Monday, December 05, 2011

Wow, I get it--

It's hard being a parent.  Here is the part I struggle with:  setting limits, allowing consequences to in fact follow from poor choices, and not allowing the frustration of the moment to cloud vision of my heart.  Sometimes I wonder if God struggles too as He relates to us.  As I read the stories from the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, I see God continually showing His people the right way to live.  And then I see them continually making poor choices.  The one that gets me is the story of Amaziah, a king of Judah who scripture says, "He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart" (II Chronicles 25:2).  God helped him gain an amazing victory over his enemies in battle.  But instead of turning to God with a heart full of reverence and gratitude, he falls away, way far away!  Scripture records just how badly Amaziah responded to God's help:

Now after Amaziah came from the slaughter of the Edomites, he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up as his gods, and worshiped them, making offerings to them.  The LORD was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, "Why have you resorted to a people's gods who could not deliver their own people from your hand?"  But as he was speaking the king said to him, "Have we made you a royal counselor?  Stop!  Why should you be put to death?"  So the prophet stopped, but said, "I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my advice."  II Chronicles 25:14-16

Now that is definitely a parental low moment.  When I take the time to read how blatantly the people of God acted like anything but the people of God, I understand why God had to take such drastic measures to get their attention.  The Exile makes perfect sense in that context.  It was a particularly long (70 years worth) time out.  God removed His people to Babylon, taking them away from their beloved Promised Land so that they could understand the heart of the Promiser better.  I get it.

It's still hard to live it.  As a parent there are times when I have to do the hard thing.  Sometimes the only way to a child's heart is to remove the promised land so that he can truly see the heart of the promiser.  Last night we had one such moment.  Our middle son, who is usually the one who is quickest to obey, has been having some issues lately.  Instead of doing what we ask, he has been responding with an adamant "No!"  Then he tells us how he is going to do things instead.  We have struggled with how to respond.  But we know that if we don't respond we do him a greater disservice in the long run.  Last night we were going to see a Christmas program that Tim's sister and brother-in-law were performing in at their church.  We asked Isaiah several times to put on his church clothes from the morning.  The tee-shirt and shorts he had on were hardly appropriate for a rainy December night.  Each time his response was "No!"  Finally Tim said, "We'll have to let him think he's gonna have to stay here."  (Please note, we knew all along he wouldn't stay at home.  He just needed time to understand that his choices have consequences.)  So we all got into the car while Tim explained to Isaiah that he was going to have to stay at home since he wouldn't get ready to go.  There were many tears and protests.  Tim went in to talk to Isaiah while I got into the car.  What awaited me there took my breath away.

Noah, our oldest, sat in the back seat, his hands folded in supplication, tears streaming down his face.  He looked at me with pleading eyes and begged, "Please don't make Isaiah stay home by himself, please don't make Isaiah stay home."  My heart melted at the sight of my oldest son pleading for his brother; this child, who would at any given moment torment his younger brother for whatever small infraction, was begging me to extend mercy.  As I took Noah in my arms, I explained that we would not leave Isaiah, but that he needed to learn there are consequences to the choices he makes.  Noah settled down, and we had a little talk about wise choices and poor choices.  Pretty soon Isaiah joined us, dressed and ready to go.

The whole episode moved me in ways that are hard to articulate.  I just know that Noah's pleas for Isaiah touched something deep within me.  It made me think of the miracle of Christmas, a Savior's heart, and a Father's mercy.  The words to the second stanza of the beloved carol "What Child Is This" say it best:

Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear:  For sinners here, the silent Word is pleading:
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne, for me for you:
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary!

This is Christ the King, the One whom shepherds guarded and about whom the angels would sing.  This is the One who left the splendor of heaven to join us in our broken, imperfect world so that He could show us a better way, so that He could put Himself in our place, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Jesus pleaded with His Father for us.  From the heart.  With His whole self.  Joining us in our humanity, bearing in His broken body the full consequence of our sin, and ultimately rising again so that His power could be made perfect in our weakness. When it was impossible for us to overcome sin on our own, He overcame it for us, and extends to us the gift of living in His love and victory if we will only accept it.

No wonder God loves Jesus so much.  I can't imagine what it was like for God watching Jesus willingly enter into the dregs of human sin and suffering for us, so that we could be free and forgiven.  I just know what it did to my heart to see Noah intercede for his brother.  The sweetness of that gift is so beautiful.  I am grateful for it.  It shows me how beautiful is the gift of Christmas, how astonishing the gift of Easter, how amazing God's gift of redeeming Grace.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Operation Christmas Child

This is a picture of my family while we were at church packing our two shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  It was a powerful day for me.  We spent time as a family going to different stations where we focused on a separate theme.  At the first station we learned how a child receiving a shoebox might live.  Our boys got to go inside a grass hut that the youth had made.  Our youth director encouraged them to find a place to lay down inside the small dwelling, along with the ten other children inside.  They got to see how vastly different living conditions are from our own.  We also learned how these simple boxes filled with small gifts for a boy or girl can have a big impact.  The stories our youth pastor told showed how God connected the right box with the right child.  Of course God would know which box held what.  Of course God would know which child would desperately need the contents of a particular box for reasons that are singular and unique only to him or her.  Like the boy who loved to garden and received a box with gardening gloves inside.  Or the girl who had to walk several miles to school barefoot, who received a box with shoes, the exact size that she needed. 

At the second station we actually got to pack our boxes.  The boys loved doing this.  While our little one ran around the room, the other two carefully placed our items in the boxes provided. All I could think of as we put those boxes together was, "Oh God, please let our boxes be the miracle some child needs."  I wanted to be able to do so much more.  But it touched me to know that the little we are able to do could be such a big deal to a child I've never met.

At the third station we made an Advent wreath.  After attaching and fluffing the greenery, all our little wreath needed were the candles.  My favorite part of Christmas is the lighting of the Advent wreath.  That night when we went to bed I told the boys about celebrating Advent when I was a campus minister.  Since the semester would end before Advent had even really started, we would do all the readings, all the songs, all the candle lightings in one night.  It was my favorite service of the whole school year.  I'm looking forward to sharing this special tradition with my sons, creating anticipation as Christmas grows nearer, deepening our understanding of what it means to wait for the Savior to come.

When we packed our shoe boxes, we got to include a coloring sheet that shared information about us with the child who will receive the box.  Noah worked diligently to complete each page front and back.  Later my husband asked if I had seen what he wrote about Jesus.  I said no.  He told me that Noah wrote "Jesus helps us through hard times."  I got choked up.  Yes, Jesus does help us through hard times.  And this season has had its challenges.  I just so thankful that my son is learning what a difference God's Son makes in our lives. 

On Friday we spent time as a family making a list of what we are thankful for.  The boys did so good naming things that are significant to them. What was particularly poignant to me was how well Noah remembered what we learned about children who live in grass huts.  When we finished the list as a family, he took the paper and pen and went through our house by himself, writing down the things he was thankful for, noticing the blessings we have as Americans like running water, electricity, and beds to sleep on.

We learned at church yesterday that 93 shoe boxes were filled and sent out.  It seems that Operation Christmas Child was a success.  That's 93 more children in the world who will receive a tangible sign of God's love, 93 more children who will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, 93 more children who will get a chance to learn that Jesus helps us through hard times.  And I am grateful for the small way that my family got to participate in this ministry.  Yet I am also aware that there is another divinely inspired operation happening right under my nose.  In the ordinary course of our lives, the daily stuff that doesn't seem important or noteworthy, we have the opportunity to teach our boys what it means to be a Christmas child each day.  My prayer is that Tim and I will have the wisdom, the guts, and the insight to be able to do that.  I'm thankful God is already working on that too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Every Thanksgiving my Mom's side of the family gathers in Texas for a reunion.  I try to go every year that I can.  Usually the only thing that prevents me is having a baby.  Our baby having days are behind us now.  Yet for some reason I had the strongest sense that we were supposed to stay home this year.  I don't understand why.  The last time I had this strong of a feeling was the last Thanksgiving my Grandfather was alive.  And I missed it.  But it was also the season that God answered our prayers and allowed us to conceive Noah, our oldest son.  We had been unable to have children for three years.  And then God blessed us. 

So here I am in Kentucky, praying for safe travel for my parents as they go West.  I am puzzled, yet peaceful.  I know this is where we are supposed to be. 

I love how traditions weave memory and personal history into our lives, reminding us who we are, the stuff we are made of, the places we come from.  I don't necessarily have a bunch of traditions, but I do have stories, and they do the same thing for me.  One of my favorite Thanksgiving stories is from the first Thanksgiving Tim and I spent in Fort Myers, Florida when I was working as an Associate Pastor at a church down there.  I was heartsick for Kentucky and Tennessee.  For the life of me I couldn't figure out why God would bring me to a place without hills, trees (sorry my Florida friends; I didn't think palm trees counted at the time), and seasons.  We were alone on the holiday dedicated especially to family.  We were still growing into the understanding that we could be enough family with only the two of us.  Homesick and hot, we decided to go to the beach, just because we could.  As Tim and I walked on the sand, listening to the gentle splash of waves, the wind blowing in our hair, I told him I needed to start a new tradition just for us.  Something I could hold onto that would make Thanksgiving special again, and make my heart a little less lonely.  I told him about an elderly neighbor from my childhood who would fry refrigerated biscuits in oil, drain them and cover them with sugar.  By the time we dusted the sand off our bare feet and loaded towels and sunscreen back in the car I had him convinced.  We stopped at the 7-11 on the way home and bought refrigerated biscuits dough.

Of course reality rarely matches memory.  Especially for someone who knows nothing about frying anything in oil.  I got the oil too hot.  While the doughnuts looked nice and evenly brown on the outside, they weren't so done on the inside.  The first bite Tim took was the last as our new tradition went in the trash as quickly as the raw biscuit dough did.  Fourteen years later Tim still likes to have a little fun reminding me.

Tonight I'm thinking of that memory fondly.  Because I find myself in the same place again.  I am here, home,  wistful for the company of family there.  I trust God has His reasons. And I feel oddly at peace about being here.  Like this is the right place for us.  I also feel contently nestled in the family that feeds my soul each day--three sweet boys that keep me smiling and a husband who is truly my beloved. 

Tonight while Tim went to a men's ministry event at our church, the boys and I stayed home.  Noah asked if we could watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving video and eat popcorn.  I gave in.  I thought it would be something special we could do on our Mommy's night in.  I smiled as Snoopy served Peppermint Pattie popcorn for Thanksgiving dinner.  My three stair-step boys sat on a blanket in front of our TV eating their own bowls of popcorn, laughing because Peppermint Pattie kept calling Charlie Brown "Chuck."  I sat there feeling thankful for the peaceful, precious moment, thankful that the popcorn had been cooked just right.  Snatching a piece  from Noah's bowl I told him how special this memory was for me.  He asked me when I had ever done this before.  I said I hadn't ever done it before, that the memory was being made right in that moment.  

Tonight I am thankful. I can't help but compare this Thanksgiving to that other one so long ago.  During that time, and the years that followed, so much within me was just chaos and turmoil.  I just didn't know yet how rich and wonderful the life I was living would turn out to be.  I had no idea the woman I would become or the joy my future children would bring.  I couldn't even imagine how precious and important the relationship with my husband would grow, or how powerfully our bond could sustain me in hard times.  And I had no understanding of the peace God could bring, even in the face of my own unfulfilled wants or desires.  I had no way to know how deep thanksgiving could go.  And now I don't know if popcorn and Charlie Brown will make it to be a Wilson Thanksgiving tradition, but it is a beautiful memory, a sweet reminder to me of how God's love redeems and rewrites our lives for us, bringing us to a place of peace and hope. 

This is me,

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Cat in the Hat Says Alot About That

The last time I wrote I was pretty bummed.  I mean, sometimes I just get discouraged.  I find myself like Peter, walking on water in impossible circumstances, and instead of being amazed at my water walking feet, I begin to pay attention to the circumstances I'm in.  Thus the sinking begins.  I believe that is where sinking feelings originate; we take our eyes off of Jesus, and begin to survey our surroundings.  I believe what we are called to is ultimately to be able to view our surroundings through His eyes rather than our own.  But until we are in that place, it's best to just keep our peeps fixed on Him!

So this is how my sweet Jesus calmed the storm inside of me:  I had been worrying about our future, finances, trying to understand how all the mismatched pieces of our lives will finally fit together.  That's where I was last Thursday when I sipped tea.  When my oldest son arrived home, he told me that he wanted to be "The Cat in the Hat" for school the next day.  His teacher had asked the students to come to school dressed as a book character.  And so the hat fixing odyssey began.

At the beginning of the school year someone handed me a red WKU recyclable bag while I was on my way to teach class.  I took it.  Not because I really needed it, but because, like every other member of Western, I like free stuff.  It had been laying in our office at home, empty since then.  Until Thursday night.  Did you know that you can cut up one of those bags and make a "Cat in the Hat" hat?  It's true!  I just used a ton of staples, an old folder, an empty butter tub, and some ribbon to fashion a costume for my son.  We didn't have to buy anything.  Everything we needed was hidden in what we already had. 

As I was working on the project, everything fell easily into place.  Whenever one step was finished, inspiration would hit again and the next part would seamlessly work itself out until the whole thing was done.  It was as if invisible hands were leading me to just the right thing to make it all work together.  Now I know God has all kinds of important things to attend to, you know, hurricanes and all that.  But I swear I felt His Holy Spirit leading me until the project was completed.  And sweetest of all was the quiet, almost shy, I-would-have-missed-it-if-I-hadn't-been-paying-attention, remark of my son, "Thanks Mom for making my costume."

Later on I whispered my own quiet, almost shy words of gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  With all the big stuff going on in the world I am humbled that God would care to provide a costume for my seven year old, that He would allow it to come through my hands and heart, that it would be fashioned with love and stubborn imagination, and that it would make that precious boy grin from ear to ear.  I could almost hear God's own quiet whisper, "If I can take care of the little thing that means so much, don't you think I can take care of the rest?"

Yes Lord, You can.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Good Word

Last Spring when the Wesley gave me a going away party, one of my students gave me a beautiful "Tea for One" tea pot and cup.  The gesture was so beautiful and significant.  The set is delicate and lovely, covered with butterflies as well as the words "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" printed on it.  As the weather has turned colder I have pulled out the gift and put it to good use. 

There are all kinds of tea cups and mugs I could use to drink warm beverages right now, but this one in particular keeps drawing me back.  It could be that last weekend was Homecoming and I am struggling with feelings of homelessness since it was the first time I have not attended since moving back to Bowling Green over nine years ago.  It could be that I am grieving the loss of Wesley all over again; as a friend pointed out  we tend to mourn repeatedly as the seasons change.  I always thought Fall was  a special time with the students, and  I find myself wistful for them.  It could be that everyday I wake up and find myself needing God's blessing and keeping like never before.  Yep, that could certainly be it.

Those words of blessing come from Numbers 6:22-27.  The full scripture says this:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying:  Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites:  You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

I first learned this blessing as a teenager participating in youth group.  We knew it simply as the UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Benediction.  Years later when my youth director from that time was killed in a car wreck, I was told that members of my former youth group gathered around Charlie's grave, joined hands, and said its lines once again.  As I became a youth pastor during seminary, I ended each meeting with the familiar refrain.  Even as an associate pastor serving a church in Florida these lines were ones I often used to send my congregation forth.  But the most special, sacred, and holy place that I ever uttered these words were the times I shared them with my students at the Wesley Foundation.  It didn't matter how many entered our ministry as freshmen, or graduated and walked out into the next great adventure, each one knew these lines by heart before they left.  We would stand together in a tight circle and say them to each other, blessing each other day after day.

I never dreamed the day would come when I would be the receiver of the blessing, rather than the blesser.  But as I sit in this quiet house while my boys are at Nanny's and my husband is at work, I tell the Silence I so need this blessing.  I need to know You will bless me and keep me.  I need to know You will bless and keep my sweet boys, who are the joy of my heart.  I so need to know You will bless and keep my beloved.  My own blesser and keeper feels broken.  I need to know that the true Blesser and Keeper never breaks, and never breaks His Word.  

In the original language "bless" or barak means to bless abundantly, to bless altogether, to bless greatly.  As the details of how my not being at Wesley anymore get worked out in practical application, this is certainly the kind of blessing my life needs, and most definitely the kind I cannot produce myself.  I feel the same affinity for that word "keep."  In its original language shamar means "to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. Guard; generally, to protect, attend to, . . . beward, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep(-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch(-man)."  (See  Just now I remember having a conversation with one of my friends at church shortly after finding out about the Bishop's decision to move me.  She said, "Sami, God is not going to let anything bad happen to you."  She cupped her hands together as she said her next words, "He's got you in the palm of His hand." 

Benediction literally means a good word to go out on.  Our shared benediction at Wesley has become the gift they gave me as I left, words of blessing and keeping, a prayer that God's Word made flesh would hold and keep me as my family moved forward into a new place.  So here we are in this new place, and it is still the Word I hold on to.  

The Lord bless you and keep you,
the Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.  Amazing grace sounds like the squeals and laughter of three little boys running around our home.  It rarely sounds like silence anymore.  There was a time when I could spend hours in silence.  I used to go on silent retreats and not speak for three days!  Those days are long gone.  But its okay.  I like the noise.  It reminds me that life and joy fills our home.

I am amazed by the grace of the noise I hear.  I love the sound of little toddler feet tromping through the living room, shod with blue suede boots.  I love the sound of my big boys using their imaginations to play heroes fighting monster aliens together, working out the details of their next plan to save the world.  I love the sound of the conversation Tim and I share around the kitchen table, with the chatter and clatter of our sons rumbling in the background, discovering the common ground of our days. 

It's all just very normal and ordinary.  Sometimes it is hard to believe I went to seminary and got a 90 hour degree just so I could discovery Jesus in the day to day chaos of raising three sons.  We expect the big God moments to be wrapped in the extraordinary, to emerge from the amazing and dazzling.  Instead we find His presence hiding in the simplicity of making dinner, helping with homework, giving baths, and reading a bedtime story.

The last several months Tim and I have been spending the last moments of our sons' day, telling them stories, reading the Bible, singing songs, having prayer.  Each night I choose a memory to share with them, often from my own childhood, ordinary moments often touched in some way by God's hand.  At the time, I didn't realize God's fingerprints were there.  It's in the telling that they begin shining through, piercing the darkness of my boys' bedroom with Light.  I want them to know that God is with them, loving them, filling them with His goodness.  I want them to cherish each moment, to inhale it deeply, and live it loudly.  Blessedly they've got that last part.  I just want them to know how sweet this life is that we've been given together.  I want them to know how grateful my own heart is to know them as my sons.

My prayer is that one day they will find themselves in another dimly lit bedroom with their own children, recalling the splendor of childhood.  I pray that they will remember how good it was to be a brother, sharing adventures that only brothers can share.  I pray that they will see the hand of God emerge from the recesses of each memory plucked from the past and served to their own children with love and tenderness.  I pray that they will share the wisdom that is being wrought in these noisy days of grace, that it's power and goodness will not be lost on them, that they will see beyond the details of an ordinary life to the splendid beauty of God's Life being breathed into theirs.  I pray they will shine with love and gratitude, the way my heart shines now.

It is all so amazing to me.  Mostly because I never thought this life would be available to me, for all kinds of reasons.  So the noise is really quite wonderful, and a constant reminder of how God's grace quietly permeates our daily lives, until one day we look around us amazed at how sweet and beautiful this life really is.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Hope Never Loses Us"

I wish they were my words.  Alas I am not that clever.  Instead my gift seems to be recognizing the powerful moment when I see it.  This moment hit me as I exited the ladies room on the second floor of Cherry Hall today.  I had to make a pit stop before teaching my class.  On my way out the door, these words caught me.  No they did not catch my eye.  They literally caught me, the person that I am, the one living in a season where hope plays hide and seek, the girl who is constantly looking for hope but scared she may miss it.  That's me, a woman caught,  off guard by simple magnetic words sticking to a board in the hallway, arranged as if they were waiting just for me.

Secretly I've always been afraid of being hopeful.  I never wanted to be the person that put her hopes in something only to be crushed by a very different reality.  Yet I've also felt the weight of being a woman of faith, to trust beyond comprehension that God's goodness is working its way into my life in ways I cannot see.  I can trust that God will surprise me with His goodness.  When I don't expect it.  When I'm not looking.  That makes sense.  And it happens all the time.  In fact I love it when God does that.  There is just that part of me that learned early on how devastating disappointment can be.  I figure if I never have specific hopes then they cannot ever be dashed. 

But these delicious words wash over me, and fill me with, well, hope.  Hope never loses us.  It takes the pressure off somehow.  My soul hears it as good news.  My weary, battle worn heart doesn't have to hold on to hope because Hope is holding on to me. 

Today in particular I needed those words.  I have been wrestling with the ins and outs of this peculiar season.  Losing my job last spring brought the unexpected grace of rest and simple joy back into my life.  Yet this "gift" has brought me to a season of deep uncertainty about the future, one I've never had to be in before.  There is no doubt in my mind that God's hand moved me out of that position.  What has frustrated me is that His hand did not move me into another position that provides like the last one did.  Honestly, I don't want to go back to that place of carrying huge burdens on my shoulders.  But if I had to, I would.  I would do whatever I needed to do so that my family can make it.  I've learned to be very self-reliant.

Slowly I am coming to see how my own self-reliance has been an idol in my life.  I never needed to rely on Him so completely before.  It terrifies me.  Even as the gift of being free tastes so yummy, I find myself squirming in the unsettledness this freedom brings.  Before if something in my life needed to happen, I would simply make it happen.  Now I can't make anything happen.  I have to rest in and rely on Him.  I love it and hate it at the same time.  My heart feels hopeful. because the burden is gone and I feel so free, but the feeling is nothing I want to put my hope on.  Can I really trust God to provide?  Can I really trust that obedience to the nudge to rest in His presence and enjoy this time is truly wise?  Can I really believe that He has plans to prosper my family that I have not even imagined yet?  Can I really trust that still small Voice in my deepest heart that says "Wait and see!"?  Can I really believe that Hope is out there whether I have it or not?

I like to think that the Hope of my future, and the future of my family, is watching me right now, unconcerned with whether or not I find my own way to the hope filled destination God has for me, because Hope knows right where to find me, when the time is right.  No matter how much I think hope is lost, Hope never loses us.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Faithful Fallowness

Harvest has been such a huge metaphor in my life of ministry.  I have spent years sowing God's word and my very life into the lives of those God has entrusted to my care.  I have planted, tended, nurtured, watered, weeded, and waited for years.  And in God's faithfulness I have seen some beautiful harvests during my years of ministry.  This June began my fourteenth year since I began full time ministry after graduating from seminary.  But this year is significantly different from the last thirteen.  For the first time in my grown up life, full-time ministry is not the primary focus of who I am.  My feelings about this have been mixed.  While I did not choose to be in this place, the relief washing through me is palpable.  People have commented how vast the difference in my appearance is:  apparently carrying invisible burdens shows up in ways we cannot guess; conversely, laying said burdens down translates into a very cheap face lift!

The thing I have become most aware of in the last few months is a deep exhaustion.  It has nothing to do with how much sleep I get, whether I'm rested, or have free time in my day.  It is as if thirteen years of fully carrying the needs of those in my care, had left a build-up of soul residue that was never properly released.   I couldn't release it; I didn't know how.   And for the first time I am no longer responsible for anyone's spiritual well-being but my own. Those extra burdens had become toxic.  God, in His mercy, moved me out of those circumstances and activated the release valve for me.  The toxicity has been working its way out of my heart, mind, soul, and body.  I have struggled with the feeling that I am being unfaithful, yet nothing in me wants to pick up any other kind of burden right now.  I just don't have the strength to carry it. 

Many people wrestle with answering God's call on their lives.  Usually this involves some kind of stepping out and beyond themselves, leveraging their resources on the behalf of others.  In fact the Bible Study I've been in is specifically centered on this call, using the book of Jonah as a picture of ways that we rebel against God when He wants us to serve our neighbor.  Usually we find creative ways to hide or run away.  But the call on my life in this strange season is so fundamentally different.  God is not asking me to go and give myself into another ministry.  Instead I have sensed the Still Voice within asking me to rest.  To be.  To be still and know His Stillness.  Running away would look like gathering up my life to pour it into something else.  A new ministry, another full-time position, a title, a job description, a mission to rescue the perishing, a whole new field to start planting and harvesting.  Faithfulness right now looks alot like laziness to me.  To let the field of my life lay fallow.

Really?!  Is this really it?!  Am I to relinquish the desire of my heart to deliver the life changing message of Salvation?  Am I to let go of the sowing of my time and effort into sheep who need a patient and steady hand to guide them into fold of the tender and good Shepherd?  Am I to stop arranging my life so someone else can experience the grace of God?  Well, yes.  Because over time in the delivering, guiding, and arranging somehow I became unable to experience the saving, tending, and gracing God provides me.  I think it has something to do with sabbath rest.  Even good work is still work.  We still must rest from our labors, even when they center on the good of God's people.

The Holy Spirit began to show me a different image of what this year is to be for me: 

But in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the LORD:  you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.  You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine:  it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.  Leviticus 25:4-5

A year of complete rest.  And this is for the Lord.  I can honor Him, love Him, and serve Him this year by allowing the field of my life a complete rest.  Holy cow!  This is so hard!  And yet I feel so completely unable to bear anything else.  I can only guess what lies ahead after this respite.  But God won't give me any indication that something else does lie ahead.  He just continues to be Still, inviting my weary soul into His Stillness too.  I love it there.  I'm so hungry for it.  How can I not go?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine

Someone very dear to me has been struggling with unrelenting disappointment that never seems to fade.  They raised the question recently, "What is wrong?  Why is this happening?"  Their question perplexes me as much as it does them.  I wish I had answers, but I don't.  But I do have a picture.

Last weekend was Bowling Green's annual hot air balloon festival.  My family and I hurried to the airport so that we could see the balloon glow on Friday night.  For a few moments all the balloons ignite the fires that send them high into the air during daylight hours.  Safely tethered to earth at night time, their inner glow paints the darkness with vivid color.  It is so beautiful to me. 

I've thought so much about balloons in the days since.  Hot air balloons were made for flight.  It seems unnatural for them to be grounded.  Why have a balloon glow anyway? Random beauty seems pointless, especially at night.  The practical side of me thinks of all that fuel wasted on "looking pretty."  Yet the metaphor lover in me sees a deeper meaning.

For as long as I have been a pastor I have shared a simple message with everyone God puts in my care:  God loves you; God has a purpose for your life; as you walk with God that purpose will unfold.  As His children we were created to live that purpose in joy, to exercise those gifts with intentional abandon to the unique design and plan He has for us.  In essence, we are meant to fly spiritually, to taste the joy of living into the person He made us to be.  Most of the time this is our vocation, our calling.  Life is good, even amidst challenges.  Our outward vocations validate our inner being with meaning.  Everything feels worthwhile.

But then there are seasons when it feels like God's purposes for us have been thwarted.  No matter what we do, it seems that all around and within is frustration and turmoil.  Each day we struggle to do the right thing knowing that our heart is not in it, but we do the right thing anyway.  There is no joy, there is no peace.  There is just the orderly march of dailiness that grinds away at our sense of self.  We long for meaning.  We cannot see how our lives are making any kind of difference.  Our inner experience is just one long stretch of yearning for something more without any hope of deliverance.  And oddly enough God seems to be the One orchestrating our misery. For some reason we seem to be tied to the ground at just the time when everything within us wants to fly.   What purpose could there possibly be in that?

Here is where the metaphor speaks the most to me.  Just like those hot air balloons were designed to sail through the skies, we were made to serve God in just the unique way that He designed for us.  And it is a wonderful euphoria to be doing that. But it is impossible when a hot air balloon is sailing through sunlit skies to see the fire that lights it from within.  Especially when it is so far away.  I think this is how some people on the outside of faith see those of us who live faith from the inside.  We seem to be disconnected from "real life" by a God who makes everything better.  The phrase "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good" comes to mind.  For the unbeliever, who might be interested in knowing more about God, how could he or she ever relate to someone who lives in a place so high and lifted up when their daily existence is flat, deflated, painful?  How can we ever be approachable to those who need hope and grace the most when "real life" fails to penetrate our joyful soaring? 

It seems to me that God speaks most powerfully about His ability to lift us out of darkness and into hope through the personal example of a believer who is also immersed in darkness yet has His Light shining through.  It is truly beautiful.  Can the glow be sustained for long periods of time?  No.  But enough to keep the balloon inflated so that others can come close.  So that they can see that we are made out of the same material.  So that they get a glimpse of God's Glory shining forth out of another life as ordinary as their own, perhaps planting within them the desire, and the hope, for the same inner Light that allows them to fly as well.

I believe our seasons of being tethered to the earth are temporary.  I still believe God loves each one of us, that He has a beautiful and perfect plan for our lives, that as we walk with Him that beauty and perfection will unfold.  I STILL BELIEVE.  I know it is true for you dear one.  I know it is true.  Yet sometimes we find ourselves tied to the unrelenting gravity of earth sitting in darkness when all we want to do is fly off into the sunshine.  I believe He gives us those times for reasons we cannot  comprehend.  But a couple of those reasons are becoming clear to me.  First of all, sometimes this is the only way we know that our flying power comes from Him alone and ultimately has nothing to do with us.  Without His Light within we are simply deflated and flat.  Without His release in our lives, we cannot go anywhere.  Second, our grounded-ness may not have anything to do with us at all and everything to do with that individual who needs to see a real live example of someone who is filled with God, yet not so high and lifted up that they are scared away from the life of faith.  It could be all about bringing good news to a hungry heart that cannot receive it any other way.

Many years ago my husband was a youth leader.  One weekend I got to attend the retreat his group went on.  The night we stayed over was beautiful and clear; we decided to take a moonlit stroll to the lake.  Once we got there the place was lit up with fire-flies.  Tim decided to make an impromptu lesson out of it and challenged his students to live life like those fire-flies, with their butts lit  up for God, sharing His light and love wherever they would go.  The challenge still rings true today.  We can get mad at the darkness and give up, or we can let His Light shine, casting beauty far into the night.  A life of beauty has benefits.  We never know whose deflated hope it will ignite.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Last night was our first night where we didn't go outside to play.  One of the things I have learned about boys is that they need time to run around, breathe fresh air, have freedom of movement and the space to let their imaginations become bigger than life.  But yesterday it rained.  And so we stayed inside.  But it was hardly wasted time.  I decided to go through my oldest son's clothes to see what he needed as cold weather approaches.

I never would have guessed that clothing boys could be such a delicate process.  Yet boys can be very particular about what they wear.  When there is disagreement my oldest has learned to protest, "Mom!  That makes me look like a dork!"  Since when do seven year olds care about being dorks?

It was such a relief to me as we began the process of going through Noah's clothes.  Instead of complaining, Noah was actually excited.  As we started trying on each pair of pants, it became apparent that last year's favorites were too small.  I held my breath as we got to the ones that used to be over-sized; he had complained so much about them last fall, refusing to wear pants that had to be rolled up.  Each pair slipped on easily, and fit perfectly.  "Mom, these are so cool!  I'm going to show Daddy!"  I could hardly believe my ears as Noah said the words.  Pair after pair he would go back and forth through the house, showing off his "new" wardrobe to his father.  When we got to long sleeve shirts, it was the same story.  What wasn't worth his time last year, last night he was excited to discover.  Thus the fashion show continued until every piece had been tried on.

At the end of it all it turns out that we will probably only have to buy a couple of pairs of pants.  I am immensely grateful.  It may not seem like a big deal, but to me, it is a huge deal.  I've been so lonely for a word of hope from the Lord.  Here it shows up through the excitement of a seven year old boy who is glad to rediscover clothes in his closet.  They fit: miracle! And he likes them:  bigger miracle!!! I started to explain to him how wonderful it was when my voice caught.  He looks at me and says, "Mommy are you going to cry again?!"

Well, yes.  Probably.  I feel like the weary wilderness sojourner who discovers Manna in the desert.  In fact, the whole experience last night brought to mind a passage from Dueteronomy:

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what is in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years (8:2-4).

I love that line that speaks of God providing clothes for His children that don't wear out, and non-swelling feet for them to walk on.  What a tender picture of care, with patient attention to the details that could easily escape notice.  But He notices.  I am struck by the realization that He arranged it so that we bought more than we needed last year, when it was no big deal.  I was aggravated at the time that the clothes were made far larger than the sizes indicated.  It irked me that my son refused to wear the clothes I picked out for him; even though the shirts were a little baggy I thought they looked fine.  I could not have imagined then what God had planned for those simple pants and shirts, that He was saving them for just the right time when my sweet boy would thank me for finding such "cool" clothes for him to wear.  God is full of wonder.

I am heartened.  While I know with my head that God never leaves us nor forsakes us, sometimes it's hard to feel that way.  Sometimes I feel all alone, forgotten and forsaken.  So I am very thankful for this practical reminder, a beautiful picture of God's grace.  And I am eternally grateful that God cares enough to bring miracles from the closet that keep my sweet boy from looking like a dork!  Wonders never cease.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


It may seem like an inconsequential thing, this statement in the first chapter of Luke:  "Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord" (1:6).  But truly it is a powerful piece of insight, one that touches me deeply.  Luke has just introduced the reader to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, the one chosen to prepare God's people to receive Jesus.  And then he tells us they were righteous.

Of course they were righteous, right?  I mean, they are major players in the birth narrative of our Savior.  And what Biblical heroes aren't righteous?   (Okay, so there are a few.)  But there is something huge hidden in the matter of fact introduction of John's parents.  Between the time that the last prophet to Israel had prophesied and the birth of John, 400 years had lapsed since God had spoken to His people.  God was silent for all that time.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were living in a time where no one was saying, "Thus says the Lord."  Their obedience and love for God humbles me,  and it inspires me.

I am inspired because their story shows me what is possible.  It's possible to live in right relationship with God and others, even when God is quiet.  I am tickled by the ways I am learning this.  Since the middle of August I have been working Tuesday's and Thursday's as pre-school teacher for four year olds.  Our whole day revolves around helping our sweet boys and girls learn how to take responsibility for themselves and make good choices without us telling them what to do each time.  The goal is to help them become mature and independent, to learn to function with greater responsibility so that they are ready for kindergarden next fall.  Ultimately they will be able to come into the classroom, hang up their own backpack, get out their folder and put it in their cubby, write their names in their composition books, and find a quiet game to play all on their own, without having to be reminded of the process each time.  There comes a time when constant coaching is no longer helpful.  It teaches them to remain dependent upon us when they have the ability within to do some things for themselves.  We want them to be successful in this exercise because it will help them down the road.

I am beginning to think the same thing is true about God.  I think we reach a place in our relationship with Him that He begins to draw back so that we can see what we have learned, how much we have grown, the strength that He has diligently nurtured within us.  The greatest loss comes when we remain immature in our faith and are never able to grow into God's purpose for us!  Or we simply refuse to exercise the faith that His grace has instilled within us, demanding to remain spiritual infants who refuse to be weened into the next step of growth.  It is like Paul lamenting about the Corinthians, "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  Indeed you are still not ready" (I Corinthians 3:2).  If God is constantly having to hold our hand so that we can have faith in Him, we will never be able to serve or teach or encourage anyone else in the body of Christ since our own faith is so flimsy.  The silence shows us the content of our hearts, and just how deeply the love and knowledge of God is rooted there.

There is something else that humbles and inspires me.  It comes from the very next verse in Luke:  "But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old" (Luke 1:7).  I remember what it was like to be childless, to look with longing at mothers with babies, to hope and pray every night that God would give us a child of our own.  Tim and I prayed prayers like that for three years.  Just when I had given up hope that I would ever be a mother, God stepped in and changed everything for us in a dramatic way.  Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated our oldest son's seventh birthday.  Praise God for so many blessings!  Tim and I joke that our offspring certainly showcase God's sense of humor; we have one son for each year of trying.  So I know that kind of longing, but not to the degree that Elizabeth and Zechariah knew it.  They spent their whole lives, all the way to old age, longing for something that was never granted, until the idea of fulfillment was long dead.  And yet they are still described as righteous, known as people who lived rightly. 

That one verse shows it is possible to live in right relationship with God when disappointment  seems to great to bear.  I wonder at what point Zechariah and Elizabeth made peace with their personal anguish?  When were they able to say, "So life has marked me irrevocably in this way, there is nothing I can do to change it, and yet I will serve the Lord"?  Perhaps they never did make peace with their anguish.  It's interesting to me that we have no way of knowing.  What we do know is that they lived long lives in righteousness, even when life didn't turn out the way they thought it would.

This place I'm in is a place I never thought I would be.  I savor the parts of it that have surprised me with joy:  the warmth of love that greets me when I am with my boys, the relief I feel now that I no longer have to put something else ahead of them.  But then there are other parts that give me pause.  There are some prayers I've been praying for years, the subject matter so dear to my heart I don't dare stop praying, or hoping.  However, my weary heart believes it is about time God answered, especially when we are dependent upon Him like never before.  In the wake of disruption, I want to see the unexpected goodness of God burst upon our lives with fresh goodness.  I don't understand why He would wait so long in answering.  My ears ache with the strain of listening for stirrings of His Word for us.

And so, oddly enough, I am encouraged in the place I never thought I would be.  Zechariah and Elizabeth found a way to remain connected to the God, even when their deepest hopes and dreams never materialized after years of faithful waiting.  I love that the text does not elaborate on those years of dryness.  It simply makes a declaration of the culmination of those years.  That at the end of the day, for days and years on end, they decided that belonging to God was the most important thing.  Even in the face of unquenched longing.  If such an ordinary couple like them could do it, maybe we can to.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tell the Truth

I remember a popular song from my childhood called "Killing Me Softly With His Song."  It is the story of a girl who hears about a guy who is a good musician and decides to go hear him play his stuff.  She discovers that his lyrics speak what is happening within her heart.

I am thinking about that song.  I want that experience.  I am so hungry for it.  Especially on Sunday's.  I want to hear my story reflected back to me, to hear that somehow the gospel touches this lonely place, not just with pat answers and platitudes, but with truth and grace.  I don't want to hear someone share Jesus out of a place of success or comfort.  I want to hear someone speak about Jesus out of their experience of desperation, when their dreams are dying before their eyes, when prayer seems futile, when consolation runs dry.

I am searching for an authentic witness to the truth.  But it takes so much courage to pull the veil away and expose the rawness of hurt, anger, disappointment.  I have rarely gone to church and heard someone speak of finding God in those places, exposing the difficult places of their heart experience as a fountainhead of hope.  The gospel just sounds so much better when we pretend that life is great.  If life is great it is easier to believe that God is great.  But I am struggling right now.  How do I find God in the midst of that struggle?  Especially when all the ways I have know God's presence in the past just come up empty?

Some parts of my life are deeply satisfying. Those places are balms to my spirit.  I am so thankful for them.  Then there are other parts that hurt so much.  I want to know, and need to know, that the loss I feel is still blessed.  That hope lives in there.  That I can expect God to show up, maybe not in a way that I currently recognize, but in a way that lets me know I'm not God-forsaken.

The thing is, without a real expression of someone's struggle, it's hard to believe their assurances.  The grace offered seems cheap and flimsy, unsubstantial.  I need to know there is more.  I need to know grace is deeper, stronger, fuller.  And I need someone to show me where that kind of grace is.  Because right now I can't see it.

What I can say about Sunday mornings is that I love the music.  It washes over me.  It challenges me, because I can't just sing words I don't believe.  Sometimes I sing with tears streaming down my face.  But I still sing.  My favorite song this morning at church was "How He Loves Us" by John Mark McMillan.  The lyrics speak of the radical and deep love of God, so powerful we would be swept away in it if we could only see it for what it is.  I so need to know God loves me that much right now.  It's hard to feel it, but I tend to believe the words of the song more than the sermon.  McMillan wrote it after his friend Steven was killed.  He found a way to believe in God's love in the midst of his anguish.  Maybe there is hope for me too.

I don't understand this season I'm in.  It is a delirious mix of gratitude and angst.  I catapult between the two extremes so often it leaves my head, and especially my heart, spinning.  But I have to believe this is not the end of my story.  I have to believe that I will look back on this time and be able to find His hand at work, resolving what is broken in my heart, healing what I cannot mend.  I have to believe that grace is real, even when I can't see it.  I have to believe that grace is truth, even when it feels false.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I got to visit with one of my dear friends today.  We spoke of where we are in our lives.  The last time we saw each other I was cleaning out my office at the Wesley Foundation.  I remember her words to me then, "It doesn't look right, but it doesn't look wrong." Today she said to me, "You look years younger than you did this time last year."  I see myself in the mirror every day.  I wasn't aware of how outwardly noticeable the changes in my spirit have been.

I remain wonder struck.  This weekend will be my oldest son's seventh birthday.  It is the first time in his life that I can enjoy his special day without being weighed down with concerns and worries about the beginning of fall semester.  For the first time I don't have to rush off to another back to campus event.  For the first time, planning my little boy's birthday party can be the most important thing in my life during the weekend that freshmen move in to campus.  It is wonderful to me.

This morning I sat beside my sweet boy on the floor as he ate dry Trix cereal before going to school.  I looked at his feet, noticing how they look more like my husband's feet than mine.  I had never noticed before.  It was a quiet, beautiful moment.  I noticed because there is room inside of me for such observations.  There didn't quite seem to be that kind of room several months ago.

It is almost as if whole parts of my being went to sleep in the pressure cooker I was living in.  I didn't even recognize my own diminished capacity for joy; who knows when it quietly slipped away.  Well, actually I am very aware of Who knows.  I believe it is why He did for me what I could not do for myself:  give me freedom.  At the time, I was devastated.  Today I can see God's goodness in it.  He is so good.

My friend spoke wistfully of cup filling.  She had attended a women's group at church one time where each participant was asked to fill a clear plastic cup with water and set it where it would be visible.  Each week she was to mark the water line.  Of course as time passed less and less water remained in the cup.  What was there became stagnant.  The point was that no one else fills our cups for us.  When we always pour into every one else, ignoring the condition of our own hearts, eventually we have nothing left to give, and what is there to give isn't worth having.  As she explained the dynamic to me, I began to sense that God used the events of the last few months show me how empty my own cup had become.

It's hard talking about the oppression I used to live in.  It seems like talking about it brings the feelings of suffocation back.  But at the same time I know that I must articulate the differences, simply so I can
recognize them and fully own the the changes that have come forth.  I know that if I fall asleep again I can walk right back into the same kind of prison I was in, simply with different wall paper.  Really I want to be free.  This is a season for learning to walk tall in this God gifted freedom.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hidden Treasure

The silence seems so loud.  I feel like God hasn't left His calling card in a while.  As a pastor I respond to comments like this with encouragement.  I understand the spiritual dimensions of dessert experiences, some from theological training, mostly from my own past history.  Often God will withdraw His felt presence as a way of drawing us closer, deeper to an experience with His otherness.  It becomes an invitation to play hide and seek with the Divine.  As God hides, bidding us come and find Him, we follow to places we never would have ventured otherwise; we discover treasures in the most obscure places.  I have never been sorry for those times of dryness, for the seeking and finding.  But it can be so hard to be in the middle of that place.  It doesn't feel like child's play; it feels like being lost.

Understanding rarely incubates us from the fullness of life experiences.  Being a professionally trained theologian doesn't make the God questions any easier to answer, or searching for Him any less frustrating when He chooses to hide.  Here I am, wrestling with questions that don't have easy answers and playing hide and seek with the only One who isn't bound by human limitations.  Finding always happens on God's terms.  Never on mine.  I hate that.

But I am a very firm believer that all things work together for good.  I know God is around here somewhere.  Though I cannot see Him or feel His presence or hear His voice in the once familiar ways, His goodness does cast a long shadow.  I notice it when I look into the faces of my children.  I sense His blessing when my baby boy puckers up for mommy kisses.  It embraces me when my "too cool for school" seven year old throws his arms around me for a quick hug.  And I hear it in the sweet declaration of love from my 4 year old:  "Mommy, I love you." 

My husband and I have never been closer.  Getting to this place has been painful, but I've never understood so clearly how much my presence is cherished by the person who means the most to me.  Sharing my vulnerability so deeply is somewhat new to me.  Yet I feel completely safe and cared for as I let him see into the deep places of my hopes and fears, faith and doubts.  In the past I often felt responsible for holding the whole world upon my shoulders of faith.  In discovering how weak my own shoulders actually are, I have also found a strength in him that I didn't know was there.  It comforts me.  I feel less lost when we are together, especially when we talk about what is really going on beneath the surface. 

All of these gifts are truly good gifts.  Sometimes I think we get so comfortable that it's easy to not see the blessings we already have, to not live deeply in the moment that holds us.   Losing a full-time job brings a lot of uncertainty.  As things have changed so much for our family over the past few months, I am keenly aware that this moment is all we have.  I want to make the most of all the moments I am given, to cherish each one and live them all fully.  These awareness, brought close by the discomfort of uncertain circumstances, is beautiful.  I wouldn't have chosen it, but I am glad it chose me.

God's treasures are often buried under the debris of our Americanized expectations.  We think happiness resides only on easy street.  I am finding that happiness really lives in those places where the heart learns the value of what has already been given.  As I mother three mischievous and lively boys, as I hold hands with the man who still makes my heart sing after 15 years of marriage, I realize my deepest prayers have been answered.  I can rest here.  I can make my home here.  Even though so many things are uncomfortable right now, this is treasure enough.  And I am profoundly grateful.

Monday, August 08, 2011


It's the middle of transition time again.  Tomorrow Noah starts second grade, and I have a teacher work day for my new job.  It's one of those times when I feel unsteady, like walking into a dark room and needing time for my eyes to adjust.  It will take a while to get my bearings, to feel comfortable with the new rhythm of my life.

Actually, I trust the process.  When routine returns and the long, lazy days of summer are over, somehow life finds a natural ebb and flow.  I tend to be more productive because the things I need to do have nice confined spaces to fit in within my day.  Everything organizes itself into blocks of time where I can focus on specific things during specific hours.  The closet OCD part of me likes this.  It reminds me of the unspoken mantra that lives in my head when I am trying to restore order to my house, to my life:  "A place for everything; everything in its place."  This particular moment is just that fuzzy time when I try to figure out where everything fits, often by trial and error.

In my University Experience class I have my students construct a grid that represents a week in their lives, spread across an 8" x 10" piece of paper with hours labeled down one side and days ordered on top.  I ask them to color code each block of time according to their activities, making sure they clearly show class time, study time, work time, and free time.  Each year I also participate in this activity.  It helps me understand how my life fits together.  The gift of the exercise is that occasionally I discover a block of time I didn't realize was there, something I can consciously dedicate to an activity I enjoy.  I realize how anxious I am to see my life in neat blocks --I would know what parts of myself fit where and when.

For now I wait in the craziness of new schedules, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the newness.  It's all good.  Eventually life finds a comfortable pace, and the whole family finds a way to settle in.  I'm looking forward to my new ordinary to reveal itself.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Until Then

One of the craziest things has happened to me this summer.  Scripture looks completely different to me.  Like, I know how to read it as the campus minister who carries great burdens, and struggles alone, and tries to juggle being a mother with taking care of a whole ministry that nurtures students.  Reading scripture while bending beneath the weight of that life is familiar.  I can feel the oppression of the expectations I was living under even as I write those words.  But things are different now.  Today I am a woman who has been set free from a prison I didn't even know I was in until God led me out.  What is clear is that I am a vastly different person that I once was.

I don't know if I will ever get over being surprised at how differently scripture speaks to me now.  I once heard that you can never step into the same river twice.  Reading scripture is the same way.  As life moves us to different places, the old familiar story speaks a new message.  All of the allusions and references change.  My bearings have shifted.

It could just be that my whole person has shifted, and I never noticed because God did the transforming quietly, slowly over time.  It's like one day I woke up and I was a completely different person than I was fifteen years ago.  If I were to travel back in time to say hi to the girl that I was, I would barely recognize myself.  And I definitely know that different people never hear scripture in the same way; their hearing is shaped by everything that has made them who they are.

The last few days I have been pondering a familiar scripture that speaks to me in a new way:  Romans 8:18-30.  It begins with Paul's encouragement, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us."  It ends with Paul's firm declaration concerning God's children:  "And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified."  The old me would read this passage and imagine how God was going to jump into the circumstances of my life and bring forth a glorious reversal of all things painful and unjust.  Today I read it and recognize a quieter truth, deeper than my earlier reckoning.

Before I thought that God was like Bette Midler's song "From a Distance"  watching over us from a perch in heaven and swooping in to save the day when things had gotten sufficiently out of hand.  (On some days that is what my life is like as a mother.  Swooping is a good skill to have as a mother of three small boys.)  All of my prayers and longings were directed toward that end, seeking God's intervention to accomplish the good I desired but was unable to bring forth.  After all God is big, and God is good.  Of course He wants to help.  The events of the last few months have shifted my assumptions somewhat.

It's not that God is no longer Big and Good.  He is.  But I am recognizing that His purposes are not always (rarely?) my own.  Let me explain.  The Romans passage quickly admits that all of creation is "subjected to futility."  But then the passage intimates that God is the one who did this!  What the hay?!  Why in the world would God do this?  What could He possibly accomplish by putting us and the whole world in a scenario where we are groaning and straining toward a better good that seems to always be out of our grasp?  I love how verse 26 puts it this way:  "For we do not know how to pray as we ought."  Of course we don't.  Of course I don't!  In the middle of suffering my prayers are like this:  "God, get me out of here!!!!"  I love what the scripture says next.  God puts His own Spirit within us to pray on our behalf:  "because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  Since I don't know how to pray according to God's will, God prays it for me, within me even.

I'm thinking that God's prayers within us are the very thing that transforms us, from the inside out.  I'm thinking that this is how God slowly transformed me.  I believe the key to unlocking this mystery of why God does what He does and not what we want comes from verse 29.  I believe it is the heart of God's will for us and the whole creation:  "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family."  While I'm begging God to rescue me from my troubles, God is working through them to recreate me in His Son's likeness.  The Greek word for conform is "summorphos" which means "properly, conformed, by sharing the same inner essence-identity (form); showing similar behavior from having the same essential nature"  (See, HELPS Word Studies).  It is our suffering that God works through to implant the likeness of Jesus within us.

And so through it all, God is not some distant overseeing Divine figure who waits to come in and save the day.  Instead God is with us through every moment, experiencing the depths of our heartaches, disappointments, and pain.  He translates our hurt into "sighs too deep for words."  And as Romans 8:28 says, He translates those sighs into our good, and ultimately our glory.  Again returning to the original meaning of Paul's use of the word "glorified" or doxazo in verse 30:  "glorify; properly, to ascribe weight by recognizing real substance (value)"  (again, see, HELPS Word Studies).  It's as if the difficulties we go through whittle away the parts of our lives that are not really us, not our heart's desires, not our true nature or character so that what remains is the essential self God had in mind at our beginning.  It is a process of becoming the person God created us to be, full of the beauty and substance that only we can bring to the world.  That end is truly joyful and genuinely good.

The temptation then, is not to believe the worst about God (God is certainly Big enough to handle our poor opinion of Him; I imagine He's been doing it for years.  As Solomon says, "There is nothing new under the sun.").   Our biggest temptation is to bug out of the process, to end the relationship and give ourselves over to our own appetites, or even worse, the enemy's lies.  God's victory is when we stay connected despite our confusion, even anger, and continue to stretch ourselves towards Him.  God never tires of hearing our groans.  For Him they are the vessels of His transformation remaking our lives.  For us they are the birth pains of the essential self being born, that person we have always longed to be but never thought we would or could.

There are so many things I do not understand.  So many ways I would staunch the suffering and heartache of others if I could.  I hate that I am unable to make life different for those I love, especially when my own soul leaps within me for the freedom and release I have found.  All I can do is add my groans to theirs, to join in their longing for a better experience, for a more hopeful and satisfying end.  It is my act of love to gather them into my own heart and offer them to the heart of God, asking for His glory to be revealed in them.  But until then . . . .

"But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I'll carry on;
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home."

Lyrics to "Until Then"
Words and music by Stuart Hamblen

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Summers

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

--From A Tale of Two Cities

When I was in seminary one of my professor's favorite sayings was "Can you feel the tension?"  We learned what it meant to be immersed in paradox, on the one hand learning so much about the building blocks of our faith while at the same time sometimes losing it.  I remember it being one of the most challenging times of my life.  And yet is was key in giving me a faith I could stand on, as all of the flimsy stuff fell away.  It was there I learned to look beyond the feeling of God's presence to God Who is always Present. As difficult as that time was, I am profoundly grateful for it now.  I am still standing.

But there are days.  Again I find myself in the middle of a paradox.  On the one hand this has been (as my son Isaiah would put it) "the best summer ever!"  Just last night we enjoyed a game of kickball in the front yard during the semi-cool of the evening.  It was a lovely moment of family fun, all of us playing together.  Even my 19 month old was there, except he preferred digging in the dirt on third base.  At one point I paused and looked at my life, filled with wonder and joy, grateful to be there with all my boys.  There have been many moments like that this summer, more than in the past.  Moments full of laughter and love and togetherness.  Sweet moments blessing me with hope and humor.

And then there other kinds of moments, other kinds of days.  My heart feels raw with the pleading for God to answer one simple prayer, prayed with every inch of my being, all of my molecules straining toward Heaven with longing.   There were times like these in seminary when I decided God wasn't there, or that God must be disabled.  I've lived enough since then to know better.  God hides for reasons that are beyond my understanding, yet His hiding always initiates my deeper seeking, yielding treasures that are worth it in the end.  They are just not so worth it in the middle.

I catapult between the extremes:  Gratitude that takes my breath away, and helpless yearning aching for God's intervention in deeply held need.  Sometimes I feel so full, so joyous.  Other times I feel stripped to the bones of faith, empty of all assurances that my prayers matter.  Those are the times I'm no fun to be around.

As much as I long for sight, this is not the time for seeing.  (I hate this!) I believe it is the time for being present.  It is the only thing of value I have to offer Him right now.  "I'm still here," I tell Him.  "That has to count for something."  So far I haven't heard His answer.  But I'm guessing that if being Present is one of His best gifts to me, then He can be pleased that I'm present with Him, especially when it hurts so much.

This is me trusting,


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Day at a Time

I remember watching infomercials as a kid.  Back then it was never so much about kitchen gadgets as it was about music.  I used to think about how only old people would know the songs from the advertised albums.  Then there came the day when Time Life was selling 80's anthologies.  I knew then, I'm old.  The last couple of days I have been remembering one infomercial in particular.  It was a commercial selling music performed by Christy Lane, the headlining song named "One Day at a Time."  The chorus goes like this: 

One day at a time sweet Jesus
That's all I'm asking from you.
Just give me the strength 
To do everyday what I have to do. 
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine.
Lord help me today, show me the way
One day at a time.

It's been playing in my head the last couple of days.  It is a summons, an invitation, a beacon, a hint.  So easy to hear, so hard to do.  Mostly because I am a planner.  I like to anticipate what is coming so I can be fully prepared.  I hate to be taken by surprise.  I guess I live by a secret belief that if I can wisely use the resources of today, tomorrow won't be so bad.  But in this moment, it is impossible to see that far ahead.  As much as I have an inner resistance to it, I have to live into this season one day at a time.

On topic, Jesus says this:
  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?. . .  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:25-34).

Of course I want to say to Jesus, "I know worrying won't help, but planning ahead is worth a lot of hours."  In all of this, the heavens have been strangely quiet.

It's as if I am left with the words themselves.  No warm fuzzies.  No angel messengers.  No mysterious signs.  Just my Bible and the familiar faith that says the words found there are worth something.  Familiar faith has to work right now; my feelings are mute.  I can hear the childhood whine in the bottom of my gut, "But I don't feel like it!"  I feel like taking charge.  I feel like manipulating my circumstances to give me and my family an acceptable outcome.  I feel like leveraging all that I am for a future that is out of my grasp.  It's hard to let all that I care about rest in God's hands.  Mine are so much more accessible.  Harder still to rest my self there as well, when God seems so silent.

Seasons of honing our faith are like that I think.  If it were easy it wouldn't be called faith.  It would be called sight.  In my blindness I am learning to live into this day, one day at a time.

This is me trusting,


Friday, July 22, 2011


This morning  Big Bird and Mr. Snufalupagus couldn't figure out why they didn't stay in the air after jumping.  Gordon explained gravity in its simplest terms:  what comes up must come down. Everything falls back to the earth once it is released into the air.  Something about the topic spoke to me.  The weightiness of it seemed to call out to me.

Gravity is defined by as:  "The natural force of attraction exerted by a celestial body, such as Earth, upon objects at or near its surface, tending to draw them toward the center of the body."  I realized this morning that life has a lot of gravity in it.

Ordinary things fill me with quiet joy.  Each day is filled with the surprise of true pleasure coming out of the simplest tasks of domesticity.  It is almost as if this is what I have been waiting for my whole life, to be the queen of domestic bliss in my own home.  Who would have ever guessed?  Twenty years ago my plan was to establish a career, situating my anticipated marriage and family around it.  There was no question as to what would come first.  Even when I felt called to ministry and decided to follow God into the great unknown of ordination, the work always had priority.

Since then the gravity of God has quietly rearranged my heart, reordering it almost without my knowledge until the day I was courageous enough to embrace my true self.  What I have found is that I love being a wife and mother.  That is the highest joy in my life.  Last night I sat at the table enjoying dinner with all my boys, a simple meal that I had made.  Each Sunday I now look forward to cutting coupons.  Even restoring order to the house is no longer a chore but a pleasure.  I actually like cleaning our bathrooms.  Who is this woman that I have become?  And where is that other girl who used to be in her place?

The concept of gravity speaks most clearly to me here.  In Bible times farmers would harvest grain by first separating the wheat from the chaff.  To accomplish this the wheat would be thrown up into the air.  The weight of the wheat kernels would send them back to the ground while the wind would blow the chaff away.  It seems like this is how God has quietly transformed me, using the circumstances around me to bring me home to my true self.  There have been several times when I felt like everything of who I was had been thrown up into the air.  Each crisis was a crucial moment when some of my hopes and dreams would die in the moment anguish and disappointment.  Ultimately I would discover that I did not miss what had faded away.  What remained was more vivid and real, truer and dense.  So much more my real self.

In this new airborne time I am finding that not as much of me is going away.  I hate everything being up in the air.  I hate not knowing where everything will land.  But I love the freedom I feel as the untrue parts of myself fall away.  The need to fit into an institutional plan is gone.  The overwhelming responsibility of keeping of a ministry I love healthy has passed.   The burden of believing that Wesley's future depended completely on me has vanished.   I love that I am with my boys more.  I love that I can rest my heart and head under the strength and love of my sweet husband.  Everything about this new path of not working full time just feels so right.  Trusting God to work out the details is hard.  It's something I've usually always done.  But not being the only one to work them out is good too.  I feel like I've come home.  And it is such a sweet one.

For this season, I am airborne.  But I don't think it is a bad thing, as painful as it is.  Because the thing that is being blown away is my tendency to do what I think is right because it is sensible, practical, but not at all what is in my heart.  The gift of this season is that God has done the hard thing for me, the thing I never would have done because I love my family and my students so much.  He removed the burden of trying to do it all, working full-time and being a full-time Mom.  And as much as I love my students, they already have mothers.  For my boys, I am their only one. 

So this is me trusting that following my heart is not a bad thing.  It is a risky thing, but what life worth living is ever without true risk?  For me, the greatest risk worth taking is to turn my back on everything I once thought I wanted and simply come home. 

This is me trusting,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To Stay in the Fire

Sometimes when I write, the truth of my world at the moment emerges on the page, and it's like I recognize it for the first time.  Writing seems to draw it out of me.  It's not something I plan, in fact it usually happens by accident. 

Like yesterday.  I'm writing in my journal, pretty much rummaging around my heart looking for signs of faith.  And it hits me:  I'm not at a place where I can articulate what is happening to me or in me right now.  I have no idea what mark this chapter will leave on my life, my family, my marriage.  I am hopeful, because I've seen enough to know that God really does work things out for good.  But the good I am hoping for seems so far away, and ultimately it may never be.  Good in God's eyes can be so different from the way it looks in our own.  I have no sense of direction, just a sense of being caught in circumstances I am helpless to change.  I see no movement.  I hate being stuck in the middle of uncertainty.

Here are the words that spoke truth to my heart as they landed on the page: 

The circumstances we are in are doing their work in us--like we are the silver, thrust in the refiner's fire for the moment.  It's impossible for the silver to be fully aware of what is being shaped in it while it is in the fire.  All that registers is the heat and the pain.  Only after it is removed and cooled can it see what the heat and the Artisan's hand have done. . . .  To stay in the fire is faith.  To know that someday I will see its worth is trust. 

Faith can be painted in so many different ways.  Often it is tied to our beliefs, and the strength of our faith is judged based upon what beliefs we hold or what we believe will happen.  Believing becomes a convenient indicator of one's faithfulness.  As long as I believe the right things or in the right way, then I get to be counted in the "good Christian" category.  But what happens when our belief comes crashing down and no good alternative steps up to take its place?

It seems to me that inherent in the belief litmus test is an audacious assumption that our beliefs obligate God to do X, Y, and Z.   Quite honestly God is the most perplexing and frustrating person I know.  Like Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia novels, He is certainly good, but never tame.   What then happens to our faith when (as Beth Moore has said on occasion) God does not behave?  Especially when God does not behave the way we believe that He should?

So faith right now for me is about our relationship, the one I share with this incomprehensible, bigger than I can imagine, and I can't imagine what He is doing right now God.  I choose to be in the relationship, even though some things in my life hurt right now, even though my future is uncertain, even though the answers I seek are not coming, even though I hate being stuck in this place that I can't get out of.

Faith for me is knowing that God is still good, even when I cannot feel His goodness the way I want to.  Faith for me is trusting that in His time He will give me eyes to see.  Faith for me is knowing that there will come a time when every part of this uncertainty will make perfect sense.  Until then, to stay in the fire is faith; to know that someday I will see its worth is trust.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  Isaiah 43:1-2

This is me trusting,



Monday, July 18, 2011

Not Done Yet

I've been wrestling with what ministry looks like for me now that I'm no longer employed in a full-time ministry position.   I have told college students for years that God has great plans for their lives, that they can change the world.  And I never once told them they had to have special circumstances in place to do it.  I just told them they only had to offer God themselves; God was responsible for orchestrating the rest.  Somehow it's easier to be the messenger of such a powerful message.  It's so much easier to believe it for somebody else. 

On my birthday, my sweet husband asked me to read a passage from his library book.  In The Cause Within You, Matthew Barnett shares the story of being at the end of his rope, ready to give up on ministry, on the dreams God had planted within him.  It was then that God brought him to a chance encounter with an ordinary man of extraordinary faith.  This gentleman prayed for Matthew in such a powerful way that Matthew returned to his dreams ready to step boldly into the future.  This is what he says he learned from the experience:  "There is life after giving up!  You may run low on inspiration, but the dream doesn't die.  The calling remains firm.  You are not done giving people hope and new life until God says you're done.

In that moment I felt Barnett's words pierce my heart, bringing tears to my eyes.  Life and faith still continue, even when our paths take an unexpected turn.  From the beginning I have believed that this change in vocation was really an invitation from God to follow my heart's desire, giving my unrealized hopes and dreams a chance to be planted instead of buried.  I guess I also felt that God's ability and desire to do something through me to make God difference in the world had been buried along with my old job description which so obviously gave me an avenue for recognizable ministry.  These words of promise are like balm to my broken spirit, and so like Paul's assertion that God's promises to His chosen people are still viable:  "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable"  (Romans 11:29).

It's so easy to focus on what I can't do, and so easy to forget that I serve a God Who creates the very universe out of the nothingness of space.  It's so easy to forget that God can take the emptiness of what I have to bring Him and do the impossible with it.  He's just that big.  Paul goes on to express this later on in the Romans passage: 

"O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counsellor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
   to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen"
(Romans 11:33-36).

So I'm still not really sure what the future holds.  But God can use me.  God wants to use me.  More than I want to be part of His plan for bringing redemption to others, He wants me to be a part of His plan for bringing redemption to others.  At least that is what I would tell my students.  And to be true for them it also has to be true for me. 

This is me trusting,