Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Performance and nose-piercing

My daughter has been sick, and she's been watching a lot of teen drama. Of course we all roll our eyes at teen drama. But there was a moment in this story that was useful to me.

This teenage girl was going to a poetry slam to try to impress a boy. Her poem was a piece of fluff, and she didn't advance. Afterwards she asked the judge why, and he said, "We were looking for something a little more raw." So she pierces her nose and seeks some angst to make her poetry better.

This story resonated with me because in my twenties, I wrote and sought to publish my poetry. I'm now in my forties, and I can clearly see why I was so frustrated in those days. The people who were judging my poetry held to values that were completely different than mine. We both respected the craft of language, but I was looking for meaning, and the crowd who judged what was and wasn't publishable wanted an expression of the twentieth-century crisis of meaning in our post-modern chaos. It is very hard to seek the approval of people whose standard is not something I respect.
(The audience at the All Asia Cafe reacts to scores presented for a poem in the preliminary rounds of the 2011 National Poetry Slam. Photo © 2011 Richard Beaubien. I still love poetry.)

Yet I was somehow seeking their approval, like the nose-pierced girl in the story. If they said my poetry was good, then I had a meaningful life. But in order to remain true to myself, I had to convince them that my words were powerful and my old-fashioned sense of God and truth were real, themes they largely rejected. It was like going to a beauty contest and expecting praise for my lovely flute playing but not bothering with the swimsuit and evening gown.

Then I realized that somehow, I have even been struggling with the values of American television. In another strain of the tv drama, the mother gave a morning-after pill to her son's girlfriend, whose parents would have freaked for religious reasons over her having sex. She bemoaned why he didn't use a condom, when they kept them in the bathroom and always talked with him openly about "wise" sexual choices.

In this story, I'm the wacko religious parents, who appear in every tv drama and are always belittled. However, I am not seeking to please this crowd. Even though my God is invisible, some day I will stand before Him and answer to how I have raised my children. The world may cast me as stupid, an irresponsible, head-in-the-sand parent, but someday I really believe reality will shift, and "their" opinion is not the one that matters.

This small epiphany expanded yesterday: I'm also not seeking the approval of my church friends, or family. Voices of approval or disapproval slip into my head very easily, but there is one voice I am listening for. It takes work to constantly tune in to Him. I can miss His conviction, and I can miss His direction if I do not consciously bring my parenting to His altar and listen. I have to be still, and I have to be intentional.

In this blog article, let me be one small voice encouraging you to listen to Dad. I may need to come back and reread it myself, on those days I feel like piercing my nose and performing for the poetry judges.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nativity

Reposted from December 14, 2009

This year, at my daughters' choir concert, I watched little 6-year-olds march into the church in their adorable sheep and shepherd outfits. Three teenagers carried in gifts, wearing splendid robes, like choir boys carrying the sacred items to the altar.

We know that celebrations of the nativity like this are not meant to be representations of the actual event. I started wondering...what would an American equivalent be? Joseph and Mary, good, church-attending kids, who got pregnant out of wedlock. Heads shake, because although we hope they do better, we know that so often church kids look just like the world. They drive an Aerostar, handed down in the family, to Kansas City, because Joseph hears they are hiring there, and he desperately needs a job. They don't have enough money for a hotel, and they are run out of several parking lots for vagrancy. One shop owner, locking up for the night, tells them to park behind his rental house, which hasn't been leased yet. He can't let them stay in the house, but they can sleep in their van in the driveway without fear of being run off.

In that van, in that borrowed driveway, Mary gives birth to the Savior of the world, whose head is cone-shaped, and he snorts a lot. We don't know His apgar score; they clean Him up as best they can and wrap Him in a blanket that Joseph's mom had bought for them, a beautiful new one, blue because Mary was just "sure" it would be a boy. The Savior, helpless in their arms. He's too tired to nurse, so they cuddle up as best as they can to try to sleep.

In a bar not too many streets over, some Hispanic landscape workers have stopped to have a beer before heading home. They are laughing and telling stories, the only people there except the owner and a waitress, when suddenly a brilliant light appears from the wall. A form appears in the light and speaks to them: do not be afraid, there is good news. The angel gives them an address, tells them they will find a baby newly born in an Aerostar van, and then suddenly the inside of the bar is bathed in light and angels everywhere, on every wall, across the ceiling, as if the roof has been lifted off and transported them all to heaven, giving glory to God Almighty...and then it stops. It's just a bar again. The men are stunned. They leave their drinks, their expensive equipment and run the few blocks to the place where the angels told them they would find a child. Sure enough! The beautiful blue blanket, the tiny, impoverished family, somehow just like them. The men marvel at the angel's accurate words. What a visitation! What could this mean! They tell everyone they meet, but no one understands it. The media won't even pick up the story, because it's just a group of Hispanics with a wild tale (from a bar, no less). The owner of the bar buys a picture of an angel to hang on the wall; they will never forget this night in this one run-down watering hole. This is the first place Jesus is exalted, God's choice of a church service.

Joseph does find work as a welder (his trade), and they rent a small house, and the baby grows. Mary gets a job at a fabric shop and Jesus stays with a woman next door who takes in a few neighbor kids. She's not registered with DHS, but they trust her, and she is very fond of their child. One day when Mary stops to pick up Jesus after getting off work, she finds three men in business suits talking with Jesus' caretaker. They were wanting to know if this was indeed Jesus BarJoseph, born on such and such date. Mary is puzzled and a little hesitant to answer their questions, but God somehow eases her heart, that it is safe to say yes. They have been searching for this child. The white-haired man who seems to be in charge introduces himself as Warren Buffett. Mary does not know who he is, but he says that he has been waiting for this child, and he would like to be a silent benefactor. He has set up a trust fund for the child, to provide private schooling, an allowance for necessary living expenses, and a college education. He would like to finance any venture that the child chooses when He is grown...could they sit and talk? Mr. Buffett has brought his lawyer and accountant. He assures Mary that he wants nothing in return; it is a blessing simply to silently provide what he can. Mary marvels at this. She remembers the immigrant workers who came when Jesus was born, and she stores these things in her heart. Her son will now be able to go to a good school, have decent clothes. How good of God to provide, even before the child is in preschool.

Because Mary and Joseph are not wealthy, the neighborhood where they live is a little rough. They are sometimes harassed for being Middle Eastern. When Jesus is about two, a very bad character begins asserting influence. He is an Asian gang member, recently moved to Kansas City from Los Angeles, and he has some ideas about what should be happening in their corner of the world. As his influence grows, their neighborhood becomes very frightening, and they often find themselves under attack by this new gang. One night, warned in a dream, Joseph is instructed to take their son and flee to Arkansas...

Wouldn't it be fun to set up a nativity with a tiny model Aeorstar, three figures stuffed inside, Hispanic workers running towards it, sometimes modeled with a weedeater in hand, to show their trade. A figure of Warren Buffet and two other men in suits standing to the side, with briefcases. Our version has a limo that these businessmen arrived in, and there is a stray dog cocking his head and looking in the van, curious like everyone else.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A gift finds its life

During the holidays, I think about family maybe more than usual--the gift of family in general, but also those who have passed on. And I enjoy where my kids are in the moment: preschoolers with their fascination of boxes (not the gift you actually bought), school-age children who are learning to give and not just receive, or teenagers who are finding their own path. This year, those two sentimental moments collided.

My daughter, home from college, suggested to my high school senior that they have a party. It was delightful to me to watch them plan food and activities together, contact friends, and work through obstacles. In the two days leading up to it, the girls and I shopped and cooked, and furiously cleaned the house. Yes, they cleaned the house. It was like Christmas-come-early for me, as you might imagine.

The eldest was telling me the litany of drinks, which included coffee. (Side note: I'm so glad she's the type of college student who came home passionate about coffee instead of alcohol. Way to go, girl.) She was also planning to make punch and asked if I had a bowl.

In the last year of her life, my husband's grandmother lived with us. I have so many memories of her. She was opinionated and deeply loyal to her family. She always had "suggestions," which she usually sort of forced on you, and yet you still felt loved in all her bullying. (My husband didn't always react so well to her, which is probably the difference of living with her for one year vs. having a lifetime of bossiness.) One time, she showed me this punch bowl that she had and announced, "You're going to need this, with three girls. You'll have parties and weddings and all sorts of receptions. You'll need a punch bowl."

Right. Of course, she lived decades in Tennessee, raising her daughter in the 50's and 60's. Punch bowls were probably a requirement in her world, but I just didn't see it happening in mine. The punch bowl, filled with glasses, stayed at the top of my husband's closet.

But when my daughter said, "Do we have a bowl for the punch?" I suddenly remembered it. We dug it out. It was resting on a cut glass plate, and as we unloaded all the glasses, there was something like a candy dish inside. I realized it was a tier: the bowl rested on the odd little piece and then on the tray to make a chalice. She had included hooks for the sides of the bowl, from which you could hang the cups.

And all the cups were mismatched. The bowl was this amazing contraption, but the cups were some smooth, some with glass fruit patterns, some cut in all different styles. Two of one pattern, four of another, for a total of 24. I love mismatched things. It feels a bit modern somehow, the hodgepodge of styles, held together with the punch theme.

And the first time I cared about it was my daughters' first party as young adults. The punch bowl served my eldest's favorite recipe: Hawaiian punch and Sprite, not fancy at all. It was gobbled up by the dozen teenagers in my home (mostly boys, who I'm sure didn't really care about the beautiful little glass punch cups).

And there was the memory of Grandmother, standing in my kitchen: "I told you that you would need a punch bowl."

For parties.

For weddings.

For all kinds of receptions.

I guess when I go forward in this life, I will be equipped with the punch bowl I didn't know I needed. Heritage is like that--it gives you things you never knew you would want.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mary, did you know?

At least once during the Christmas season, I spontaneously burst into tears over a Christmas song. Usually, it's "Mary, Did You Know?" but today it was something similar: "You're Here" by Francesca Battistelli.

The line, "I'll be watching when you change the world" is what started me blubbering. My children are poised on the edge of adulthood. I want to watch them change the world. I've worked to teach them what that looks like: loving people, not seeking your own glory, serving others, listening, committing. I'm not sure if any of us get a "big assignment." We're each a part of the church, this amazing organism that is Jesus Christ in a hurting world.

But what did it look like, for Mary, when Jesus changed the world?

I was talking with one of my girls about Christianity in the car the other day. We were talking about how deeply she questions her beliefs, and I simply reassured her: if you seek God, you will find Him. By asking questions, you are making sure that the foundation for your life is solid and worth building on. A solid foundation is worth having, so ask away. She knows that there are claims on your life when you follow God. She struggles with the truth that, as a Christian, you can't just do whatever you want.

We have three desires for our daughters' future spouses: 1) be kind and respectful, 2) follow Jesus, and 3) be willing and able to support a family. My daughter said that she hoped she would be attractive to a Christian, even though she questions God so much.

My heart cried out, "Oh, yes, baby. You will be attractive to the kind of man you will need." I really believe that each of my children will grow up to change the world, just because they are so alive and beautiful. They are salt and light. Wherever God takes them, they will bring healing, preservation, and a brightness that is in them because of God.

The world, however, can be harsh and ugly. And I think the world will hurt them. I've watched it already in the "safe" environment of school and church.

So when Francesca Battistelli sings, "But I'll be watching when you change the world," I think of Mary at a distance as Jesus is being scourged. I think of her watching him impaled on a cross and hanging naked like a criminal.

Because He was saving us.

She had a few people around her who were heartbroken with her, but her heart was so shattered that God warned her in advance what was coming (Luke 2:35), just so she would know that this was not beyond Him: it was actually the plan.

If I want the Lord to work in the lives of my children, my expectations should be the same as Mary's. I do not believe that they are guaranteed health, wealth, and happiness; I believe that God wants to touch people, and my child will be a part of that. And it might hurt.

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippinas 1:29). It has been granted.

"Son though he was, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you [or your children] face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Read. Live. Learn.

I got carried away in Romans today. This book is the core teaching of the gospel in the New Testament. In the introduction/greeting, Paul talks about his desire to preach the gospel in Rome, and then he launches into it: the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel Paul preaches. He talks about sin and judgement, and he addresses the Jews, who were always his first audience, the most educated in spiritual truth.

When I was a teenager and new to the gospel, I remember intentionally studying Romans. Paul's writing is not always easy to understand, and I worked to make sense of what he was saying and why. His reasoning was not a pattern that I was used to. He asks all these questions, that are obvious rhetorical tools, not the structure I had been taught: thesis statements followed by support followed by conclusions. Why does he say this now? How does it relate to what came before?

I learned arguments without knowing why I needed to know them. No one is totally ignorant of God's truth because of creation (Romans 1:20). Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Romans 4:12). Someone who dies is no longer under the law (duh? Romans 7:1). In classical education, children memorize information before they understand it. Little ones learn the Pythagorean theorem, formulas for area and perimeter, while very small. No one teaches them what they mean; we simply put the information in their brain, so that in middle school, when they encounter the math problems, the basis for understanding is already with them. Likewise, wouldn't it be lovely if Christians learned the Bible, just for the sake of knowing it? Then, when the Spirit needs to reveal something to us, the basis of understanding is already in our brains.

Earlier this year, I joined Melaleuca, which is an online company that carries vitamins, cleaning products, personal care products, and some food products. When I told my friend that I was interested in the company, I was required to listen to a 30-minute explanation of how it works (you have to pay a membership fee, there is a minimum monthly purchase, etc.). I decided I wanted to try it, knowing I could get out (and what the cost to me would be for exiting--everyone wants to know how to get out of something we sign up for, right?). As I ordered and used products, I came to understand them better, and my life switched to include this new company. Old things fell away and were replaced by new.

Coming to Jesus is much the same way. Is this the path I want? What does it require of me? Can I get out if I don't like it? You do not understand it all before you "join," but if you do not work to understand something, how can you ever choose? Listening to sermons and reading the Bible are ways to learn what this gospel is.

This is the second thing that struck me in Romans this morning: Paul did not conclude his gospel with an invitation to follow Jesus. He went straight from explaining what the gospel is to encouraging his listeners to live this way. It is not only evangelical in nature; it is also How Should We Then Live. It is the whole gospel: choose Christ, and keep on choosing Him.

In the gospel truth, there is information on what it is like to follow Jesus, if that is something you are considering. And in the same gospel, there is information about how to live out what you have already chosen. Renew your mind (8:6). Be obedient (1:5). Have faith (3:28). Die to yourself (7:4). These truths are already buried in me, but as I work it out, they make more and more sense.

I am amazed sometimes at how an odd piece of information will keep my thinking on track in my walk with God. My daughter often asks after (or during) a sermon: how does the preacher know this? what is his textual support? where does the Bible teach this? If you read this long and diverse book, layer after layer builds up in your thinking so that you recognize error when it pops up. Your mind becomes bathed in it, so that you can explain to people who are questioning.

I like teaching math. Many people think I'm nuts, because this wasn't their favorite subject, or (if they are my student) they find the work challenging and demanding and tedious. But the order of mathematics is beautiful. The existence of pi simply amazes me. Mathematics is our way of quantifying the brilliant order of creation, a small reflection of the mind of our Creator. I see the same beauty in the word of God.

Paul, also in the beginning of his letter, repeatedly refers to the power of the gospel. It struck me that many who call themselves by the name of Jesus are not experiencing that power in their lives. If we do not study what we are, how will we ever be who we can be?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Restored

My life is busy lately, now that I am teaching as well as homeschooling, and I have much less time for reflection. Hence, I have posted less here. I miss being able to process things, to just have time to sip coffee and think. I wouldn't want my life to only, always be this fast-paced, but for a season, it is fine.

I have written a few times about the process of healing after we left our church. During that time, I struggled with my daily quiet time--those moments of peace, when I would sit with a prayer journal and Bible. Although my husband and I were studying a limited topic very intensely, my own time with God was hollow.

For years, I had faithfully met with my Father for strength and to lift up others, to take in the Word like nourishment. And now it seemed tainted. I couldn't hear God's voice or feel His presence when I was reading. Part of me thought, "Just do it, feelings don't matter." And I would chug away for a while, and then fall off again.

I knew God was still with me. I was just hurt, and I didn't see a path out of the problem. When you don't know what to do, what do you DO? I felt like I needed to wait, that God was able to heal me. And I wanted healing; I wanted that relationship back.

(Photo courtesy of Bonnie Camp)

I even led a Bible study during that time. I told my husband that while I loved the Word and knew its value, my own soul just wasn't responding, and I felt hypocritical. Even then, the Lord was faithful to me, and I had an idea for a new format that made the Bible study a huge blessing without burdening my fragile state.

One day this fall, over a year and a half after the trauma began, everything seemed fine again. I don't know why, but I opened my prayer journal, said the same things I had been saying, then opened my Bible, and it was there. A freshness. A joy. A hunger for that time each day.

I didn't do anything to deserve this. I kept my heart open to God, and He delivered me from the pit I'd fallen into. He did so in His own time, not on my schedule.

I am currently reading a book called Making Peace: a guide to overcoming church conflict. Jim Van Yperen writes:
Against this notion [of busy-ness] stands a community that measures who we are and what we do by holiness, not effectiveness. In the church, God is seldom in a hurry. He is leading, perfecting, and changing us like apprentices under the tutelage of a master. (p.77)
God is seldom in a hurry. This statement echoes what I know about my own growth in Him. He does not meet my timetable, my own list of priorities. In fact, I must intentionally lay my sense of what is important on the altar before Him. He is Lord; I am not. He moves in ways I don't understand, and I follow Him, not my own understanding.

I say all of this with the hope of encouraging you. If you are frustrated with God's apparent absence in some area of your life, take heart. He doesn't leave or forsake you, but He also doesn't arrive at the snap of your fingers. May you grow in your time of waiting--grow a more submissive spirit, the fruit of patience and faithfulness. If it is quiet where you are, be assured that He is near. And He is not in a hurry, but will patiently grow you up into the image of Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Say it out loud

I originally published this post less than a year ago, October 17, 2012. However, it seems right in tune with what we've been discussing, with Genuine Friends and Anger and Fear. May you be blessed today.

The other day, I had some time to talk with my best friend. Sometimes life gets crazy and we miss those moments. It's especially nice when we have open-ended time, instead of, "I've got ten minutes, let me tell you what's going on." I like conversation that can wander; it allows my heart to unfold.

I told her the story of finding our pet rat Cookie dead in her cage on Saturday morning. I told her about an incident that, until I told the story, I didn't realize had hurt my feelings. I talked about my daughters. For me, it is theraputic to put my life into words. I think and even feel the emotion of the situation better if I set things into conversation. Are you that way? I don't think it's true of everyone. My youngest likes to withdraw and put her thoughts together. It is important, I think, to keep up with the narrative of your life, whether you need to think about things or talk them out.

It is also good to acknowledge moments. Always kiss me goodnight, greet me when you come home, say goodbye when you leave...these little habits are worth building into your family. My best friend tells me I am a scientist watching rats in a maze, so for me, being intentional about sentimentality is necessary, and I treasure these things.

Here's another thing to say out loud: I'm sorry. Does anyone come to mind when you read that? I pray the Holy Spirit would show you your heart, if there is someone you need to be reconciled with. That said, I used to be a compulsive "I'm sorry"-er. I drove my friend nuts in grad school, saying sorry all the time, over everything. I think I was taking responsibility for things that I wasn't truly responsible for. "I'm sorry" also doesn't mean very much if you just want the other person to be happy, but you're not really addressing what caused the situation. Let your "I'm sorry" bring clarity and healing. If you're not sure it's doing that, spend some time talking to God before you talk with that person.

We mark moments in our lives with little rituals, including those things we bother to say out loud. May your words connect you deeper with the people around you today.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Genuine friends

My best friend has a saying: "If you want to see me, come on over. If you want to see my house, give me two weeks notice."

Last Saturday, my mom and two friends came by my house. None of them were here long, and my house was definitely not in Presentation Form. All three of them came in talking to me and never even noticed. And I didn't make that classic housewife comment, "Oh, I'm so sorry about the house..."

I know that seems silly, but it was a good morning for me. I was struck by how each of these people held me in their gaze: not what I'd done, not what they wanted from me. They just saw me. Remember when Hagar was running from her abusive boss, and she encounters the Lord? She names Him, "The God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13). Sometimes when you feel down and stuck, just having someone see you is an incredible gift.

I am blessed to have genuine people in my life, and the smallest of interactions with them gives me joy.

I think it is also easy to fall into the trap of pleasing people. It is definitely a trap for me. It is easy for me to get so concerned with my list of things to do that I forget to drop the tasks and just be with people I care about. It has helped, having teenagers and wanting their friends to be welcomed in my home. I never clean for my kids' friends. Around the time that my oldest was leaving for college, I invited her boyfriend to come over for ribs. It was a celebration of the kids, but I wasn't stressing about it...until she asked if his parents were invited. Her boyfriend is welcome in our home, just the way we are. I couldn't stretch myself to be as equally welcoming to his parents. My "clean the house" hostess instinct couldn't relax, and we missed the opportunity to spend time with people.

Most of us would say we have friends. But take a moment to look at your circle: who would you invite over when things are falling apart? If you don't practice now, when things are easier, you won't allow people in when you're under stress. Take the plunge for genuine. It is worthwhile.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anger and fear

(reposted from 12-13-08)

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.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Connecting with what you have

Last Sunday, our pastor talked about how important it is to read your bible. He noted how everyone nods their head at this: we know it is important to read our bible. But are we doing it? We can read the book, or we can feel satisfied that we own one.

Last night, I met friends for dinner, and we talked about how wonderful it is to have friends in our lives. But even so, with this great resource, do we call when we're in need? Do we ask for help? Do we take the time to connect or simply feel happy with the idea of connection?

I am having a hard time connecting lately--with God, with friends--and I think there are two reasons for that. One, there are some intense things going on at home. I am working very hard to connect in a better and deeper way with my own immediate family. It's new. It takes effort. I used to gloss over this somewhat in favor of broader connections, but now is the time for connecting at home. It won't always be this way, but this is the season where I find myself.

Secondly, I am determined not to be a one-man band. There was a great post about living in community on Donald Miller's blog recently (link here). He talked about the novelty of the one-man band: it's kinda freaky, kinda amazing, and certainly gets our attention. However, that's not the cd that we buy to listen to. We want to hear the orchestra, the community of people who each do their part and something beautiful arises from the group.

I often want to be the super-hero who helps everyone else. I like helping. So community for me, friendships, can be a bit addicting: let me jump into YOUR life and be helpful. Lately, I am thinking more about how to play my own instrument. It's not as selfish as it sounds. Playing my violin beautifully means that I benefit the group when we are together, without upstaging or being discordant. I am a part.

I have this suggestion to make to a friend. I have this advice to offer the group. I can make this phone call.

And that's all.

I can't teach the second violins how important their part is and call them every day to encourage their practice, while also finding a clinician for the horn section, tuning all the woodwinds just a little better, meeting on a Saturday for some extra work with percussion, and starting a fund raiser for a new viola for second chair because his just got stolen while he was at the hospital with his wife who has cancer. And let's make them dinner too.

The one-man band. All things to all people.

How did Jesus live? He came with one purpose: to atone for our sins. He spent thirty years living with His family, a few years teaching close friends and the crowds, and then He died. He was certainly busy, but He was also focused. He served the Father in the one capacity where He was called to serve. People wanted Him to do all sorts of things, like lead militarily or politically, maybe overthrow the religious leadership. But He came to die.

In John 14:12, Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." Jesus was one man; we're a community. He didn't try to be everything himself; He called us.

It is important to reach out, to really connect. But our greatest value, our greatest contribution to the community, arises from doing our part well. I am learning to trust God with the needs I see around me, to love within my human limits. Somehow, when I am obedient to my small part, He has the freedom to conduct a beautiful symphony. Can you hear it?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Warping our kids

reposted from August 9, 2009

I often joke with my friends about all of our kids needing therapy, as if there is nothing we can do, they will somehow be messed up by our behavior. This joke started out intending to communicate mercy: we all mess up, everything is okay. But one day it hit me that I was completely wrong. In fact, I wrote it on a Schlotzsky's napkin: we are not warping our kids. (I also wrote on the same napkin, "Coreopsis is a cool word." I'm random like that.)

My parents did not warp me. I was born warped, into a warped world. Something inside me is just a little twisted, just a little off, and things don't go like they should. It's true of every single one of us, and when we get in a group (ie, Planet Earth), that warpness can get amplified. Had my parents been completely perfect in all of their words and actions and thoughts toward me, I still would have issues. The fact that my parents are not perfect is like saying, "The sky is blue."

And so it goes for my kids. One of my very dear friends has a daughter who is like me. Her home life is different than the one I grew up in, and yet some of the characteristics I would attribute to my childhood look the same in her, without her having my experiences. So I would have turned out that way, regardless? Who knew.

I don't give my kids permission to blame me in their therapy sessions. I think it's great if they want to talk with someone about how something I have done has hurt them or confused them or made them angry. It's fine if they think I have sometimes been unfair. I'm really sorry, and I hope they can forgive me. Instead of convincing my kids that I am doing the right thing, I think while they are living with me, I will try to communicate that I love them. I really, really love them.

I know people who came from the same home and see their upbringing in completely different ways. I know people who show their parents grace, and people who almost make up things about how bad their parents were. Part of how my kids see me will be their choice. It would seem that neither they nor I can truly judge my parenting correctly. It would seem that I should leave it to God to judge me (after all, He has plans to judge me, right?).

I hope that my kids will realize that I love them. I hope they choose to see the best in my heart. May God surround them with all kinds of people who will show His love to them, and may they learn mercy and kindness and how to deal with the warped-ness inside us all.

The photo above is from a great blog entry about Thinking Visually, something random that I totally agree with.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The preacher

I'm going to share something that might be a "just me" issue. When I attend a church, I listen to the man delivering sermons every week as if he were delivering a message from God to me. I have attended church my entire adult life, and I haven't always respected the person in the pulpit. However, each Sunday, I assume that the Bible is being opened, and God can speak to me (and the believers gathered together) through this man.

That's a lot of weight to put on one guy.

And get this...because I listen so carefully to this man, somehow I start to think I need to explain myself to him. If I'm not on board with whatever his action point is, I have this discussion with him in my head, so he knows why I am where I am. Sometimes I'm really enthusiastic about the sermon, and I tell him that in my head as well.

Rarely do I have a friendship with the preacher. And yet he speaks these God-words every week, which I feel compelled to respond to. Some kind of weird intimacy builds up between me and a virtual stranger.

I suppose this is the celebrity phenomenon. Young girls scream how they "love" so and so, the big name singer. Or we "love" our favorite actor. In the first century AD, there might have a been a small, swooning group who just "loved" Peter. He's so dreamy. And righteous. Squeee!!

I often wonder if my "church" experience is anything like the hallowed "early church." Paul, Apollos, Barnabus, those guys traveled around, teaching and correcting. But when they weren't at your little house meeting, the group just shared, right? Maybe read one of the letters written by the Big Guys, and then talked about what they were going through.

If I feel accountable to the preacher, because he's talking to me about my life, but I don't have a relationship with him, something artificial builds up. The anecdote? Talk to real people. The best churches that I have been a part of have had community that talks about spiritual things.

"Hey, the pastor said something hard this morning."

"I really like when he said..."

"I didn't understand what he meant..."

Real people, face to face, talking about the Word and life. Something in me wants to venerate the preacher, and so all the time, I have to pull back and seek real people, who will walk and talk with me about truth.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Recovery time

When I stepped down from my job, I had a strong sense that I needed to stay home for two years and focus on my girls. Part of me wanted to get another job right away, but staying home seemed so clear. I'm beginning year two, and it occurs to me how much I need this time.

The girls are in a transition: one off at college, the second a senior and struggling with what she wants to be "when she grows up," my baby starting high school. They are all-consuming to me. And yet, these two years are not just about them.

Our pastor preached yesterday about how everyone should get involved, don't just attend Sunday morning, take ownership of our church's mission in reaching the world. When we got into the car, my youngest slouched against the door in the back seat and with a sigh said, "I suppose we're going to get involved now?"

My answer was no, no more than some fellowship and a little service. Not the old pattern of being at the church before the doors were really open and staying until long in the afternoon. I referred back to the "two years." When I quit graduate school, I spent two years sorting through what had happened with my college education, finding my spiritual and political footing after a time of trial. Now, having left a church we loved and served wholeheartedly, my whole family is still finding our footing, testing our foundation, and taking a deep breath.

On the church staff where I served, we experienced a moral sink hole, and I thought, wow, I'm going to take a year to grieve this. Various events after that kept me from really having that year of grieving; sometimes life is just messier than we'd like. I tried to google this issue of healing emotionally from big life events. Maybe I didn't know how to ask the question. I couldn't find anyone talking about it.

When my mom finished her chemo treatments, for a cancer we feared would kill her, she was told, "Congrats! Come back in three months." And there she was, back on her own doorstep, physically weak, thin, overwhelmed, and small. Congrats! You're still alive, and your medical treatment is over. Really? She looked like a near-drowned, ematiated cat. No help to put her life back together. No understanding that she was now entering another stage of healing. She really hadn't "arrived" anywhere yet.

I spoke with a mom recently whose daughter battled cancer in this last year, only in her early twenties. She sounded exhausted: the time they had given to treatment, the money, the neglect everyone else in the family had suffered during this incredible focused time of fighting.

Recovery time. I wish there was a bracelet or t-shirt or bumper sticker.

I once heard of an African tribe that handled trauma this way: the afflicted person, the one who survived the loss, would just sit around. Do nothing. For however long it took to heal. And the community would watch and be understanding. Then one day, he would rise up and return to normal life.

I couldn't find our Western "five steps to total emotional health." So let me throw out a few things that I have learned about recovery. It takes longer than you think. You question a lot of things and sometimes feel very frustrated at the lack of answers. Sometimes you have a bad day emotionally. It is draining to do all the work, but each day is a gift, and it does get better. People can help. Time alone can help. Don't let yourself drown in it. Just as you fought through the trauma, you will fight to recover your footing.

And I also know that God is good.

(The photo of a snow-covered chair was taken by Bonnie Camp, resident and photographer of the Oklahoma Panhandle.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Watch this video, become a better person

My friend Brian is running across Mongolia. 1500 miles. His family is on the journey with him, and I think often how none of them will ever be the same: Brian for making this choice for them all, the children getting to experience the "out of the ordinary" at such a young age, his wife for her willingness to grow in this adventure. I have three reasons for wanting you to watch this video.

First, I want it to replace something else you are spending your time on. Several years ago, I spent about a half hour going through my mail. I had an L.L. Bean catalog, some jewelry or department store sale ad, and a Compassion publication. I thought, what if? What if I just stopped flipping through the mail that just wants my money? When my family needs shoes or clothing, I know how to find and buy them. I don't need to feed my discontent by looking at catalogs. Instead, I can feed my soul by reading publications from Compassion, Samaritan's Purse, Focus on the Family. Even in the mail that comes to my house, I can be careful about what I set before my eyes.

Secondly, I'd like for you to commit to educating yourself about the world. It is not The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It is not That 70's Show. There are real hurts and ways of life you have not considered, and knowing about the world--especially opportunities for hope and improvement--will make you a better person. Take five minutes to imagine the life of an orphan in Mongolia. A child soldier in Sri Lanka. A girl sold by her parents to a pimp at age 12 in India. If you take the time to be sad just a little today for some of the suffering around the world, you will be imitating the heart of God. If you don't take time to even care, let alone do something, then how will hurting people know that anyone is concerned? You have to start by knowing enough to even be concerned.

And finally, not only will this video raise your awareness of orphans in Mongolia, but I hope it makes you think of the "little thing" God has put in front of you. It doesn't feel life-changing. But you can do this, this little thing. In His hands, it's enough. It's obedience.



May your day be blessed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The strategy of Sorry

My daughter and I have been playing Sorry, the board game. You begin with your pieces in a holding area until you draw a card that let's you start on the board. You win when all your pieces get home. The cards determine your move, whether forwards or backwards, kicking an opponent back to Start or getting switched yourself to somewhere you didn't want to be.

I was imagining life like a giant, more complicated Sorry board. We start in all different corners of the board, with desires that aren't always good for us. As we play, things happen to us that hurt and set us back, disappoint and frustrate us. Our goal is to get home, but on my huge, imaginary board, the way isn't always clear. The game is a mess, and you can't stop playing.

When I played board games with my grandmother, we always looked for opportunity to thwart each other. Rarely did we choose a move that was less cut-throat than it could be. My middle daughter and I don't play that way. We all the time pass up opportunities to knock the other back to Start. Such a move usually only happens if it's the only choice--and without trying, it still happens a lot. We harm each other's progress.

Even though we don't intentionally harm each other, we never try to help.

Life is like this when we submit ourselves to chance. We develop strategies that we try to live by, but we are hindered and wounding and just trying to reach our goal, and things happen beyond our control. If we do try to help others, it always seems to be a set-back to our own progress.

You have to submit to something in life. I choose Christ. His way is service and sacrifice, and sometimes on the board, it really seems to hurt. And yet, I really believe that some day there's going to be a big flash, and the whole board is going to change. The things I've been working towards, I will have attained. Choosing to follow Him will be revealed as true reward, and the goal that everyone has been scrambling for will shift.

People hurt me, and life is just sometimes painful all on its own. But I know that chance isn't in charge of the cards dealt to me. I know Jesus is walking with me, even if He is invisible to others and sometimes even me. And I know I will reach my goal if I don't give up. After all, no one gets to stop playing. I might as well play by the best rules I have found.

The sunset photo is courtesy of Bonnie Camp, who photographs her life in the panhandle of Oklahoma.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Talking about God and chayote squash

About a year ago, I began ordering from a produce club. On Saturday, I pick up a basket of produce, about half fruits, half veggies, and then go home and figure out what to do with it. I don't know what I'm getting any given week.

Initially, I ordered every now and then. And the produce was a little overwhelming. I'd have a bunch of leeks, so I'd look up recipes. Hm, the leek-stuffed salmon looks good. Off I'd go to the grocery store to buy salmon and all the other ingredients in order to follow the recipe. This approach, for at least half the items in the basket, was tiring.

Slowly, I began to cook with the veggies without bending so much to recipes. I like to throw things in a skillet with onion, olive oil, and a little meat, a little seasoning. Sometimes I serve it on rice or spaghetti; sometimes we just eat it in a bowl. Turns out there are a lot of foods that can be eaten this way. If I don't know what to do with a veggie, this is now my go-to plan. And I don't have to run to the store to accommodate the produce. My life has adapted. I have new skills.

Still, when I would entertain, I would definitely spend a lot of money at the store. Last week, however, was another turning point. We made plans rather last minute with some friends. I already had planned to try a new recipe, a copy-cat of Olive Garden's Zuppa Tuscana. After all, I had kale and potatoes to use up. Since we had company, I used lettuce and tomatoes on hand to make an Italian salad, and a bunch of romas along with the remaining kale and some basil from my porch to make a sauce for pasta. I bought a loaf of bread at the store--that was it. Even for company, I used what I had. This has been one of the most satisfying changes in my life, this contentment in my kitchen, using what I have and not scrambling for something else.

In the course of the evening, I found myself telling our friends about the lifestyle changes we've made and how they have benefited our health. As always, my thoughts turned to our spiritual journey.

Do you talk about God with people?

Part of what makes me excited about my adaptation to fresh produce is that it is different. This is a new change in my life. Five years from now, I may be talking about it less. Of course, five years from now, it will hopefully be so incorporated in my life that the suggestion to eat more fresh food will be natural to anyone struggling with energy or health concerns.

Part of why I talk now is that I have grown in the past year. I have learned something new, and I like to talk about it. In your walk with God, are you learning? If so, you will likely talk about it. Maybe not the first awkward nine months. During that period, it is more natural to seek advice and counsel. (What do you do with leeks? How did your family consume three quarts of peaches last week?) But learning leads to interaction.

I'm currently thinking about leadership and human nature. Haven't you seen that in my blog? I always like to think about grace and rules and choices. Haven't you seen that in my blog?

If you are not learning about God and His mysterious, wonderful ways, you likely have prepackaged food sitting in your pantry that you make again and again without thought. Mac and cheese with green peas. A can of soup. Burgers and fries. Grilled cheese. A bowl of cereal.

You should go to church. You should read your bible. You should be nicer.

What would you do with an eggplant?

(By the way, I haven't made the recipe featured in the photograph. Feel free to try it --click here--but you'll probably have to go to the store.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The flawed leader

Recently, I was talking with a friend about a great tidbit of wisdom from one of my mentors in ministry, about the importance of character in both the private and public eye. My mentor, it turned out, at the time of the advice, was involved in some serious character issues--hence in my telling, I was highlighting the hypocrisy and expressing my frustration. My friend commented, "Yes, but as a leader, I have given advice that I'm not living out. I don't always walk the truth, even if I know it."

My friend's comment helped me settle the struggle I was having; it served a purpose for me. And yes, we do often know what to do and not be doing it, and there are times we must share a truth we are personally struggling with. I know one time, the Lord brought someone across my path, and as I gave her Wise Counsel from my Knowledge of the Truth, my own words became a lecture to myself, as if the Lord were clearing His throat in my ear during the entire conversation. He was probably pointing at me sideways too, if anyone happened to be watching. While wearing an "I'm with Stupid" shirt. Okay, maybe it just felt like that.

This leads me to two thoughts. First of all, many of the leaders in churches I'm involved in have small children (or no children). The Bible says that our elders should have children who obey them, because they manage their households well. Their children should be believers. Some leaders are off the hook, because at when your kids are age two, they almost all look like they follow Jesus. They at least sing the songs pretty loud. With a child age fifteen, more parents struggle.

I tend to gravitate toward naturally dynamic people who lead in the church regardless of elder qualifications. Like most of the youth pastors I know. The good parents I know wouldn't be as much fun to follow, if they were the leaders. And yet...maybe I should be following the people who have managed to raise their kids well. Just because you can throw a good party and engage my kids in great relay games doesn't mean you are setting an example for a godly family. I wonder what THAT youth program would look like, the one run by successful, grace-filled parents. I bet they'd have more meetings with the parents, and we wouldn't have to drink a blended Happy Meal.

Secondly, I wonder if it's not appropriate, more often than we think, to share our struggles, even when we're leaders. I've been leading a Bible study, and one night I complained to my husband how hypocritical I felt. I'm not a teacher, I told him...I just want to read the Bible with these women. That conversation led to a change in the format of our study that has richly blessed me. I didn't confess in front of the group, but the honest confession, even in private, helped propel me to something more genuine.

Today during our study, I confessed wildly and freely how anxious I have been, especially as a parent, and the women in our group encouraged me to apply God's truth (Philippians 4:6-7). Instead of me exhorting the group to be thankful and trust God with their situation, I let my own bad example hang out, and they laughed and corrected me. That's good stuff right there. It's good for me to not always be the Wisest Person in the Room, and it is good for them to apply the Scripture to me in an honest environment.

I don't have any great conclusion about being a flawed human and being a leader. Do you have any thoughts?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sometimes we don't focus

Take a minute to read the story we title "At the Home of Mary and Martha" from Luke 10:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I wonder if Mary was ADHD.

Have you ever lived with someone who has the condition we now call "attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder"? I think ADHD, like autism and Asperger's, are not mental illnesses to be cured. They are descriptive of people's brains, and because these brains tend to lack some of the skills for successful people in American culture, we have identified them and seek to "help." In truth, we all need help. We need nurture and guidance and discipline. Our culture finds it useful to identify these particular groups. It would be funny to me if a culture diagnosed it's Type A people as the disturbed ones.

"The Type A's in my class have me so concerned! They just can't relax," one frustrated teacher expresses in the teacher's lounge to her colleagues.

"I know," another answers. "It's so unhealthy."

So let's pretend Mary is ADHD. She grows up never really doing the chores assigned to her, while her older sister, a true Type A, faithfully carries out her duties as well as often picking up the slack for little Mary. Mary daydreams. Mary forgets things. Mary is irresponsible. Of course, Martha is eventually placed in charge of the household, and her reputation as a good and industrious woman spreads for miles. But her sister...hm.

You would think, just this once, when someone as important as JESUS, the possible Messiah sent from GOD, comes to their home, that Mary could once, just once, actually focus and help.

But Mary is focused. She is focused on Jesus.

This time, she's not lost in thought while standing over a sink full of dishes. She's not sitting with the trash bag next to her, scratching in the dirt, forgetting that she's supposed to be taking it to the neighborhood incinerator and then hurrying home. She's sitting with Jesus. Mary has heard all her life about how she's not doing things right. This time, this fragile, unrespected soul is doing the right thing.

Martha knows that finally an authority is here to correct her flighty sister.

But Jesus corrects Martha instead.

Mary was the gift to the family. Mary, at this crucial visit, made the best choice.

And the warning in this story is like the warning Jesus gave so many of us: So you think you're doing everything right? Come and sit down.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Attractive is easy

Grace is a beautiful thing, but it messes with me. Religion, however, provides a comfortable environment, where I can feel good about myself. After all, religion lets me line up the rules that I personally keep well, quietly ignore the ones that trouble me, and condemn those who don't keep my Top Three. Religion allows me to gather around me people who are like me, and we can feel comfortable together. It's a pretty good system. Trust me...it feels good!

Imagine Jesus' disciples. I don't think they were a homogenous group. You have blue collar fishermen, your basic good Jewish people, mixing with a zealot, a former tax collector, followers of John the Baptist, these women that He seemed to attract (from rich ones to former harlots). People would join the group and then wander away--sometimes the really good ones left, like that one rich young ruler, but then people who had received healings would stick around. It sounds good, but someone who has lived their life as a beggar doesn't have the best social skills...always excited and happy, hugging people and just really inappropriate and awkward. No sense of social boundaries, ya know?

And Jesus is not very "with it" either, sometimes. He accepts rich gifts, and yet there's no clear headquarters, more homeless wandering than any sense of belonging. Sometimes He heals the weirdest people, and then Lazarus gets sick and He won't budge. He doesn't really address the real problems, like the Roman oppression. And He draws confusing lines, like that whole thing about the most blessed people not making it into heaven. God pours out blessing on our wisest leaders, the best families, and Jesus is like, oh, they're a den of thieves.

Everyone gravitates towards the familiar, the comfortable. But lately, I have been overwhelmed by people who make me uncomfortable. When I look at their hearts, I see their value--intrinsic, beautiful value given them by God. And yet, their choices offend me. The Lord is watching me like Gandalf, that wise, knowing look, and simply saying, "Hmm," while I struggle with my prejudices. Did you know that the actor who plays Gandalf is gay? Why is the Lord standing near my shoulder in the guise of a brilliant gay British actor?

To find the photo towards the top of this blog entry, I googled "images happy group." When I tried "images ugly people," I was presented with a list of webpages inviting me to laugh at pictures of "ugly people." One of them was tagged, "A collection of weird people that will make you feel extra normal." We don't love what is unattractive to us. We don't look at someone who is making different choices and see their beauty. We just laugh and feel better about ourselves. We've picked a Top Three that makes us feel good and safe.

Jesus doesn't give us that option.

Are there people in your life who offend you? Good for you. Love them with the grace that God gives. Ask for His eyes, and pray, pray, pray. If everyone in your circles is like you, then ask for the eyes of Jesus. He is glad to provide heart-stretching exercises.

I was once ugly and outcast. Jesus looked at me and saw my value, despite my decisions, despite my flawed efforts. He is in the business of seeing the unattractive, and I am grateful.

The photo of flowers was taken by Dawn McKenney-Acree on a trip to Moore, Oklahoma, after the devastating 5/20/13 tornado. The roses were blooming amidst some demolished property. Thanks for letting me use this great shot, Dawn!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The word "follow"

Jesus said, "Follow me." In my churches, we talk a lot about "asking Jesus into your heart" or "trusting Jesus with your life." But let's just look at the word "follow."

You have to decide to follow someone. Even if you inadvertently walk behind them for a few blocks, you can be going about your own business, and those blocks were just coincidence. You follow by decision. You stop doing your own thing and having your own purpose. Instead, you submit to the choices that another is making.

If you are going to follow someone, you have to keep your eye on them. You can't just announce, "I am following Shirley!" and then Shirley goes around a corner and you pick up your magazine again. In Christian circles, we talk about the importance of going to church, praying, reading your Bible. These activities can get legalistic, but their purpose is clear: keep your eye on Jesus. Remind yourself of the One you are following, or you will lose track and end up with your nose in that magazine again.

Finally, if you are going to follow, you have to keep moving. Jesus doesn't stand still. (Okay, sometimes He does, and that can be maddening if you are the high-action type. But if you're following, then you stop when He stops. It's one way you learn that you're not in charge.) Sometimes Jesus will turn into a neighborhood where you don't want to be, or walk up to someone to start a conversation that you would rather avoid. Following involves the ongoing realization that you are not in charge. Your steps are no longer your own.

Pretty simple, right?

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Love" doesn't mean "easy"

On Monday and Tuesday this week, my husband and I took an overnight anniversary trip. We do this just about every year, just a small getaway to celebrate the marriage God has given us. We are "disgustingly gushy" (quote from our youngest teenager), and our time alone is spent with a lot of I-love-you's, God-has-richly-blessed-me's, and other sentimental expressions.

If we were in a movie, there would be soft lighting, tender glances, and a fade to credits. But life isn't a movie set. We return Wednesday, and I have a particularly difficult day emotionally. I know I am being unpleasant, and I can't stop. I feel overwhelmed by the kids and other issues we're still dealing with (church, tornado, family). Poor Johnny. He even said, "I'm not used to you being this unhappy after a trip."

We have a good marriage. It is easy to walk through our vacation together, but praise God, my husband still loves me on Wednesday. Still stands by me, still tries to help, still loves me.

Somehow, in the gushy expressions of I-love-you, I want to believe that life will be easy. Our marriage is easy, but even then it is a struggle some days to truly listen, to lay aside our differences and parent together, to say things that might hurt but will help us, to resist saying things that would only vent anger. A tiny part of me says that if I am very, very loved, why is life still so hard?

I think that voice gets louder when we think about God. He adores me? Then why...(blank)?

When did "God loves me" become "life is great"?

It is great to be loved. It is a foundation, a security. Sometimes, the love of people fails us, and often God gets painted with that same brush. When hard things in life happen, it looks like He's guilty of the same failure to love that others have shown us.

But God loves us. And His love is enduring. Sometimes, I think He expresses that love in a special way just before something very difficult happens. When Jesus was up on the mountain with three of his disciples, a voice came from a cloud and said, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." What amazing confirmation for both Jesus and His disciples.

Within a week, Jesus is kneeling in a garden, begging God to choose some other path than the cross.

Love does not exempt us from difficulty. Sometimes, loving well compels us to the harder choices. Think about parenting: you could make life with your kids really easy, except that you love them. So you discipline them; you make rules; you put them in timeout or take away computer privileges, and now your own day is much more stress-filled and difficult.

Sometimes, when you love, you choose to get involved in situations you could otherwise avoid. You choose to walk with someone through their pain.

God loves us that way. He adores you. May you walk today--no matter what it holds--with the strength of His love inside of you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading Philippians 1 and coughing

At our first Bible study together (Coffee at Angie's), we simply read Philippians 1 together. Nothing earth shattering. Just reading the Bible. It is amazing how the Bible can speak to you when you (cough cough) read it.

After Lunch at Angie's, I could usually duplicate the devotional here in my blog. But this would be much harder to do with the Bible study. Quote a passage...ramble a bit. Not terribly interesting in written form, sans community. So instead I'm going to share a single thought, perhaps one I didn't even share at our study.

In Philippians 1:4, Paul says, "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy." Paul doesn't just think about his friends at Philippi. He prays for them. He says he is confident that God, "who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (v.6) Despite Paul's confidence that everything is going to be good for these people, he still prays for them.

Just as it is easy to skip actually (cough cough) reading the Bible, it is also easy to skip praying for people. Especially if we think things are going well for them. If we are the "pray regularly" sort, our prayers may sound like, "Oh, tra la la, bless these people." We bring out the big guns when we think someone is in danger or trouble of some sort. Then we are earnest.

But Paul, confident that his friends would mature and fulfill God's purposes, prayed for them. He prayed that their love would abound more and more (v.9). And not just an increasing love, but one that grows in knowledge and depth of insight. And not just growing in knowledge and depth of insight in a general sense, but in order that they would be able to discern God's best for them.

Wow, stop right there. How often have you been uncertain what is God's best for you? I want someone praying that for me! That I would grow in my love for Jesus, in my knowledge of Him and depth of insight. It seems kind of esoteric, not really a practical prayer, until Paul includes that "discern what is best" part (v.10).

Paul's prayers for people were deep. I often copy his words in Ephesians because the way he prays for believers gets at the heart of how we mature. It helps me to think on it. It helps us all to pull together when we ask God for the very things that are listed in the Word.

Let me loop back to something I said earlier: Paul's prayer seems all Jesus-y and spiritual. But really, the things he's asking are God's best for us. The prayer continues, "that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God" (v.10-11). None of us naturally want the glory and praise of God above all else. But I tell you, wanting Him is the best for us. If you've ever been through suffering and trials, the more you understand a hunger for His glory, the more you are sustained. The more He matters, the less stuff matters. Our lives should be focused on retraining our brain and our hearts to look like Him. To look at Him. To look for what we need from His hand.

To do that, it's probably good to (cough cough) read the Bible. And when you're concerned about things or thinking about your friends, it's probably good to (cough cough) pray.

And more than anyone, I'm probably (cough cough) talking to myself.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do you want to be productive?

It used to be my job to recruit people to serve. I enjoy inviting people to work in the Kingdom. Service is a wonderful path to growth, because Scripture becomes more alive to us as we put it into practice. I want people to visit my church, give to my causes, come buy produce from my people, come to my house for coffee. But...

Today I'm going to tell you that you're doing too much. I saw you flinch. You know who you are.

Trust me, I hate this message as much as you do. I have a friend who's very successful in ministry, and my own career seems pale and limpid next to hers. When I think about her, I always muse, "Well, if you were really dedicated, Angie, you could do that." And then I feel sad and envious. But the truth is, I am not called to do what she does. I really try to hear the Lord's voice and only move when He says yes. Even so, there is always a war between my own crazy ambition and my Shepherd's voice.

In John 15:2, Jesus says, "He [as in, God the Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." There is a danger of thinking you are in Christ and not bearing fruit; this blog entry is not written for that person. My friend, if you are productive in the Spirit, the Lord will prune you.

Mentally picture pruning shears in your hand. They have a very strong lever, and the pinch of those blades is strong.

I often want the same thing that God wants for me. I want to be productive. The rub comes in the method; I'm not sure I like the idea of pruning.

2 Peter 1:8 says, "If you possess these qualities in increasing measure [faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control...see the full list here], they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse is one of my favorites! I don't want to be ineffective and unproductive! And then Jesus whispers, "Ah, good! I shall prune you."

Eek.

When my rose bush puts up a bud, it usually puts out four or five. Ideally, you should pinch off the smaller buds so that the center one gets more nutrition and grows bigger and more beautiful. But isn't more better? Hmm. Maybe. But a rose bush can only produce so many roses without becoming diseased and unhealthy. In your passion to produce, are you becoming diseased and unhealthy?

Donald Miller commented, "What if you decided to change a dozen people's lives? To keep your focus and prayers toward them. And trusted them to change the world." What if you need to think small and genuine? To be a healthy producer, instead of a mass producer? I don't have the capacity to love large numbers of people well, unlike God who sees the hearts and thoughts of millions. His bigness makes me feel small, and sometimes hopeless. But in truth, I am not the one who changes the world. Neither are the people I help along in the journey. Really, it is God who moves in lives to change things for His eternal, good purposes.

Jesus continues His thought in John, "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (v.4). The Spirit in us will bear fruit. We don't do it on our own. And sometimes, if you really want to grow, if you really want to produce the very best that you can, you must say no. Let God take something out of your life.

Snip. Focus. Here we go.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's your number?

Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Lori Kroh. Lori works in real estate, has an amazing knack for interior design, makes a stranger feel like a friend, and is adored by her family. Thanks for sharing your words, Lori.

Random thoughts are good sometimes. I had this memory float through my head tonight. Funny, how certain memories come back after many years. Many years ago, I lived behind Troy Aikman. Yep. The quarterback! Well, he lived in a mansion in Irving/Coppell and I lived in the apartments by the fields behind his mansion.

I would walk many an evening and be on the back streets through new construction. He would go jogging on those back streets at sunset. Same as me. Many times, I would be walking and then here he would come...towards me...so I would suck in my size 6 belly...and pick up the pace and even jog...why? I don't know. I guess I had the delusion that after so many times seeing me - he would say - Hey there, blondie. You jog? I jog. Wanna go out? and maybe if we hit it off - we can get married?? Yes. Delusional.

But he never did. I guess I was longing for a better life. One that would rescue me and one that fame and fortune could buy me. ***sigh*** I wanted a better life. ***sigh again*** and then I would go back to walking.


Many years later, I was married. I attended a small realtor's luncheon and was part of a select few that got to meet him. There was only like twenty of us. As I waited in line...I got more and more nervous. When it was my turn to meet him, I posed for the picture and smiled. He doesn't smile that great so that picture is not so good if I may say so. Well, I asked him for his autograph, and after he signed his name he made a little tiny "8" on top.

I looked at it and said, "Oh, cute. A tiny 8. I like that!" Oh, yes, I did. I did say that.

He then stares at me.

To further fill the void, I proceed to remind him that we used to jog together over by the fields in Coppell.

He stares at me.

I mean he looks as if we have never met. I was like - "hello...you know the cute blonde that wore size 6 shorts and we always said hello and politely nodded at one another?? Please, Troy. Let's not act like we don't know each other." Of course, I didn't actually say this last part out loud, just in my head...but I did remind him about jogging and he did continue to nod and stare at me. Boy - this guy is one tough nut. I mean, what's gonna take for him to be impressed???

Well, fast forward to tonight. I am out walking... with my hubby and two little tikes on their bikes. We go all around the neighborhood. I saw the sunset, and then this whole memory floods into my head - and I stare at my little ones and Scott. Scott remembers everything about me. The first time he saw me. Our first kiss. Our first date. What I said to him - the very first time I spoke. All of it.

My kids?? They love me. No amount of fame or fortune can give me what they have given me. I ***sigh***. Because, I have been rescued. I have a better life and this is IT. I ***sigh*** because I don't have to suck in my belly. It actually is jiggling because I am laughing so hard as I walk and my kids are so cute and silly. I ***sigh*** because I don't have to do anything to impress someone. I ***sigh*** because I realize I have it all - now. As in NOW.

I am so glad that memory came randomly into my mind tonight. I think I will start signing my name Lori Kroh "4". Because, there are 4 of us.

Got that, Troy? A tiny little "4." And by the way: I am very, very famous...to three people. And that impresses me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tornados in Oklahoma, May 2013

This has been an intense weather season. It is hard to believe how much Moore and the Oklahoma City area has been pummeled. My friend on staff at a church in Norman has been reassigned to the position of Disaster Relief. There is so much work to be done, the church has created an entire staff position devoted to organizing relief efforts. It will be years to see this area restored.

Another friend of mine planned to start a church in Oklahoma City, with their first service in August. He's been diligently preparing for a year, and we've teased him about Oklahoma City really *needing* another church. Here's where God's wisdom is greater than ours: when the tornado hit Moore on May 20, he came immediately, and has been on the ground assisting families and organizing relief efforts from a Walmart parking lot. God knew the city would need a minister, and He prepared John Hickman and the other staff of Everyday Church for just such a time as this.

I love pictures of doors, and this photo shows a door left standing in a house otherwise devastated: the homeowner had taped Scriptures all over it, and not a single one blew away when the storm hit.

Also this spring, an EF0 hit my best friend's neighborhood, damaging trees, their roof, destroying their shed. They were running for the storm shelter when it was in their backyard; the emergency sirens went off as they were coming out to look at the damage.

Two months later, an EF2 hits my neighborhood. Several homes were destroyed, about ten impacted overall. Not a shingle from our roof is missing, although we have tree damage.

I am not a panicky person. Raised an Okie, I am more likely to want to watch an approaching tornado than hide from it.
But three storm chasers lost their lives this spring, and the storms keep coming. The new world record for widest tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma (2.6 miles, and EF5). A record number of EF5 tornados, the highest winds possible. Now, I am emotionally worn out and jumpy. We've been pierced by all that has been thrown at us this spring.

However, God has been in the midst of this. Our neighbors, who lost their home, had been visiting a church for a while, but hadn't joined. That church, Southwood Baptist (Tulsa), cancelled their church picnic last Sunday to come help clear debris. When I was talking to the homeowner, he said, "Yeah, I know no one is burning their debris but us [it's legal since we're outside city limits], but there are so many youth here. Burning it is just more fun than hauling it to the curb." He says this, smiling, in front of his wrecked home, with four people using hoses to try to control the blaze in his backyard. Totally relaxed, wanting to make a special moment for his guests.


Those same church people wrote Scriptures all over the standing walls of his first floor. These rooms where the neighborhood gathered for Christmas parties, that the homeowner totally transformed with her huge Christmas collection, now all blown away. The state of their stuff has changed, but they are surrounded by the Word and God's people. They are filled with His presence. Life is good.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. - 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NIV)

5 Little Thoughts from May

Every month I choose five thoughts from my Facebook statuses to publish here. Not everyone who reads my blog is on Facebook. If you're looking for some brain food, here are some thought-starters.

Well, it's 8:00am. And I have realized several things that I've already messed up. I'm so glad the Lord is patient with me. Sometimes, I feel like a 3-year-old left in charge of an embassy.


One of the mysteries of the Christian life is "don't look for happiness here." Our pastor preached a sermon yesterday called Frustrations of a Fixer--just what I needed this weekend, so appropriate for us moms. He concluded with this clever twist: the only thing we need to fix comes from Hebrews 12:2. We need to fix *our eyes* on Jesus. Our greatest troubles often come from what we're focusing on. If it's anything less than Jesus, it's gonna cause us problems.


Want to save on your food bill? Hint: stop buying food. Chances are you have lots of food in your freezer and pantry, but you're buying things at the store because this sounds good, or you saw this commercial, or you don't have time to plan. Declare a "wacky week" and just feed the kids what you find at home. We've had a dinner of leftover green beans, leftover Chinese, sweet potato fries, mixed veggies tossed with butter and thyme, and canned cinnamon rolls. It doesn't go together--but our goal is not "go together." Our goal is to eat the food we've ALREADY PAID FOR. Refuse to go to the store until there's an empty shelf in the pantry or freezer.


It's one of those days where I feel a bit overwhelmed with everything. The advice I have developed after years of dealing with this: hang on. Don't fix it today. Rest, and know that God is God.


Yesterday our pastor preached on fear and failure. He quoted someone, "What are you going to do, threaten me with heaven?" I like that quote. But I also think we are more threatened by losing our lives as we know it here, then going to the by & by. Losing our things, our status, our position, our reputation--these threaten me more than losing my life. So I reminded myself: this isn't MY story. It's His story. And He writes good ones, so I'm all in.