Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Mercy in the Struggle

It's been hard lately.
Life and ministry.
There have been some days recently, that had I known they were coming,
I would have boarded that boat to Tarshish and been long gone, like the prophet of old.

But God has a way of catching up to us.
Now matter how we might try to run
or hide
or avoid.

And struggles force you out of hiding.
Hardship pushes you out of complacency.
Trials have a way of helping you regroup and reevaluate priorities.

That's what Jonah's three-day stay in a deluxe fish resort did for him.
It was a strategic management course.
And forward movement required choices and action.
And it was mercy, albeit smelly, but mercy nonetheless.

And these days of late, full of the hard edges of life,
have been my own kind big, stinky fish belly.
It has refused me rest and refused me retreat.
It has demanded a constant sorting of thoughts and emotions.
A barage of choices and actions to be rationally-based and not emotionally-driven.
And I wouldn't have chosen this. Not one single moment.
But they have been mercy.

These days of merciful struggle have brought certain priorities into focus.
These days have crystallized important relationships.
These moments have insisted on choices.
Choices that determine what I really believe about people, the church, my calling, my God.
The rubber meets the road kinds of faith choices that will demonstrate if I practice what I preach.
Will I forgive even if my hurt is never spoken to those who have injured me?
Will I trust God to tend to my heart and the hearts of others especially when that means I do nothing?
Will I embody grace in the midst of unjust words or broken systems that let you down?
Will I choose to see another's point of view even if no one ever tries to see mine?

This is brass tacks kind of Jesus living.
It's the hard stuff of the kingdom that is easy to talk about...until it's your reputation and your hurt.
And I don't like it. Not one little bit.

And people have tried to soothe with talk of the enemy that works against our good God-future.
And people say struggles like these pave the way for better days ahead.
And I suppose those sentiments could be accurate,
but honestly, I am too submerged to see the coming daylight over the horizon.
My hurt is too fresh to look for the brighter day.
Right now, I just don't know.

And yet, I can't escape God.
He keeps pursuing me,
relentless Hound of Heaven.
Even situational darkness can't keep Him away.

I can't make sense of my circumstances right now
but God, He still does make sense to me.
His goodness. His truth. His strength. His love.

Mercy stares me down right in the middle of the mess.
And maybe one of the greatest mercies of His is that
this present storm beckons me to grasp a truer faith;
that these current winds can lead to deeper roots.
Maybe mercy takes the shape of struggle that reminds me I haven't arrived
and there's plenty about His kingdom I don't understand
and I haven't really learned to live.

And that's enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The promise of fuller kingdom living.
Even at the cost of my pride or need for being heard.
If this struggle channels my faith to flow more freely,
and helps me enter more fully into kingdom living,
then I will walk it.

Just like Jonah, any forward movement will require choice and action.
So I choose to let these difficulties spur me to tenacious trust
so I might move toward the One who knows me best and loves me most.

I may not always like it.
I probably won't ever ask for it.
But God is who He is.
And that is always enough.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Slow of Sabbath

Slow days are saving days.

Another Sabbath has come to a close for our family.
Another Thursday into Friday where we fight to be - just be.
Another 24 hours where we practice play and real attentiveness.
A day when we act like we actually have the time to stop and smell the roses.
Or play approximately 38 rounds of Super Mario Brothers.
Or sit shoulder to shoulder with my 10 year old and read seven chapters of Nancy Drew aloud.
Or cuddle with my Kindergartener and laugh at mismatched socks while smothering her in kisses.

Sabbath is about slowing down.
Not because there aren't things to do.
There. always. are.
The list will never end.
The tasks will never cease.
The expectations will always hover.

But slow days are saving days.

Slowness strengthens me for the fast days.
The rapid-fire, can't-miss-a-beat days.
Slowing provides a glorious reminder that my to do list does not get the final say.
That the world will keep turning without all my boxes checked.
That joy is defined by something greater than my accomplishments.

Slow days are saving days.

Rest invites me into the rhythm God intended for living.
A life-giving rhythm that doesn't rob but sustains.
Resting allows me to trust that God is in control
and it calls out the illusion that says I ever had control.
Resting relinquishes the lie that everything rises and falls on my actions.
It doesn't. But I sure live that way sometimes.

Slow days are saving days.

Sabbath is a defiance of looming deadlines.
It rebels against the American definition of success.
It's anthem ignores the clamor for increased productivity. 
Sabbath is the one thing many of us would say we can't afford to do.
But we would be wrong.
The soul will not be denied.
And the soul needs slow.
The soul needs rest.
Sabbath is the one thing we can't afford not to do.

Slow days are saving days.
Today, again, I found my salvation.

Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)

Friday, January 2, 2015

My 7 Books for 2015

I wrote about my new year's resolutions here
One of my goals was to read 7 non-fiction books.

It's never been all that difficult for me to pick up a novel. 
In fact, fiction books are as much a mental escape for me as movies or sleeping.

But non-fiction is a different story. 
It has often served as a cure for my insomnia.
No joke. 
I do not exaggerate.

Just hoping I will pick up a non-fiction book doesn't work. I might pick one up, read 60 pages, and put it down with every intention of reading more. But I hardly ever do. Hence my self-inflicted title of "Queen of the Unfinished Book."

So, I have resolved to read (to completion) 7 non-fiction books in 2015.  The next step is to decide what I am going to read. 

There are a lot of good books. 7 is a very small number. 

But I whittled it down to the ones that most interested me or I felt were most pertinent to my life and ministry at this point in time. 

Here's my list in no particular order:

Leading Change without Losing It: 
Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition 
by Carey Nieuwhof

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn 
by Melanie Shankle

A Spirituality of Fundraising 
by Henri Nouwen

Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines 
by Lauren Winner

Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year 
by Tavis Smiley

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: 
Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible 
by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien

And my runners-up...
You know, in case I get ambitious and actually read more than 7 books in 2015.
And no, the irony doesn't escape me that there are more than 7 books in this list.

by Timothy Keller

by Reggie McNeal

by Shauna Niequist

by Peter Rollins

by John & Joanna Stumbo

I am interested to know what non-fiction you have found helpful or beneficial. Feel free to leave a comment below and share with me. Who knows? Maybe I will alter my list after hearing from you!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2015 New Year's Resolution Solution

I am stranger to neither New Year's resolutions nor the shame produced when failing to keep resolve. That's why it would be easy to dismiss this tradition with flair, citing some rationale like, "I don't need a new year to give me permission to do something."

But here's the thing. I love intentional living and doing things on purpose. Life planned out and executed. And I love clean slates. Fresh starts. New beginnings.

And the New Year affords me both of these joys in one lovely midnight package.

Goals are good. Goals are friends because we tend to accomplish that for which we have planned. Those things for which we have set a goal. Otherwise, life happens to us and we live in reaction. I loathe reactionary existence.

I also am aware of the "Word of the Year" phenom. I have participated in said sensation. And I love the idea of an "angle" for the year that revolves around an easily remembered word. Yet I have found a word is too general for me. Too abstract. Too unfocused. It's reminds me of an Impressionistic painting that from a distance looks beautiful but as you draw closer you see the details are not distinct and articulate. A word hasn't forced me to set specific, measurable goals.

So, this year, I am picking a word that coerces me deeper into intentioned, quantifiable action. This is a idea that crossed my mind this morning. It's new. And it might bomb. Big time. After all, the girl that wrote unfulfilled resolutions of bygone years is still the one penning these today.

But I am willing to try.

I want to be healthier, in many ways...spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally. And it would seem logical to choose "Health" as my word for 2015. Problem is, it's uncentered. It's vague. It's easily avoidable because it refuses to persuade me to action of any kind on any level.

So, what could I do that would give my year a focus (like a word of the year would do), help me set specific goals (like traditional resolutions would do), and be easy to remember and recall in the heat of moments when life threatens to overtake me?

Here's my shot at a New Year's Eve Resolution solution...

It's starts with a word.

And my word for 2015 is 7.

Yep, that's right. My word is a number.

7. Seven. Siete.

Keep in mind that my main goal is greater health. So my word of the year becomes a way to inform my resolutions. This number will define all my specific goals for every part of my life where I desire greater health.

In 2015, with my word being 7, I resolve to:

1. Get up at 7 am every. single. morning. (save for our sabbath.)

Even on Saturday. Even on Sunday. I realize for some 7 am is sleeping in, but not for our household. As professional responsibilities have increased so have my late nights. And our schedule has felt inverted and flipped-flopped. Paul and I want to change that and this step might actually get it done. This one change could revolutionize my perspective and help me to better accomplish some of my other goals below.

2. Work toward greater spiritual health by applying these steps...

* Voice a prayer 7 times a day.
Now before you think me daft or legalistic, don't. This goal comes from a desire to better live out this scripture and walk in prayerfulness at all times. I don't plan to carry around a checklist to insure my compliance, I actually hope to partner this goal with one further down my list under family health. I explain more there.

* Set apart 7 days for fasting.
This is not a discipline I frequently employ, but I wish to incorporate more often.

* Offer 7 sacrificial acts. 
I do not yet know what this will entail, but I feel compelled to add it. These sacrificial offerings might come in the form of material goods, money, time, pride, or productivity. 

3. Work toward greater physical health by incorporating these habits:

* Count to 7 with every bite of food. 
I am notorious for eating quickly and I want to slow it down. I hope counting to 7 when I take a bite will serve as a mental trigger for me to eat more slowly.

* Drink 7 glasses of water a day. 
While it hasn't been proven, I am fairly certain Diet Coke runs through my veins. Drinking water is good for me and I need more of it.

* Eat 7 fruits or vegetables every day.
I couldn't even tell you how this resolution stacks up against the most updated food pyramid, and honestly I don't care. This is a step in the right direction for me to have a more balanced diet with the nutrients and vitamins I need.

* Listen to 7 songs while I walk. 
Seven mainstream songs last around 25 minutes, give or take. I want to be better about regular exercise, but I am limited by finances, time, and desire. I do, however, like to walk and I like music.  Why not pair them up and commit to walk consistently during my week while listening to some tunes? So when I wake up at 7am, I will set my playlist to 7 energetic, make-me-want-to-get-up-and-dance kind of songs and walk.

4. Work toward family health by strengthening these patterns...

* Count to 7 before speaking in frustration to my husband and children.
I want to speak life to my family but when frustration guides my words I have denied that opportunity. Though my habit is to spit words out thoughtlessly when feeling frustrated, I want to be deliberate in the practice of my speech. So, I will try my best count to seven every time I am tempted to spew irritation out on my family. 

* Affirm my husband 7 times a day.
Truth: It's can be easier to grumble about what my husband hasn't done then to appreciate what he has done. Truth: Parenthood is a great competitor to the marriage relationship. Both of these truths mean I have to dig deeper and work harder to speak to Paul the things he needs and deserves. I want to be intentional to praise my husband every day, multiple times a day. This might come as seven "I love yous" or seven specific compliments toward his character or efforts. Either way, it can't hurt a stinkin' thing.

And here is where the pray 7 times a day comes back around. I am linking these two items in my mind and heart this year. When I voice a prayer, I will also look for a way to affirm Paul. When I affirm Paul, I will pause and lift up a prayer. In this way, two goals are connected and will hopefully create some heart muscle memory.

5. Work toward greater mental and emotional health by striving to accomplish these goals...

* Read 7 non-fiction books. 
Don't judge. Sometimes you just have to be honest and start small. I am a home educating mother of three while pastoring with my husband and this does not encourage a non-reader to read much, especially if it requires much brain power. It's all been spent elsewhere at other points in the day.

* Recite 7 words..."My story is important to the world."
This phrase is inspired by Donald Miller's Storyline Conference which Paul and I attended in October. These seven words will help me when I am struggling with confidence or feel my contribution is lacking. I have a feeling I will be saying this a lot.

* Do 7 brave, risky things.
I tend to be a scaredy cat. Much of my life has been lived in deference to fear. I really don't like that. Courage requires intention. Risk doesn't have to translate to recklessness. But I have to be willing and able to take the step that frightens me. I have let too many opportunities slip through trembling fingers. This is another goal I can't predict how it will play out. I don't have anything specific in mind yet. But I will look for times when my knees are shaking and let that be a starting point.

* Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
Jesus said we must always be ready to offer forgiveness up to 77 times. In other words, forgiveness should be infinitely extended. The well of forgiveness has no bottom and it doesn't run dry. It's a reminder to continually offer forgiveness to others, especially when they may not deserve it because forgiveness is the way of freedom for my soul. And no, the number 7 isn't listed in the actual goal, but forgiveness is listed seven times for those I need to forgive on a regular basis: my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my parishioners, the stranger, and myself.

Throughout scripture, the number 7 represented perfection, completeness, wholeness. For me, 7 = shalom. And for all of my days, in all of my ways, I desire to pursue shalom, peace that encompasses the whole. It seems appropriate to have my goals toward greater health revolve around the number 7.

So this is my current solution to my resolution problem. As for it's success, I will have to embrace 2015 with all it's possibilities and promise to figure that out. I admit I am setting out a large, ambitious list of resolutions for myself in 2015. I actually don't expect to accomplish them all. That's ok. I just want to try. Maybe that's my first brave thing - tackling this set of goals. And if I fail, that's ok too. I will practice forgiving myself.

Here's to a healthier 2015!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Truce

Picture from The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: 
A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches" (photo source: wikipedia)

It was the winter of 1914. World War 1, which had been predicted to be a short-lived war, was now raging on in it’s 5th month. On the battlefields of Flanders, a northern region of Belgium, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been engaged in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug in, finding safety in muddy, man-made trenches that were six to eight feet deep and seemed to stretch forever. 

And then on Christmas Eve, one century ago, German troops began to place small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing Christmas songs. From across the "no man's land" that separated the enemy sides, came echoing carols from the British and French troops. Incredibly, many of the Germans were able to speak enough English to propose a "Christmas" truce. 

The British and French troops, all along the miles of trenches, accepted. And as a result, a spontaneous truce commenced. In a few places, allied troops fired at the Germans as they climbed out of their trenches, but the Germans persisted that Christmas would be celebrated, even if under the threat of death.

Signboards arose, up and down the trenches, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Make-shift 'MERRY CHRISTMAS' banners popped up on both sides. And the most frequently used German message, penned in fractured English was "YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT."  

Soldiers continued to courageously leave their trenches, meeting in the middle to shake hands and seal this temporary truce. Their first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then, these enemy soldiers found common ground as they exchanged gifts of chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, and tobacco. And in a few places this stretch of trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and played friendly matches. 

It didn't last forever. After all, the two sides were at war. Soldiers eventually did resume firing at each other. But for a few precious moments there was peace on earth and good will toward men on the Western front of a world at war. All because the focus was on Christmas. There's something about Christmas that changes people. It happened over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem and it's been happening over and over again down through the years. 

What about today? Does Christmas still have the power to change us? Because what about the lines we draw in life that keep others at bay? What about those trenches we dig that serve to insulate us, separate us and make us more like enemies than people created equally in the sight of God? You know those lines right? Lines of political ideaologies or socioeconomic level. The trenches of gender and race. 

Our world needs another Christmas truce. The people who live in the unrest of the Middle East need it. The people of Ferguson, MO need it. The family of Eric Garner needs it. Flint, MI needs it. Husbands and wives need it. Parents and children need it. We need a truce that draws us out of our defensive posture and into a place of mutual trust and respect for those we may have viewed as enemy.

What if we held up our own kind of signs in the trenches of our own living? Placards that didn’t say “Merry Christmas” but things like, “TELL ME WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE” or “I WANT TO HEAR YOU MORE AND UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.” What if our signboards read “MY CONCERN FOR YOU OUTWEIGHS MY JUDGMENT OF YOU.” What if we raised banners that said “BLACK LIVES MATTER” or “CHILDREN ARE VALUABLE” or “FATHERS ARE IMPORTANT.” What if I forfeit my right to be angry and ring out an anthems of “YOU ARE LOVED.” What if we surrendered our propensity to keep score and simply held up a sign saying “I’M SORRY” or “I FORGIVE YOU.” 

What if this Christmas, the baby in the manger who was destined to bear the weight of the cross, actually changed our battle cries into words of reconciliation and justice? What if we actually lived life as if peace on earth were possible because the Prince of all Peace lay in a manger?

I say we call a Christmas truce. Not a Christmas truce because it will only last the one day of Christmas, but because this Christmas we have committed to walk the path of peace. This Christmas, let's call a truce from all the things that would keep us divided and choose to bridge the gap. Let's seek to understand more than we seek to be understood. Seek to love more than we seek to be loved. Seek to forgive more than we seek to be forgiven.

There is a God who loved each of us enough to send His only Son for this reason - that there might be peace once again on earth. Peace between God and man, and peace between man and man.

We have been a people who have walked in great darkness.  But cradled in a manger of hay, Light has come. Nestled in the town of Bethlehem, a Savior has been born. Christmas has come. And Christmas changes things. Let’s call a christmas truce and move toward peace, love, justice, and hope. It’s possible because Jesus has made His dwelling among us.

Emmanuel is here. God is with us. All is well. May we come out from behind the battle lines and climb out of our trenches and begin a new kind of Christmas truce that holds up life. All life. Everywhere.

I pray the Holy Spirit will begin and continue a work in your heart and mine that will lead us to be people who walk the way of peace and justice and compassion. It’s the way of Christ. And it is the light for our path that offers hope for our world. Light has come. It’s Christmas. And I want to call a truce.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace...Ephesians 2:14a; 15b

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Six Words on a Sunday

Daddy, Moriah, and Mommy
October 5, 2014

Some days are special and you never saw it coming.
Today was one of those days.

It was a Sunday morning.
Paul was already at the church building.
I was scrambling at home trying to get me and three kids ready to walk out the door to get to the church building.

Standing in the kitchen, 
slinging waffles and cereal,
Moriah walks in and says, 
"Mommy, can I talk, just me and you, in the bedroom?"

Inside, I was about to lose it.
Doesn't she realize we have places to be?
Doesn't she know I have responsibilities to take care of?
There is a reason why Sunday is the day that will test the very faith of any parent.

I stuffed the impatience
and simply spoke, "Okay."

I walked purposefully into the bedroom, 
joined Moriah on the bed, 
and waited.
She sat, legs forming butterfly wings out in front of her
and quietly said, 
"I want to be a christian."

All of a sudden, 
my "places to go, people to see, job to do" Sunday
got rearranged.

In the blink of an eye, 
my routine Sunday
become special, stand-out, extraordinary.

Six words.
That's all it took.
All it took to make a mundane day mark itself in my memory forever.

Six words.
That's all it took.
All it took to transform an average morning to an unforgettable moment.

My youngest daughter was ready to follow Jesus.
And she just needed a few moments to let me know.
5 years old and ready to walk in child-like faith with the One who knows her best and loves her most.

5 years old and Moriah is reborn on the first day of the week.
The same day the women journeyed early to the empty tomb.
The same day resurrection become a reality for everyone who might follow Christ.

Some days are special and you never saw it coming.
Today was one of those days.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dear Eliana (On Your 10th Birthday)

Sweet Eliana - 

Is a mother made in a decade's time?
That's how long it's been since you traded amniotic fluid for oxygen.
Ten years since I first saw your face above a green medical sheet 
that acted as a barrier during my emergency c-section.
Ten years since I walked hazy over our threshold for the first time as mommy.

I was so proud of the pink-striped nursery we prepared for you.
Did I ever tell you the first two colors I chose looked like a circus tent dripping in pepto bismol?
Did I ever tell you that your Daddy loves me a ton? I have proof.
See those lovely shades of pink? Those are not pepto bismol. 
He repainted. For me.
I hope you know your Daddy will go the same lengths for you.
He will work hard to help you realize your dreams 
and if there's a time when you realize you messed up, he won't rub it in.
He will go to Sherwin Williams and get more paint (metaphorically speaking).

Transitioning into motherhood was hard for me.
Not completely natural.
I was a foreigner learning a new language; a new way of life.
Nothing really seemed native in the land of motherhood.
Not at first.
But days of adjustments and months of acclimating paid off.
I found I was more at home with myself. And with you.
I still had questions. Lots of them.
Actually, I continue to have lots of questions.
About motherhood. and life. and myself. and faith.
I hope you celebrate your questions. 
Embrace them. Relish them. Carry them well.
Sometimes Jesus is seen most clearly in the uncertainty.

Eventually, life reoriented itself to a normal.
I got more comfortable with imperfection. Mistakes make for good company.
And somewhere along the way I realized God doesn't expect perfection.
I hope you are patient with yourself as you grow.
If you are, you offer yourself an invaluable gift
and God's love is easier to identify.

Baby Einstein turned to Curious George turned to My Little Pony.
Sandra Boynton ushered in Mo Willems ushered in Cul-de-Sac Kids.
Little People were replaced by Bitty Baby were replaced by Lego Friends.
Years passed. You grew. So did our family.
You became big sister. Two times over.
I watched you mother your younger brother and sister.
You've been teacher to them even when you didn't realize you were.
I hope, no matter how old you are, you will show honor to your siblings. 
You were blessed with a great responsibility as eldest. Wield it well.

Because of your care, constant and tender,
Levi and Moriah look up to you.
They stand in the shadow of their big sister with wide eyes and open ears.
And they are protective of you. Not wishing harm to come to you.
I have proof.
Here they are unable to watch as you faced your fear and got your ears pierced yesterday.
Your stress became theirs.
Lives connected by blood but hearts connected by love.
I hope your life will continue to be marked by true friendship
when one feels both the pain and joy of another as if it is their own. 
You experienced this first with your family.

Is a mother made in a decade's time?
Only in part for it seems that motherhood is more a mosaic.
A conglomeration of being made from moments of my undoing.
Undone in the face of indescribable joy, fierce protectiveness, bubbling frustration.
Undone as I mix moments of overwhelming failure and unsaid bliss.
Yet, I still stand incomplete.
Motherhood has not matured in me.
Not yet.
Maybe not ever.
But I am being made.
With every moment. Every memory.
I hope you know the joy of becoming.
Perhaps that is what we were made for.
The becoming.
Christ in you - the hope of glory.
Becoming mine. 
Becoming His.
Becoming you.

Happy 10th Birthday, Eliana!
I love you!