Thursday, April 29, 2010

Doing the Pee Pee Dance on South Lawn

Let me begin by saying, this particular e-letter is not for the faint of heart. The subject after all is “doing the pee pee dance.” But I am a firm believer that everything teaches, and I will use anything to tell students about Jesus. Nothing is off limits. So here goes . . . .

I have a urinary tract infection. The pain comes and goes, but when it comes, it is brutal. The feeling I described to my doctor is like peeing razor blades. Not fun. Thankfully he gave me some antibiotics and a purple pill I’m supposed to take 4 times a day, with a lovely side effect of turning urine blue. I got kind of tickled this morning when my sweet husband Tim says to me, “It looks like a smurf broke into our house in the middle of the night and used our toilet.” Precious.

So yesterday I was on South Lawn with our prayer labyrinth. We got to participate once again in “Stresstivus” which is sponsored by WKU’s Health Services. I love participating every year since it invites students who wouldn’t go to church to experience Jesus and prayer in a meaningful way. But because I was hurting and had to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes, there was a big part of me that just really did not want to be there. Campus outreach projects are some of my favorite things in the whole world. I mean, that is when I am an over-the-top fool for Christ. For example, during our Easter Egg give-away I put on a Sunflower headband. It looked like I had yellow petals sprouting from my head. (I would have worn the pink bunny ears, but they clashed with my t-shirt.) I love sharing the love of Jesus with random people in inviting, winsome, and often wacky ways. So it was a bit disconcerting to be on campus sharing Jesus and not quite having the heart for it.

Here is the thing. We had more people walk our prayer labyrinth than ever before, and I even got to have some really cool conversations. Each person who participated received a mosaic tile as a reminder of their experience, along with a corresponding bookmark with scripture and reflection questions on it. These were given as a way for the experience to speak deeply to their lives in the areas of transformation, experiencing a heart of peace, or learning to live like “lilies of the field,” without worry. We had a great response.

And the whole experience was a real lesson for me. The scripture that comes to mind is from 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Most of the time, I live my life as if the whole world relies upon my strength. I am fully aware on many occasions that God’s presence and power under-gird me in ways I cannot comprehend, but I also feel weight of responsibility so heavily. I know that there are people depending on me. While I am so aware of my limitations (and mostly because of my limitations), I just feel like I can’t afford to not give all that I am to everything I do. It’s like I believe that if something significant is going to get done, I have to make it happen. Well yesterday my maker was not up to making things happen. My maker was simply making me have to go pee all the time, praying that sometime soon the pain would stop. Yet in the middle of all that God my Maker showed up.

Yesterday I was reminded in a powerful way that God is not dependent upon me to do His thing. He can do His thing whenever and wherever He wants. He can move with the power of a mighty wind whether I am feeling up to it or not. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t have to be my best in order for Him to be His best. Marvelous happens on His time schedule, regardless of what is happing in mine. I’m so thankful. So I guess the moral of this little confession is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. He does His best work when we cannot work at all. Thank God. I’m just hoping someone else needed to hear that as much as me, because I feel kind of silly having to confess to and repent of my own self-sufficiency. So there you go. Praise the Lord. Oh, and by the way, the razor blades are gone. Praise God!

This is me trusting,


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Common Beauty, Uncommon Love

It is spring time and dandelions are everywhere. Have you ever thought about the difference between dandelions and potted plants? One is common; it grows at will, wild and un-tame. Very ordinary, and in its abundance very obscure. One is cultivated; it’s growth is precarious, needing time and attention. It grows through intention, needing specific care to be sustained. It is special, specially placed, and specially noticed. I am a dandelion girl, growing wherever I will, wild and un-tame. Thoroughly common.

A few years ago I noticed a set of dishes in a department store sporting pictures of various wild growing flowers, usually considered weeds. The dandelion was just one of four common flowers that graced the front of that particular china pattern. I loved it. I loved that an expensive set of porcelain captured the loveliness of the ordinary, elevating it to the ranks of beautiful, as these un-common dishes sat beside the more common stacks of rose painted plates. It gave me the courage to notice the beauty in what is often overlooked, simply because it is so abundant.

Obviously Someone is cultivating the common. I believe it is God. God loves dandelions, and there was a time when we did too. I remember as a girl making numerous bracelets, necklaces and crowns out of the yellow blooms, stringing each flexible green stem through the next until there was a chain. I remember the fascination and joy of watching the white dandelion seeds being lifted by the wind as I blew upon their fuzzy heads. In that innocence of youth, dandelions were still flowers, not yet weeds, and still an object of beauty instead of an aggravating nuisance. Whatever happened to our uncommon love for common beauty?

I think it is because our culture has trained us to think that only unordinary things are worthy of notice, that life at its heart is a competition for VIP status. Only the rare and very important things and people matter. What is common is undesirable, unnoticed, unworthy. Understated is uninteresting. Our culture tells us that if we want to be successful, marketable, and have value we must be over-the-top, bigger and better than everyone else. Survival means setting ourselves apart. Even if it hurts others around us, grabbing that status is everything. And once we are deemed worthy of attention, we have to work even harder to stay that way. In the college scene it means belonging to the best organizations, making the best grades, establishing the best reputation, enjoying all the right contacts, gaining the most achievements, growing the best resume. And ordinary is just not good enough. Only outstanding will do. You future happiness and well-being depends on it. Sound exhausting?

As a teenager and young adult, I used to see people (namely myself) in those same terms, believing that the category of beautiful applied to pageant winners, the “in” crowd, and people with power and prestige. Beauty, or worth, I felt, was only reserved for those who were “special.” So I tried my hardest to be as special as I could, making the best grades I could, being as acceptable as I could, pleasing the most people I could, gaining all the success I could. And when I couldn’t live up to those standards, my world came apart. The Lord patiently put me back together again. Somehow I learned along the way that I had to make peace with my ordinariness. Then I began to discover God’s grace that creates and loves the ordinary, naming and claming that which the world does not. His purposes for such ordinary things surely outshine worldly efforts at greatness. And just like we cannot stop the dandelions from filling our yards, neither can the world’s demands for extraordinary deny the power of an ordinary life lived through simple trust in the Lord.

I love these words from scripture: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:27-31). It is almost as if I can hear God saying, “Have you looked at any dandelions lately? Did you ever think about why they grow so abundantly when you do absolutely nothing to make them do that, when you even try to inhibit their growth? Don’t you think if I can make dandelions grow so beautifully, I can take care of you too? So why do you think your well-being depends on effort you cannot possibly give? Stop trying to do My job! Instead, why don’t you just try to be the blessing I created you to be? So you are a dandelion in the great garden of life. I made so many because I love them so much. You are so beautiful to Me; just be what I made you to be!”

Don’t get me wrong. Potted plants are nice, but at the end of the day, they too are just plants, no better or worse than the ordinary dandelion. God creates each bloom with such exquisite detail and care, tending to the needs of each flower’s life with sustenance we can only guess at. Surely if God cares enough to give life to dandelions He also cares about us as well. And even in our ordinariness we can trust Him to have a plan and purpose that not only sustains us with mercy, but reveals His glory to those all around.

This is me trusting,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Walk by Faith

Last weekend eight students and I went to Camp Loucon for our Spring Retreat. It was awesome, and amazing, and it rocked our world! Woo Hoo!!!! Can you tell I had a great time? It was everything we needed it to be and more. The theme of our weekend was the twenty third Psalm; together we considered the many ways that God shepherds our lives. What I love about God is that He always speaks His message to us in several ways, through many mediums. I especially experienced this when it came time for us to do low elements.

We began our low element activities with our facilitator instructing us to get into pairs, handing out bandanas, and asking a person from each pair to be blindfolded. It was then the responsibility of the “seeing” person to guide the blindfolded one along a path set by our facilitator, using only her or his voice. The guides were not allowed to touch those being led; they could only tell them how to walk the path in their blindness. Sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound like following God’s lead when we cannot see Him or touch Him? I believe it is a perfect metaphor for faith—God, who knows all and sees all, tells us with hints and nudges how to walk through life in our blindness. And while we have the guidance of scripture and the camaraderie of a community of believers, in specific details we can only guess at what our best decisions are: we cannot see the future, we cannot possibly know outcomes or consequences, and we are clueless in regard to the intentions and decisions of others. We’re not even that good at predicting the weather, even though we try really hard.

It can be really disorienting. Like being blindfolded and asked to walk a path that may or may not be on the road. Because we had an odd number, I got paired up with both Derek and Tyler. We each got a turn to be the guide to two blind people and each of us got to be led around in the dark. I would much prefer to be blindfolded any day. Kind of like, I would hate to have God’s job. And both of my guides did a great job! It was so cool to see how each approached the task of guiding their charges to safety. Derek had a keen sense of description. I knew exactly what the terrain was at all times and exactly how best to approach it. Tyler lead with his own feet, making as much noise as he could by scraping and dragging that we always knew where his feet were and could simply follow their sound in addition to his specific vocal cues. I have often said before that the life of faith is like this. As we come to know the Lord, we each develop a language with Him. Thus He speaks to each of us in a way that is unique to the relationship we have with Him. Of course He does this; His loves each of us personally and specifically. What I found with each of my guides is that after a while I could relax; the pattern of our communication, their leading and my following, eventually became almost like sight. Familiarity opened up our trust.

And then we came to a point when Tyler said, “I don’t know what to say. We’re not changing direction or anything. Just keep following the sound of my feet.” And then I started to panic. My first impulse was to scream, “I don’t care what the road is doing, just keep talking!” I couldn’t see after all. I just kept thinking, “Don’t take away your voice too!” But then I found that, in fact, the road was fairly easy, and I didn’t need extra instruction, and the sound of his feet was so reliable I didn’t even need His voice. And then it struck me: “God this is so like you!” Isn’t it? Haven’t you found yourself trying to follow God and He suddenly becomes very quiet? All the ways that you used to sense Him speaking have dried up. The only thing you can do is to go on what you know about Him, and hope it will all turn out alright. And it will. In that moment of my uncertainty and panic it was as if I heard God say to my spirit, “You don’t have to worry when I am silent, Sami. Those are simply the times when my last bit of direction is totally sufficient. Just keep doing what you are doing and trust me to give you new insight when you need it.” In Tyler’s words I heard the sound of my Lord: “We’re not changing direction or anything. Just keep following the sound of My feet.”

This Sunday we will be going to Elizabethtown to share our outreach ministry with the home church of some of our students. One of the songs we are singing this year is “Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp. The chorus goes like this: “Oh I will walk by faith, even though I cannot see. Because this broken road prepares Your will for me.” In our walk with Jesus, there will often be times of clarity and brilliant insight, but more often than not, there will be times of guessing and hoping, trusting and blind obeying. It is in those times that our faith grows the most and we develop a keener understanding of Who God is in our lives, and who we are in His. I want to encourage you, dear one. If you are in one of those silent times when your faith is being stretched, know that you are still in God’s sights even when He is not in yours. You can trust Him to get you safely home. And also know, if you were not ready to trust Him more, he never would have led you to where you are now. Be blessed on the path you follow. He is always, and still, shepherding you.

This is me trusting,


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dream a Better Dream

Long before Susan Boyle made it famous, I sang “I Dreamed a Dream” for Senior Night the year I graduated from High School. Absolutely love the song. But it sure is sad. From the musical Les Miserables it tells the story of a woman, Fantine, who loved and lost, who naively gave her heart away and found it returned to her in pieces. Yet sadder still, such a brief taste of love ultimately left her stranded and alone with a child she could not support. In the end, she dies a broken woman who had sold herself in order to keep her child alive. The closing lyrics to the song say it all: “I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living; so different now from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

This could be the life song of so many people. We start out in one direction, full of hope and expectancy, and then, for all kinds of reasons, things go in a direction we did not choose and cannot seem to change. Even for college students, whose lives are filled with promise and possibility, this is still true. Maybe it was the scholarship that didn’t come true, the acceptance letter that never came, the relationship that didn’t work out, the mistake that never goes away. Life has failed us somehow, and we stand confused, holding the pieces of our hearts in our hands. We keep telling ourselves sentences that begin with the words, “If only . . . .” We want to go back in time, choose differently, turn things around. We long for this opportunity, yet we are a million miles away from fulfilling it. I have been there. And so had Mary of Bethany, friend and disciple of Jesus.

We first meet Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet while He visits in her home; she is listening to Him, learning from Him. Martha interrupts, insisting that Mary assist her in the work of hospitality; Jesus simply says that Mary’s devotion will not be taken from her—she is right where she needs to be. I love the sense of intimacy that permeates the story. Of course his boy disciples are there, Peter, James, John, etc. Of course Martha is hurrying and scurrying. Of course it is a scene full of tension as Martha “subtly” makes her frustration clear before saying anything, while Peter and the crew wonder what is so special about this “girl” who gets to sit with them, hear what they hear, learn what they learn. The haughty sighs and grumpy harrumphs are the audible subtext of the story; not everyone agrees that Mary is right where she needs to be. But Jesus doesn’t care. And Mary doesn’t seem to either. For them, they might as well be the only two in the room, a woman loving the Lord with her whole self: mind, heart, strength, and soul. It is a beautiful picture of what Jesus invites us to: Intimacy unscathed by the chaos surrounding it.

And so when Mary’s beloved brother dies, her devastation is clear. She knows He could have kept it from happening. She knows Him, yet she doesn’t understand Him. Her anguished words echo this paradox of faith and floundering: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The subtext here is the un-asked question, “Lord, why did You not come?” I hear in her words the same anguish voiced by Fantine: “I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living.” Mary had a different dream for her life too. And now she is caught in circumstances she could neither foresee nor change: she had trusted Jesus implicitly, opened her heart to Him completely, entrusted Him with the vulnerability of real belief, and Jesus failed to show up when she asked Him too. She is really devastated. Seeing her so, Jesus cannot help but respond to her grief: “When he saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). Jesus grieves with her. I believe He even grieves for her.

But her tears (and He knew she would have them) do not have the power to change His plans, plans that she could not understand or grasp. In a way I love this. Bizarre as it sounds, I love that He does not give in to my grief. It comforts me to know that He grieves with and for me—it is so like Him; He is compassion. But to give in to our hopes, even those that are good, is to do us a grave dis-service when He has something so much better for us in mind. For Mary Jesus’ intention was better than simply making her brother well. His intention was to bring the dead to life, to do what only He could do. While it is true that life often kills our dreams, Jesus invites us to dream better ones. He invites us to bring to Him our shattered and broken dreams, especially those that are beyond repair, because in the place of their death, He intends to bring life. In the places of our greatest devestation new hope is born, where and when we least expect it. It may not look like what we expect, but we can trust that it will look like something only He can do, far beyond what we can ask or imagine. Jesus looks at the tomb of Mary’s brother, and cries with a loud voice, “Lazurus, come out! (John 11:43). This is my Easter message: He doesn’t just bring resurrection, He is the resurrection. In the middle of our brokenness, He invites us to wait for His gift of new life. Be courageous enough to dream a better dream with me.

This is me trusting,