parent/teacher conference is really important, and you know the teacher only wants the best for your child. You know how to think the right things, but you want to tell the story aloud to someone. You want your feelings about the situation to be validated, and then you will go on and do the right thing. When someone listens to us, it makes our story important.

I can sometimes offer a perspective or a comment that is useful to someone, in a friendly conversation. We all do that for each other. But now, when I am listening to my friends, I realize that the greatest ministry is for them to hear themselves, to be validated by my ears.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I am not enthusiastic about making resolutions, and yet I like the concept. In the midst of my ambivalence, I read posts by two friends that I would like to share.

The first suggested listing five "Impossible Tasks" that you resolve to do in 2009. One of hers was "race Nascar in a purple polka dot dress." What a lovely image! The idea is that you list the impossible and then those things are out of the way, and you can focus on what you really can accomplish. I had a similar exercise one summer, as we were beginning break. There were SO many things I wanted to do, so I listed out how I planned my ideal summer to go. I wrote a paragraph each on five different areas of my life that I would like to develop with my "free time" out of school, and went over the top in my expectations. It was fun to purge my zealousness, but what surprised me was that at the end of summer break, I had actually seen growth in every area addressed in my essay. Sure, I did not have perfect abs and a regular aerobic, weights, and stretching work out, but I had begun an exercise plan, one that I could stick with even after school started.

My second friend said that each new year, she asked God for a word--one simple word that would provide guidance for her coming year (see Ginny's post here). Ironically, the Lord had spoken a single word to me sometime last January or early February. The word was "consume." I took initially him to mean "use up things around your house" and began burning all my candles and using up "special" things I had been saving in various closets. This task proved to be more insurmountable than I had imagined, which led me to wonder about the logic of hoarding. Even greater, the word "consume" began to affect my generosity. What if all the money I had was given to me to use? It obviously wasn't going to go with me to heaven. I began to ask God what I should use it for. One might think that this scary question would lead me to never save, but sometimes he directed me to set it aside for a purpose later. More exciting to me, however, was when God directed me to spend it on my children. I have gained a new perspective: they will only be with me for a season. By all means, spend enough that they feel blessed in their clothing, their diet, and in fun. I'm not sure if my kids notice a difference, but my level of joy when we go shopping (a required activity with three growing girls!) has radically increased.

I have done both of these new year's activities. My list of impossible resolutions is on Marie's website, Five a Day--it's not as clever as hers. :( My word for the year is "cleanse." Both of these activities leave me unfettered, free to chase the new year as it comes. I am not bound by any goals or time-limited resolutions. I wonder what God is up to in 2009?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Beautiful variety

When I was twenty and recently married, Johnny and I joined a church in Tulsa that for the next ten years was the heart of my community. Tonight, I had dinner with four of the women that went to that church. This evening topped any reunion I have ever been a part of. Some of us have kept in touch to varying degrees. Those of us who forgot photos of the kids found them in someone else's wallet--how sweet is that? We have all stayed in Tulsa, so this was a time to reconnect with stories of kids, epiphanies, and job adventures.

It was like a brief convergence of five rivers, bubbling over with different things to share. The beauty in the lives and choices of each of these women struck me. I listened to story after story and delighted in the perspective and struggle and growth each one brought forth. Such different creatures! When the Twilight books came up, everyone had a different comment, a different perspective (except Rhonda, who is quiet--an aspect of her own beauty).

Our gathering brought to mind Christ's church. Paul says that the church is a body, with different parts, each performing his or her own service. As I delighted in my friends, I valued their uniqueness. I am sure that God looks down on his creation and values us each for how we are uniquely made. But often in church, we somehow expect everyone to be the same. I am not sure we could have discussed Twilight in a church building with the same freedom we had at Panera. There would perhaps be the prevailing notion that vampires are just WRONG (although given the number of church people that have read the series, that pervading sense may not be there--stick with me just for the sake of illustration).

Yet the church is supposed to be varied, and those varied parts come together with a common goal to sharpen and encourage each other. Different perspectives allow grace to operate and place God as our ultimate authority. There are things I can do, and some tasks that I cannot. Someone else--in fact, a lot of someone elses--with different personalities are needed, because if we were all like me, the church would not be whole, nor would it be healthy.

Hm . . .would you describe the American church as "healthy"?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Eye rolling and being stupid

When I was a teenager, I remember how being around my dad always made me feel stupid. I remember his eye rolls, his moans, his shaking of the head. . .things that indicated that I was just acting like an idiot. Today, I got a glimpse of his perspective. My eldest was buying pop for her friends from a machine--even though it was 11:00 in the morning, and we had pop at home in bottles to be consumed for free. Okay, I can let her make this choice. But the machine was mostly empty and kept standing silent when the different buttons were pushed. At one point, Abby got frustrated because it wouldn't give her the pop she wanted and started to add more money to the machine. What?? Why would you add more money to a machine that won't give you what you want?

Now I have read research about teenage brains that my dad never had access to. Their frontal lobe is simply not developed. Their ability to reason and make decisions is very limited, compared to an adult. Knowing that these kind of judgments are actually hard for her physiologically helps me. On the way back to the car, I'm asking God, "Are we at least training her, God? Is she at least learning through this kind of situation?" How can I give her more and more freedom when she is apt to behave so...stupidly?

At some point in college, I remember stating that I simply had no common sense. I knew I was "smart"--I had scholarships and grades to back that up. But I had also gotten into a lot of embarrassing situations just by being stupid, by lacking judgment--and my dad's eye rolls were always in the back of my mind. The trick now is for me to help my daughter grow in her freedom, grow in her judgment, and still communicate my blessing. Of all the parenting articles I've read that address eye rolling, none of them have advised me about my own.