Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The One Who Wipes Tears


On Sunday I got to sing with the praise choir at church.  It was such a beautiful gift.  During one of the songs we sang the chorus to the Christmas Hymn "O Come All Ye Faithful."  It took me back to another time and another place, singing that simple chorus.

I was in the fall semester of my first year in seminary.  Tim and I were attending a Mark Lowry concert.  Oh he is such a funny man!  After an evening of laughing our heads off, the comedian brought a single chair on stage, sat down and sang "Mary Did You know."  It was the first time I had heard that song.  As he finished he invited the other musicians who had shared the evening to join him on-stage as they led us in worship.  We stood shoulder to shoulder singing "O come let us adore Him," over and over, the splendor of God's gift to us heavy on our tongues.  The worship just kept pouring out.  Can you tell it was an extraordinary moment?

It became a moment I got lost in.

Let me just say that my experience of God's presence in my life has often been through my thoughts, my feelings, and all the neurological stuff that connects the two.  I especially see Him in the ordinary.  And while I'm very expressive about all that, it's wrapped in the usual, the expected, the everyday experience of being alive.  God just helps me see it in an unusual, unexpected, and rare way.  I'm just not the girl that has mystical experiences.  And if I was going to have a vision, this is not the one I would go looking for. 

Sometimes visions come looking for us.

Standing there singing those sweet songs, I closed my eyes as I often do.  In my mind's eye, I "saw" standing before me a robed person, sturdy, substantial.  But I could not see the face.  Just hands outstretched before me.  As I looked at these hands I saw that they were pierced.  I knew immediately Who was with me.  We stood there holding hands:  His hands holding mine; my hands grasping, and touching, then tracing the scars in His.  I was so overcome I began to weep. 

For all of my life up to that time, I knew God's Presence.  I could sense the Invisible Power of God's being all around me.  And the Holy Spirit was familiar too, empowering my love, my speech, my service.  But this Jesus?  So hard to relate to.  Somehow the physical manifestation of God's glory was too difficult.  And it's not that I didn't try.  I gave my heart to Him a hundred times growing up.  I just couldn't make the connection.

But there I was that fall evening in the middle of a Connection I never imagined.  As I wept, so overcome with emotion to be in the presence of Jesus, those nail-pierced hands began to wipe my tears away.  "No," I said, "there are too many!"  The words that entered my spirit came gently:  "There are never too many tears for Me to wipe away."

And that's it.

Eventually the music ended.  The concert was finished.  We all went home.

I had no idea at the time what lay ahead.  The coming year would bring despair like I had never known.  A dark depression would settle over me, choking out joy, leaving those around me wondering whether I would emerge.  Oh the tears.  So many tears.

During that difficult time I wondered often at the vision God gave.  I was angry that all I got was Jesus wiping my tears.  I did not get miraculous deliverance.  The pain was real.  The tears were real.  Healing seemed so elusive.

I understand so much more about healing and miracles now, years later.  Tears and tears later.  What a sweet gift that vision was.  Because what I now get, is that the tears we weep are part of God's mercy washing through us, helping us go through what is impossible to go through.  He designed us to be able to move through unspeakable heartache and pain without getting lost in it.  Simply by crying our way through it.  And as we weep He heals.  And helps.  And He is there wiping away our tears, and saving them.  There is not one that falls to the ground, escaping His notice.

Christ's very own words to us:  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).  We have His promise of comfort, in the very middle of our grief.  Do we have the courage to allow His comfort to come?  Do we have the courage to feel the heaviness of hurt, and pain, and disappointment?  Do we have the courage to allow the waves of loss and heartache to pass through us?  Sometimes the only way out is to cry. 

When I reflect on Lot's wife, I believe this was her problem.  She kept looking back.  Instead of letting go, and weeping out the pain of having to leave her home behind.  She kept looking back.  Refusing to release a life she could no longer have.  And so she became imprisoned in the very salt that was supposed to be her deliverance.  If only she had wept as she walked.  She could have found new life.

I have thought of the vision God gave me that fall often since the shootings in Connecticut.  I have wept as I consider the indescribable pain those families are experiencing.  And I look at the sweet faces of those kindergardeners passing through my facebook news feed, thinking of my own kindergardener playing in the next room.  Sweet Jesus have mercy.

I am comforted when I remember the words of scripture:

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your record?  (Psalms 56:8)
 
These tears we cry mean something.  Of course they mean something to us.  But they mean just as much to Him.  JUST AS MUCH!  His promise to us is that we never weep in vain.  Every tear that escapes our eyes, allowing us to release the pain, leaves its mark in His heart.  He remembers each and every one, and every reason that caused it to fall.  And He saves them for us.  For that day when we will see that He makes all things right, all things new:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I head a loud voice from the throne saying, "See the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."  (Revelation 21:1-4)
 
Until that time, all we can do is keep weeping, knowing that in His keeping our tears are helping us find our lives again.  And we must keep praying.  Every night when I put the boys to bed I pray Jesus's prayer over them.  Those familiar words fall fresh on my heart in this season:  "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."  I pray those words because I know.  This is not the way it's supposed to be.  This kind of loss, this kind of pain.  It's not what God's Kingdom looks like, and it's not what God's will looks like.  Our tears are testimony to that.  And I will keep on praying until my Sweet Jesus comes to make all things right, all things new.
 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Reversals


One of the things that I have often pondered is how God shapes our hearts and fashions us for the work He calls us to.  Have you ever noticed that He doesn't automatically give us aptitudes and attitudes for the job?  I've learned over the years that instead He crafts our circumstances and desires to form us in just the specific ways He needs.

Ten years ago I was heartsick and heartsore, longing to be a mother.  The irony of it all was that parenthood did not interest me for so long, until one day it mattered more than anything.  And Tim and I discovered that becoming parents was not going to be an easy journey.  I was about five years into ministry at the time.  I remember entertaining the thought that perhaps God gave me a mother's heart so I would be a better minister. 

Here I am ten years and three boys later, swimming in a sea of testosterone. 

I'm not in full-time ministry for the time being.  I know this is by God's Hand.  I wonder at His plans for me, even as I learn to be joyful where He has planted me.  Plans and Plantings are not always the same thing.  Sometimes one is part of the crafting and forming for the other.  So I wonder in this time of being Planted, Crafted, and Formed:  Did God give me the heart of a minister so I would be a better mother?

Over the past few months I have wrestled with the reversals in my life.  All those years I spent in full-time ministry I struggled to bear up under the expectations of others.  But recently, in the absence of those expectations, I also discovered a deeper truth.  I had wrapped up my identity in the ministry part, failing to know or see or value myself as a child of God first, without the wrappings.  So I've been learning all kinds of valuable lessons about what it means to be me, simply me.  Without title, or vision, or purpose, or drive.  What is most important is close-by, wrapped in the intimate details of feeding, correcting, washing, and loving.  No mission statement.  No vision statement.  Just the faces of little ones who look to me to order their days with love.

I've noticed that Christmas also is wrapped in Great Reversals.  God's sense of humor is that I am deep in the study of Daniel and Revelation during this Advent season.  My heart and mind and soul are full of this picture of Jesus, Son of God, revealed in His Glory and coming to us in His Power, the consuming Fire of His BEING that we often dismiss, ignore, fail to see, or just plain deny.  It's easy to have Jesus in a manger.  Harder to see Him hang on the cross, but still it's manageable.  But oh we avoid seeing Jesus coming as the Consuming Fire, the King who Conquers darkness with Inescapeable Light.  There is absolutely nothing manageable about this King of Kings and LORD of Lords whose tongue is Sword and who reigns with an iron Sceptor.  Oh Mercy!

This is my personal study.  Then I go to lead chapel and preach the Word to preschoolers and Jesus is once again a baby, precious and sweet, and sleeping peacefully in Mary's arms.  At the same time that God fills my imagination with Jesus the King, God purposefully shows Him delicately wrapped in the swaddling clothes, cradled by a manger.  This is the King at rest on Mary's breast!  THE KING!!!!

In our world people of power only occupy places of power.  And if the place is not powerful they do not occupy it.  Powerful people, in the worldly the context, refuse to sit anywhere less than what they believe they are entitled to. 

So here is REAL POWER showing up in the manger bed, sung to by a humble peasant girl, guarded and reared by a carpenter, a day laborer.  The only truly POWERFUL MAN is born not into prestige and position, but without either, in any imaginable form we could recognize.  In fact, His beginnings are so humble, and so particular in their humility, we would totally miss them if God hadn't sent the heavenly messengers to spread the Word.

I've pondered this juxtaposition of Majesty laying in a manger.  It challenges me in a way I've never been challenged.  Because it does what nothing else can do.

It makes my own experience of particular humility--Holy.

God chose the lowest common denominator as His resting Place, so that every place and every person would know they are included in His Plan.  Every one of us.  Every place we find ourselves.  Every station of life.  Every noble and ignoble pursuit we find ourselves in is the birth-place of His Presence when we invite Him in.  Oh Sweet Jesus!  It is so hard to issue the invitation!!!!  We want Him to take us to His Glory and instead He reveals His Glory by showing us His Poverty!  We want Him to make our lives great, and instead He asks us to die again and again to self, that thing in us that covets greatness for ourselves.  He refuses to be made over in our image and continually asks us to be made over in His.

Here is what I have learned.  The sleep is much sweeter in the manger than it is in the palace.  And when we let Him lead us to that simple place of resting in His Hands we too can sleep in Heavenly Peace.  Because the KING of Kings, born in a manger bed, is the only ONE powerful enough to give us Peace that surpasses anything positions of power can give.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Renewed


In this heart
of who I am
is the beat--
the rhythm--
of a woman
longing
to dance
in breathless wonder,
in love with life,
shining
and
radiant
and
walking strong,
head up high,
hope - full,
hope - bringer.

Oh she is in me!
Oh she is!

I hear her
faint whisper
as I whimper,
"Jesus let her out--"
Oh Sweet Jesus,
that's who You
created me to be,
NOT
this mess that I am now.
But I believe she comes
FORTH
from the messiness of life,
the messiness of birth,
being born again
into the plans
my Sweet Jesus has.

So wait upon Him,
sweet reflection of
His Heart
within me,
shining with
the brightness of
His Glory,
reflecting the
Radience
of Him.

And as I am waiting
I know--
I am being
renewed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How He Loves Me


In the midst of digging through Christmas decorations, I found it.  A box I had forgotten even existed.  I spent about an hour pouring over its contents, piece by piece, memory upon memory, falling in my lap.  Each old photo, card, and letter told a story, held a glimpse of a part of my life long past.

The ones that meant the most to me included a letter from my Grandpa Harrison, written to me late in my college career while I was active in campus ministry, seeking after God with all my heart.  To my knowledge it is the only letter I have from him.  He is with Jesus now.  And then there was the one written by my father, after he helped me move into my very first apartment on the campus of Lexington Theological Seminary.  It was full of a father's encouragement, but more than that.  It held the blessing and prayers of one farther down the road, who had also followed God's call into ministry, speaking hope into the new journey of another just beginning.

There were pictures from my graduation from college, graduation from seminary, and all those adventures I had as a young associate pastor in my first church.

I looked at that young woman, so full of promise, so full of dreams.  And then I went and looked in the mirror.  I don't look so young anymore. 

I walked through the rest of yesterday with a faint sadness tugging at my heart. 

I've finally put my finger on it, that sting.  It is the question that I have trouble answering:  Did I live up to the letters?

This season is so hard.  I never dreamed that God would ask me to surrender everything.  I never dreamed that the Holy Fire I felt when I knew I was serving Him in the way I was created to, would make its way to the altar.  Nor did I reckon on having to surrender passion and purpose as well.  I sometimes wonder if I was mistaken all those years in campus ministry telling young people God had a purpose for their lives, something they were made for, something that would bring them great joy.  Was I lying and didn't even know it?

I wonder at my purpose now.  I see it in those three angel faces that call me "Mommy."  I know that I only have one chance to be their mother, to share with them my heart, to be the instrument God desires me to be in forming their hearts.  I only get one shot.  And it means the world to me to be here.  So I don't want to blow it. 

But at the same time I struggle with the thing I believe other mothers struggle with:  I just don't get over-the-top-excited about packing lunch boxes.  And I remember what it is like to live in the sweet spot where inward desire, meaningful purpose, and fulfilled calling meet.  I was there not so long ago.

Did I miss something?

Last night I lay in bed, silent tears tugging at the corners of my eyes, daring to spill.  Tim was saying such sweet words to me.  I interrupted him with my "But . . . ," telling him of the ways I no longer feel worthy of love.  He said to me simply, "You are telling me how you feel about yourself.   I'm telling you how I feel about you."

His love trumps my self-doubt.  Self-pity.  Self-concern.

Love wins.

I believe God was showing me something through him.  All those years of serving, I believed God loved me because my service made me worthy of love.  And the truth is . . .  Oh how He loves me.  And He chooses a plainspoken man to show me His kind of Unconditional Love, a man who adores me, who sees me as beautiful, who is proud to be my husband, who finds joy in in my arms.

Today was better, easier.  When I feel lost in the randomness of ordinary, understanding the why of it helps.  And sometimes locking us in ordinary is the only way God can get through to us, to get us to be still enough to understand His truth--that Love loves.  And it is His Love that makes us lovely.  Not because of what we do for Him or for anyone else.  Not because of what we accomplish.  We are beloved because He loves us.  Little ol' us, without the bells and whistles of anything noteworthy.  Learning this little Truth is horrible and wonderful all at the same time.  Oh, how He loves us so.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Mystery of the Meantime



It's hard to know what to write about.  My daily experience repeats itself--I have no real sense of anticipation or direction.  I am just waiting.  And I can't even name the thing for which I'm waiting.  I mark days, noting how working days number themselves, melting into weekends, moving steadily towards the next season, holiday, bump or break in routine.  I am lost in the familiarity of it.  My life is this tick-tock progression.  And I wonder at God's plans for me.  Is this it?  Is there more?

So it's hard to write.  Usually the words flow from a deep place that has been kindled into Life, seeing a greater Meaning, and Opening, and Expansiveness that infuses my ordinary with something quite different--Other and Unknown.  And the Revelation thrills me, stirs up all kinds of joy within, making this living less daily, more amazing, each drop of life so unique and special and altogether Gift.

But something entirely different is happening now on the landscape of my soul.

Sheesh! This is hard. 

I'm watching my life tick away, each grain of sand floating through the narrow funnel of the present, so quickly becoming the past.  And I mourn the passage because I think I missed something somehow.  I want to be joyful and amazed again.  Joy and amazement escape me.

But the Faith part of me says there is value in the boredom of waiting.

Because the stretching out of this waiting time, this interim is really shaping something in me that cannot be shaped any other way.  In the innermost part of my character I am seeing those uglier parts of my being, that only come out when the more "spiritual" parts are not being entertained.  They come forth and show how far from Glory I really am.  The only reason Glory exists in my life is because Glory comes near.

My prayer has been, "O God, do so thoroughly what You have to do in me so that You only have to do it once."  Perhaps I shouldn't have prayed such a prayer.  Because the me I love most is lost in His thoroughness.  I wonder if I'll ever see her again. 

But the Faith part of me says there is a more substantial her coming.

The woman God is shaping in this meantime has more depth, more trust, more clarity, more knowing, more yieldedness, more real hope to share.  This peson God is shaping in me is less concerned about accomplishing and more concerned about getting out of the way of God's accomplishing.

I'm not there yet.  I'm not her yet. 

But this meantime refining is helping me to care less about what I do for God and more about just belonging to God.  It's who I am and nothing else matters.  I'm learning that.  The irony is that in the desperate boredom I'm learning more about God's Glory than any wonder He has ever shown me.  Because He absolutely will not bend to my will.  He is Holy.  Oh so Holy.  There is nothing to distract me from discovering how profoundly different I am from Him.

And this is the discovery in which I must rest, waiting for Him to lift me up.  Knowing He loves me.  Just as I am.  Imperfect. Waiting me.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Glory All Around



Every now and then I look through the pictures on my phone.  Often I get tickled at what I find, frame after frame of random snap-shots from the vantage point of a very small person.  I've begun to understand that when my little one says, "Mommy, me play your phone," it usually means I have a budding photographer in the making. 

What is it that he looks at?  What does the world look like from where he stands?  What does he take notice of?




Sure there are lots (and lots) of pictures of carpet. . . . or concrete.  But then I notice there are some great pictures in there too.  And I begin to realize that he sees the world in a completely different way than I do.




So often I am focused on accomplishing a goal, moving through a process, completing a task, just trying to finish something.  My mind is preoccupied with plans, problems, and possibilities.  And it is so impossible sometimes to just be in the moment.  To take in all that is available to me.  To taste and see in each moment that God really is good.




And when I see my littlest boy's pictures I realize that this is the only way he knows how to live.


I remember a time when I looked at grass.  I mean really looked at it.  Flopping a beach towel on the lawn in front of the chapel at seminary, I laid down on my belly, and from ground level I watched the grass grow.  I still remember the pain of that day.  I had left class feeling the weight of rejection and depression full upon me, so heavy I could barely breathe.  And Sweet Jesus I just needed to breathe.  So I went outside to watch the grass.  Somehow watching slender green blades reach toward the sky helped me forget the pain of my brokenness for a moment.  And I could sense God was there with me, Big and Enough to make grass grow.  Big and Enough to rescue me from my own sadness.



Oh that was so long ago.



I can't help but wonder what my little one sees when he looks at me. 



Does he see the woman who knows that God is Big and Enough or does he see the one who needs to spend some time watching the grass?  Does he see me living in faith?  Or does he see me as the one who wonders about God's faithfulness?

Maybe this is what it means to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child.  To have child-like faith that takes each moment as it comes, full of hope and love, ready for the next adventure, open to the Promise of the day because the Promiser can be trusted, eyes to see the Glory of God bursting out all around.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind . . . .

But now I see.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Preacher Girl Revived



When I first felt called to ministry it had everything to do with the Word. 

I was in college, young, crazy enough to follow the passions stirred up within me.  I had gotten involved in the Wesley Foundation, our Methodist campus ministry.  We had something we called an outreach group that traveled to different churches singing, performing skits, dramatic readings, anything that could help a rag tag group of students share the Hope that was in them.

I always sang a song and introduced it with a story.

Singing was not new to me.  I had done that since I was a little girl.  But there was something about weaving the stories together:  God's Big Story, in and through and around my story.  It stirred up  within me a Fire that burned bright and whole and fresh and consuming.  I discovered God's Word reverberating against the walls of my own life; telling the story of how that happened, finding ways to show others how it happens for them too burned big inside my gut, that thing I could not get enough of.  I knew there was more to that experience than just singing occasionally with my college friends.

That was the beginning of my love for telling the old, old Story.  I used to tell others that God could call any kind of person into ministry, showing them my own life as example.  If God can use someone who tends to look like she belongs in junior high, someone who has a funny sounding voice, who is a bit on the "I'm just crazy enough to do it" side, who appreciates 6th grade boy humor, who can be scared of her own shadow, yet bouncing off the walls with just a single bite of chocolate, then God can use anybody to share His Word. 

I love that God brought me back to that same Wesley Foundation to be a minister where I first discovered my love for ministering His Word.  And when that season was over, God moved me to a place where I could minister to my family, three little boys and one great big handsome one to occupy my attentions.

He also brought me to our church's preschool to teach in the Pre-K classroom.  Everyday I am surrounded by a sea of four year olds.  Pre-schoolers are at home with my junior high looks, funny sounding voice, crazy personality, 6th grade boy humor, and timid sometimes, bouncing off the walls self.  I get told often, "Ms. Sami, you are so silly!"  I marvel at God's sense of humor.  When I was twenty-six and right out of seminary, He sent me to serve as an associate pastor in South Florida.  Our congregation was full of senior adults.  So much of my work there revolved around end of life issues.  And now that I'm . . . no longer twenty-six . . . my work focuses on beginning of life issues.  Given the patience and creativity and resourcefulness it takes to guide a room full of four-year-olds, this job requires the greater amount of experience.

Every week at preschool we go to chapel.  When I first began last year, there was already someone leading chapel.  Like me, she had a ministry background.  It was nice knowing someone knew my world, knew how crazy life and calling transitions can feel.  It was comforting to know I wasn't the only one figuring out how to share God's Word in a whole new way.  I began helping out with chapel once a month or so.  When this school year started we shared chapel responsibilities.

Several weeks ago my friend announced she was leaving to take a position as a children's minister at a church in her home state.  She would be returning to so many things that bring her deep joy.  I rejoiced with her when I heard her news.  It is bittersweet.  I will miss her companionship, her knowing those parts of this ministry journey that are so hard share in casual conversation.  As we hugged for the last time she whispered in my ear, "God brought you at just the right time."  God brought me, to fill a space that needed a preacher girl.

Last week Tim saw my old clergy robes hanging on the door.  He was a bit perplexed to see them.  I haven't had those things out since I was an associate pastor, over ten years ago.  I explained that they came in handy when telling the story of the Good Samaritan to four year olds.  Funny.  When I put them on during chapel that day, it felt like I was coming home to myself.  Chapel is home to me.  Being the girl who wraps God's Story up with words that connect it to the flesh that we are, well, that's the only girl I want to be.  Even when the flesh I'm wrapping with God's Word has only been on the planet so short a time.

I have no idea where this journey will end.  I just know that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  And that Word keeps on dwelling and swelling in me, and I must keep sharing it wherever God gives me the opportunity.  I wonder at God's choice for me, in this calling.  I know that in His perspective it all makes sense, and I trust that there will come a day when it will make sense to me too.  My friend affirmed that truth as well.  "It all makes sense now," is what she said.  God had been preparing her for a Harvest she knew nothing about with a path that was out of her ordinary.  And it seems God is doing the same thing for me. 

All I can say is that as I'm waiting for my own land of Promise, it is so good to have a pulpit again.  Even if it is only a music stand.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Joy in the Journey

 
 
My little one wants so much to be big.

He already thinks he is.  If his brothers can do it, he believes he should be able to also.  This is especially true when we are playing outside.  For a months now he would climb up on the biggest bike he could find, helmut ready, waiting for the crazy thing to move, his little feet dangling above the ground.  Big brother's wheels have often proved too big.

So much like me.

I already think I'm ready for the plans God has for me, dreams to be more and do more, longings to fulfill a destiny, fulfilled by purpose, living out of a burning passion that is kindled every day.  I want to be further along than I am.  And I forget that God has plans.  More than one.  That those plans include a guide for what fills in the blank between now and the thing I was made for.  Some dreams are just too big now to live.  But there are some smaller ones that will do just fine.  For now.

In digging through the garage one day, Jeremiah found the littlest bike.  Over the last few weeks he has been trying to master it.  His feet stretch as far as they can to rest on the pedals, but they reach enough.  And his coordination lacks the strength to pedal with strength and speed, but he can still make the crazy thing go!  And and after days of practice, he can finally do it without me walking behind him giving him the big push.  I wish you could have seen him yesterday--the huge smile on his face, the light in his eyes, the thrill of accomplishment in his excited chatter--oh he was so proud!  It was like his whole body was begging me to see:  "Look Mommy!  I'm riding a bicycle!"

And so happy.

It makes me think that sometimes I have to relent and find the dream I fit. 

I've thought much about these in between times.  What exactly does one do when waiting for the Promise?  I mean, I love that verse that says God knows the plans He has for us to give us a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).  But what about the in-between-times?  What about those days, months, and yes, even years, when we are waiting for dream?  So while I love the stirring words of futures and hopes and plans, it can be depressing sometimes.  What I really need is something to get me through.  A smaller victory while I'm waiting to grow into my "big wheels."

And that's why I love Jeremiah 29:5-7.  I love its honesty, its gentleness, its matter-of-fact encouragement: 
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
 
What are we supposed to do while we are living apart from the Promise?  We are called to live as a child of Promise.  We are called to grow, and multiply, and live well, seeking to know the One who is the Promiser.  And when we can do that, the Promise has a way of finding us.  We no longer have to spend ourselves finding it.

I love that Jeremiah could relinquish the desire to ride big brother's bike.  It was what enabled him to discover the joy of riding the bicycle that is all his own.  Able to make the thing go on his own. 

And this is where I am too.  Trying to find a way to pedal along.  Full of the joy of the journey. 

Even while I'm waiting to arrive at a greater destination.

I'm just so thankful for these sweet traveling companions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy Feet


I wonder sometimes what it looked like when David danced before the Lord.  Then I had this moment the other day, listening to a song, its words a catalyst to the hope within me.  I couldn't help myself.  I danced.

It tickles me when I think about when first heard the song.  Can I just say it's not religious at all?  Nope.  Not one bit.  I think I first heard it while watching the Disney show "So Random."  I didn't think much of it then.  Then I heard it again set to old Disney cartoons featuring Goofy.  I just kept hearing the refrain, "You've gotta keep your head up, oh.  You gotta let your hair down, eh."  My curiosity was piqued.

Mostly because I was encouraged.

This week I downloaded the song.  As I stood in my kitchen listening to it, my heart felt uplifted.  What does one do when a song from the wrong station moves the heart to worship?  Well, one worships. 

Because it touched that tender spot in me that wonders how this is all going to turn out.  All the unanswered questions.  All the loose ends.  All the conundrums I can't solve right now.  The song said what I most needed to hear in that moment:  "You are gonna turn out fine," followed quickly by, "But you gotta keep your head up."

But.

There is always a "but" isn't there?  I am reminded of Psalm 121.  It begins:

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
 
I seem to forget I have help when I look down.  There truly is something about raising my line of vision to what is higher than me that helps me move to higher ground.  I've exhausted possible sources of help in the low lands. None of them are really helpful.  Only God is inexhaustible.  I forget that I can look to Him sometimes.  I forget that He already knows I'm gonna turn out fine.  I forget that He's the only One who can convince me. 

So when I heard that silly pop song with upbeat words with an upbeat rhythm, I was reminded.  That life does not have to be determined by my present circumstances, but can be transformed by the One who is always Present within my circumstances. 

And when I remembered, I looked Up, heart full, head hopeful, feet happy.

In the middle of my kitchen I danced.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Birth Pains


I don't know quite how to explain what I've been feeling lately.  There is an ache inside of me that just plain hurts.  It is so strong it is almost a physical sensation. 

I have felt it before.

There was a season in my life when God called me to intercession, in a labor of love so personal, so raw, that my very being ached every time the Holy Spirit called me to pray.  I remember it felt like I was the instrument of the Holy Spirit praying, and I could feel in my flesh and bones the groans of God's Heart weeping over and with my friend.  Those kinds of prayers one doesn't forget.

But this ache that I now feel is so keenly personal.

It is my own. 

It is the ache of commencement, one journey over, the new one yet to begin.  I feel I am caught in the threshold of having left one life, waiting for a new one.  There is pain in what is left behind.  In a perfect world, that life would be over and done.  Yet there are constant reminders of what I used to be.  And people who knew me then seem to look at me with questions in their eyes:  "who are you now?"

What is hard is that the seeds of who I will be were planted firmly in the soil of my being way back then.  I carry them with me now as planted hopes, as yet, unrealized. But the questions people ask, and the only answers I can give right now, leave no room to even see her, that woman God created me to be. 

In the last few weeks a song I haven't thought of for a long time has come to mind.  It was my favorite song when my last child was born.  We were so thankful for his birth, because it seemed to go well for him.  After all, when the first baby wouldn't eat, and the second baby wouldn't breathe, we didn't know what to expect with baby number three.  He just seemed to arrive on the scene happy.  But my experience was difficult, for all kinds of reasons.  I would lay in the bathtub at night and listen to the words of that song over and over--
All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As deep cries out to deep (we sing)
Come Lord Jesus Come
Come Lord Jesus Come

Today that song was in my heart, all over me.  My thirsty weakness washing through me in waves. 

Desperate for  answers and encouragement, I was so happy a few moments ago when I saw my favorite blog's title for today:  "What God Really Promises in Pain."  I click over, ready to drink in words of comfort and wisdom.  I'm astonished when I get there and see there are only 12 words on the page.  Twelve.  But here is what they say:  "God doesn't allow pain unless He's allowing something new to be born."  In smaller print, down the page is the scripture reference Isaiah 66:9 NCV.  How could I not look it up?  Here is what I found:
In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born," says the lord.  "if I cause you the pain, I will not stop you from giving birth to your new nation," says your God.  "Jerusalem, rejoice.  All you people who love Jerusalem, be happy.  Those of you who felt sad for Jerusalem should now feel happy with her.  You will take comfort from her and be satisfied, as a child is nursed by its mother.  You will receive her good things and enjoy her wealth."  This is what the Lord says:  "I will give her peace that will flow to her like a river.  The wealth of the nations will come to her like a river overflowing its banks.  Like babies you will be nursed and held in my arms and bounced on my knees.  (Isaiah 66:9-12)
 
 The ache eases.  I read those words of scripture and they feel so personal, like the Holy Spirit has woven this story together in such a way that I know where the pain is coming from.  It's not about mourning a death  as much as it is the pains of something new being born.

 
 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Buried Treasure


It's not exactly how I mapped out my life when I was a young woman.  I thought for sure I would follow in my mother's footsteps, work full-time, be a professional, wear power suits and panty hose.  I had a plan.

And then God implemented His.

Again and again.

Because each time God changed the direction of my life I adjusted my plan to give His plan a well thought out trajectory.  I got real good at living into those.  But what I found is that each time I got comfortable, the Plan would change.  And now I am at a place I would not have recognized as mine twenty years ago.

I am 40.

I have three young sons.

I work part-time as a pre-school teacher, teaching 4 year old's about Jesus and their alphabet.

I come home and I am the domestic diva of my household.

In my pedigree wife and mother come first.  Holy cow!  When did that happen?  The headstrong young woman I was would have balked at that.  And now those titles are more dear to me than any I have ever had, any I could imagine having.  I still have dreams for myself, but being home and making home a place worth being is immensely important to me.

I'm the kind of girl that is riddled with self-doubts.  It was true when I was an associate pastor in a large South Florida church.  It was true when I was a campus minister.  And now as a mom who is home with her kids more than I ever imagined I woud be, I still have them.

I wonder if I'm a blessing to my kids.  I wonder if the good parts of my heart and character are rubbing off on them.  I wonder if the good parts wear too thin when we are together, and they are picking up my impatience and weariness instead.  I wonder if I am seeding their lives with enough of God's Goodness for them to grow into mighty oaks of righteousness, the kind that display His Glory every where they go.

There is something powerful in the wondering.  Because I know that I didn't get here, in this season, in this place, on purpose.  I got here by God's design.  If it had been my design, it would have looked so much different.  Yet here I am, and my heart is so wrapped up in the Work my Sweet Jesus has entrusted to my care. 

He led me here, knowing that this is a place where my questions outweigh my answers and my learning curves outweigh my aptitudes.  He positioned me in this time and place, for this moment, when my sons are young, when they are running full throttle with the delight of being a boy fresh in their veins, unharnessed energy and boundless enthusiasm loud in their ears and hearts and bodies.  And God positioned me here, to greet them and run with them and feed them and tend to them and wash them and teach them and train them and discipline them and play with them and rest with them.  These days are the most important ones.  God offers the opportunity to participate in laying the foundation of character and trust for their lives.  The one they will build everything else on, and eventually return to again and again.

I wonder about my role in the chaos.  It's the little things that I hope leave their mark, marking my love for them in ways they probably don't see.  Packing lunches, remembering snacks, making and baking, painting and biking.  Little "I Love You"'s floating gently, landing lightly, unnoticed in their lives.

Oh God I hope it is enough.

And I wouldn't want another doing this.

Thank You for the opportunity.  It is the buried treasure I found, when my plans turned upside down.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Re-Membering


What is it that makes you remember? 

Much of my life is spent as a pre-school teacher where each moment is an exercise in remembering:  where do we put our backpacks, how do we start the day, what are the letters in our name, what are the months in the year, what are the days of the week, how do I use scissors, how do I hold a pencil, what should I do in the hallway? 

To help our little ones remember, we get our whole bodies involved.  We sing, we dance, we move, we cheer.  Every part of our brains and bodies is activated in this remembering process.   Someday these processes will produces writers, readers, artists, singers, movers, shakers.  It is always a joy to see the child whose very being is illuminated by the process, to see her light up when a simple step melts into the wonder of accomplishment and the joy of being alive.  Oh sweet one, you've found it!  That thing that makes you feel alive!

It's so much easier I think to feel alive when your four.  There are no hindrances to singing the song that helps you remember.  And life is so much more fun when it is set to music.  Why is it when we grow up we forget to sing?  Or to play?  Or to dream?  Or to imagine?
 
We must ask ourselves that question:  where do I feel most alive?  Where do I melt into the wonder of accomplishment and the joy of living?  Why is that feeling so elusive? 

Last week I was with a small gathering of ladies and a couple of them shared about when they get that feeling.  For one it was riding horses.  For another it was being in her garden.  My first thought was about writing, that this is where it comes together for me.  And this is certainly true.  I love to play with words, or when the Word invites me to play, and something amazing comes forth that touches the truest part of me.  I love that.  And I would not be the same person if I didn't write.

But then something else stirs.

Okay, let's be real.  I was doing the stirring.  Literally.  Ten years ago if you told me I would find Sabbath in my kitchen, I would have laughed in your face.  However, it's true.  Last year when my life changed so radically, and dreams I thought I would have forever died overnight, I found solace in the simple process of chopping vegetables.  Today my favorite kind of Sabbath is stirring up something new in the kitchen.  Today I made an apple pie.  First time ever!  Yay!  Tim said it was really good.  Then he said I couldn't start making desserts all the time.  Our waistlines wouldn't be the same.

There is something so healing to me in making a black and white recipe come to life.  First I clean up my working space, washing down counters, putting clutter away.  Then I gather the ingredients, putting them out where I can see them easily, where they are readily accessible.  And then I begin to combine each one until it's ready for the oven.  I even enjoy cleaning up the mess.  Somehow it fills the time of anticipation, as I wait for the yumminess to emerge complete.  Following the steps from start to finish slows me down.  It builds expectation.  It helps me connect with a sense of accomplishment.  And the crowning moment is when one of my boys takes a bite and likes it. 

I don't mind that it takes time.  I believe it is time well-spent.  It is time that helps me to remember who I am and what matters most in my life.  It helps me think.  It's like the order of it orders me too.  I need it so much.  And the sweetest part is that it becomes a language of love as I feed my family.  I love it when the cranky boy sees me in kitchen and puts in a special request.  I don't really consider myself a cook.  But it lights up my whole world when that little man says something like, "Mom, you make the best __________!"  My heart does flip-flops.

I think of that scripture, "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).  And I think of God's presence in my life.  Just like I'm tasting this creation, Lord, I taste the goodness of this life You've given me.  Oh sweet Father, You are so faithful!  You are goodness.  In the middle of my difficult moments You have given me a sweet passion that fills me up, even as I pour my own love out.  Only You can do that!

And so I find myself re-membered.  I come back to myself.  To remember who I am and Whose I am.  To remember that I don't really belong to myself, but that I must have some moments that belong only to me so that I can give myself away again.   In the middle of a loud, rambunctious house, I pull out the ingredients and get to stirring.  I can't help but think this is how God did it when He created the recipe for me.  For you.  For everyone of us.

How do you re-member?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Miracles


Miracles.  We all need reminders that they happen.  It's hard because life gets difficult in so many ways and creates in us a longing for miracles to happen, to lift us out of the heartache and misery.  God always finds a way for working through our circumstances, but it often takes us time to see that God was there in our difficulty helping and holding, just differently than what we imagined it would look like.  But miracles do happen.  I say it knowing full well there are those who are standing in grief, who are trying to reconcile the goodness of God with loss that defies description and cannot be contained.

So here is the story of mine.  I share it because there is a part of me that needs to be reminded too.  I need to remember because it changes how I live today.  I get so caught up in the ordinary hustle and bustle of my family's life that I forget how getting to our ordinary was extraordinary.

Those who remember my younger days would probably say that the desire to start a family was the original miracle.  I was totally focused on my career, very much steeped in the identity of the young professional.  But I remember the moment my heart changed.  It was as if a light came on in my soul, and I discovered a mother-love within that I had not recognized before.  The irony is that my greatest fear seemed to come true:  that I would put off having children so long until one day when I wanted them, I would be unable to have them.

Tim and I tried for three years.

During that time God moved me from being an Associate Pastor at a large church in South Florida to being a campus minister at a state university in a small Kentucky town.  As time passed, I began to believe God gave me the desire to be a mother so that I could be a better minister. But it still hurt so much every time I saw a baby baptism at church.  The desire never diminished; it never went away.

Then one day in September I went for a run.  I was also praying, remembering someone's words that God would do great things at the campus ministry I was serving.  In a Bible study I was involved in at the time, we were studying King Ahaz.  God offered King Ahaz the opportunity to name any sign he wanted to prove God's faithfulness.  Ahaz refused, so God gave the sign of "the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and name him Emmanuel."  I told God that if He offered me the opportunity to choose a sign of His faithfulness to the campus ministry I was serving, that's the one I would choose:  for my husband and I to have a baby.

These thoughts came towards the end of my run.  Soon I reached my stopping point, turned around, and began walking home.  I ran in a popular park where families often gathered, so I didn't think it unusual when I fell into step with a woman pushing a baby carriage.  I recognized her as one of the regulars.  Pretty soon she began a conversation with me. 

She asked me about running, commenting on how fast I was.  I told her I really wasn't that fast, but my husband was.  She asked me how long I had been married.  I said seven years.  She asked me if I had children.  I said no.  She asked me if we had been trying.  I hesitated.

No one knew we were trying.

We had been trying for three years.  Our hearts were raw with the hoping and the hurting, the monthly disappointment.  And our families just thought we didn't want children.  We had been struggling for so long, so alone.  This was a burden of the heart I just didn't share.

Except on this day there was this little nudge.

When I tell her we had been trying, the lady with the stroller asks me how long.  When I told her three years, she stops mid-stride, looks me in the eye, and says, "God sent me to you today." 

Really?  Is this really happening? 

She told me that I would be able to have a baby.  That the delay had to do with God's timing.  That the time had come to tell our family.  That God had sent her to me to give me hope. 

And then in the middle of that park she prayed for me.

That was in September.  On December 31st I found out I was pregnant with our first child, Noah Joseph.  He was born August 20, 2004.  And then on November 10, 2006, we had baby number two, Isaiah Wesley.  And we were a complete happy family.  I gave away all the baby furniture, baby clothes, baby paraphenalia.  And on December 1, 2009 we welcomed baby number three, Jeremiah Allen. 

God's sense of humor is that we now have a boy for each year of trying.  Three years of famine.  A lifetime of harvest.

Miracles each one.

Signs and wonders, and oh I need to remember how much God loves and listens and lavishes all His Goodness onto our barren lives.  I so needed to be reminded that this mothering busyness is Holy Work.  I am so thankful for the Invitation, and oh so needeful of Grace to help me fulfill it.

Miracles do still happen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Courage to See It Through

The degree that hangs in Tim's new "Assistant Principal" office.

Sometimes it would be so great to be able to see into the future.  To be able to glance into our crystal ball to discern what is coming our way so we could plan accordingly.  Alas, we don't have that ability.  But our God is, and was, and will be.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  And while tomorrow remains a mystery to us, the Almighty has already been there and done that.  Nothing is going to happen to us that will surprise Him.  And whatever comes our way tomorrow, God is already putting help in place today to help us face it.   He has a plan, and He is working it.  I love that about Him.

Beth Moore speaks brilliantly about this concept when she delves into the book of Jeremiah.  She mentions that God has thought it through, every detail of our lives, God has thought about it and is working in it to bring us to a place of hope.  How familiar are the words to Jeremiah 29:11:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (NRSV)
 
But I love the way the King James Version translates this passage, because it illuminates the very thing Beth Moore is getting at, the thing that the original language is saying:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.  (KJV)
 
God has already accounted for all the mishaps, mistakes, and mis-steps.  He has already figured out how to guide us to a good and peaceful destination.  No matter how we start out, God has worked out a way to bring our hearts Home.

Yet while God has already thought it through, how often do we have the courage to see it through?  You know what "it" is.  It's that thing that has broken our heart, broken our dreams, broken our spirit.  That thing that laughs at us while we rummage around in what is left of our lives wondering what to do next.

I've had some time now to process Tim getting a new job.  He had been unsatisfied, feeling that he was meant for more challenge, for more purpose and meaning than he was experiencing where he was.  After a principalship certification,  two years of waiting and countless interviews, he finally was offered a position as an assistant principal at an elementary school.  We have settled into this new life, this answered prayer.

Tim saw it through.  He never gave up, he never gave in.  It hurt like hell, wondering if God had forgotten him, struggling with the awful paradox of having a burning passion inside with no opportunity to let it ignite.  Faith told us the fire inside was a God thing.  But it was blind faith because each interview that didn't land a job seemed to be another message saying this was the wrong road.  Only our insides told us it was right.  We hung on to that tender thread.  Then one day God answered our prayers. 

God knew all along.

God had already been preparing a place for Tim.  A perfect place where his gifts and heart and passion would be met by challenge needing his strength.  A place where others would recognize the good stuff in him and send forth gratitude at his presence.  Tim no longer has to wonder what difference he makes.  He just has to look at the six hundred elementary school students in his care.

Tim saw it through. 

Oh he inspires me.  His story encourages me.  When I think of the open-ended-ness of my own story I love thinking of his.  Because it's then that I am able to translate this bit of Good News to my own life.  God has already thought through my own scenario.  And I want to also show the same courage my sweet husband has shown as I live into the Divine Conclusion God has already prepared.  God has expectations for my future I haven't even imagined. 

Goodness me, that rattles my cage!  So much talk of expectations:  mine, yours, the world's, the church's.  But whoever considers God's?  God has expectations for my future!  That thought washes over me like sweet Grace.  Oh sweet Jesus!  Whatever do You expect to come from Your tender work in my life?  In my heart?  In my head?

It is worth it hold out.

To give "it" time.

To allow this story some breathing room.

Courage is a small price to pay for the expected ending God has in Mind.


 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Making and Baking a Marriage


In a few hours I will be doing the wedding of Erynn and Tom.  I am filled with joy and anticipation.  I'm sure it is nothing compared to what they are feeling about this special moment in their lives.  As I have pondered over the last few months what words to express the love and hope I feel, the Lord reminded me of bread making.

So often our culture approaches marriage as if it is not worth one's time, or even worse, like it's a piece of cake.  It equates marriage to the party of the year, a beautiful, shining moment that looks glorious and tastes great.  One thing I've learned through my own sixteen years of walking this path:   this ain't no cake walk.

Because making a marriage is like making bread.

I love the process of making bread.  It is time consuming; it takes me all day.  But it is so satisfying, every part of it.  That's how marriage is.  It takes time.  It has seasons and reasons that are beyond our comprehension when we've only just begun.  But as they unfold and we walk together through them, hand in hand, heart to heart, something so sweet and satisfying starts to emerge.

Marriage, like a good loaf of bread, begins with quality ingredients. 

When I bake bread I use both white and whole wheat flour.  Both are so different.  One carries the flavor, the other carries the texture.  But once they are in the bowl, they become something different, better for being together.  The same is true for marriage.  It takes two unique individuals, who are complete in themselves yet come together for a purpose beyond themselves.  It's like God takes the stuff of who you are and combines it with some other good stuff, coming up with something amazing.  I love that.

We don't arrive at this time and place in a vacuum.  We are brought to this moment by a whole world of experiences that have shaped us into the people we are.  More importantly, we are brought to this moment by a whole village of important people who have shaped us into who we are.  In the recipe I use, it's called the starter, or sour dough.  This in a sense is the bread that has gone before us.  Our families and friends have written all over our life stories, giving us our character, our values, being the birthplace of our hopes and dreams.  We wouldn't have anything to bring to the table if it weren't for them.

The best bread has a hint of sweetness.  The best marriages are filled with it.  I like to add a little extra to my bread.  While the recipe only calls for a quarter cup white sugar, I also add a quarter cup of brown.  We need the sweetness of joy in our lives, but especially in our marriages.  It would seem odd to have to remind ourselves of this.  But let's be honest.  Sometimes the demands and struggles of life begin to encroach on our ability to simply enjoy ourselves and one another.  We can lose sight of the importance of just having fun together.  We say to ourselve, "Oh, if it's fun and enjoyable, it's not as important as the other big stuff that matters."  And all too often couples forget what it's like to laugh together and to play.  And they begin to go through the motions.  And they forget what it feels like to smile in the other person's presence.  So be liberal with the sugar.  It makes bread and marriage so much better.

In the mix of making bread, it is important to remember balance.  This is why salt is so important, it adds balance to the flavors that are mingling together.  We always produce salt in our tears.  And there are sure to be tears as we walk through life in marriage.  The challenge is to embrace those things that are difficult and challenging, to see them through, to live them well.  This is what adds character and flavor to our marriages.  When we walk through pain together, we are bonded in a way that makes intimacy deeper, our love for one another closer.  Even when we cause those tears, if we can have the courage to work out those differences we find that we come out stronger on the other side.  And we also become a sign of hope and grace to others who are struggling.

There are two more ingredients in this bread making adventure.  In fact, in making bread they begin the whole process of combing ingredients.  I'm speaking of water and yeast.  Before any other ingredient goes in, yeast is added to a warm bowl filled with warm water to dissolve.  Traditionally water has been used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the Great Helper, the Companion, the Wisdom of God guiding and directing and leading us in the journey of life.  Water gives us refreshment.  It is a reminder that we need something beyond ourselves to make it.  There will be days when we are not enough, when we need more than we have to give to make marriage work.  And that is when the Holy Spirit steps in.

Yeast is like that too.  It is the power of breadmaking.  The yeast causes the bread to expand, to rise, to taste just right.  Without it we are left with a dry cracker.  The Power and Presence of God is like that in our marriages.  We need God's Power and Presence to help us rise to the occasions that demand everything from us.  We need God's Power and Presence to make us more than we are.  We need God's Power and Presence to transform us from simple ingredients to something that can feed and nourish.

Of course it's never enough to just dump ingredients in a bowl and stir.  There is a Baker and there is a Process.  God is the one who leads us through this journey.  In bread making there is a lot of waiting.  I remember someone once saying, "Thank God for the grace of unanswered prayer."  I had just poured out my heart with prayers I was praying for my husband.  I was done with waiting.  I thought she was crazy.  But what I've learned is that it is in the waiting that my strength and faith have the opportunity to rise, to be developed.  And in our marriage I have found that the waiting times allow me to see the beauty and strength of the man I married.  Bread just wouldn't be the same without allowing time for the dough and loaf to rise.  We wouldn't be either.

And yes, there is the kneading.  Nobody wants to be stretched and pounded.  Let's face it.  Marriage is hard work.  It stretches us in ways we never anticipated; it demands more of us that we ever thought we would give.  In the kneading God is making us one.  God is taking two separate and distinct individuals and melding their lives together into something greater.  That never happens without having to reach beyond what we already are.

And yes, there is the heat.  There is no way around it.  Marriage is life shared together.  And life always includes those seasons of intense heat when we think we cannot stand it anymore.  If we can just have the courage to trust the One who is leading us through the fire, we can rest assured there is something amazing on the other side.  It is the fire that brings everything together, that forms us  for the purpose we were made for.

Isn't this what we came here for? 

Marriage like bread, has an ultimate purpose.  Bread is meant to feed and nourish.  So too our lives are not our own.  We are given to each other and to the journey to become more than we could be on alone.  And as our lives are shared, and formed, and kneaded, and heated together we become people who can feed others with the love, the joy, the peace, and hope that have come forth from this marriage journey.  Our living is meant for more than just ourselves and each other.  We are meant to make a difference in the world.

So my sweet Erynn, dear Tom, this is my prayer for you:  That God, Who is the best Maker of marriages, will help you to become one; that God, Who is the ultimate Baker, will form and shape you into a family that brings hope and grace to a hurting world. 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:10-11

I love you both.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Prayer in a Bottle


There have been those days, boys running like crazy through the yard, on a grand adventure.  A neighbor comes by and says "Wish we could bottle that."  I laugh, because I know how hard they crash.  But I must admit, there are all kinds of things I wish could be bottled. And then today I am amazed to discover that one of my favorite things in the world can be!

Would you believe prayer fits inside old plastic water bottles?

In my classroom of 4 year old's sometimes there are tears.  When it happens I often feel awkward and ill-equipped, sorely out of my element.  As I have pondered how to help, I remembered a suggestion given at the Early Childhood Summer Institute I attended this summer.  One of the presenters demonstrated how an empty water bottle literally becomes a "sanity saver."

The instructions are simple.  Fill the bottle with sand and all kinds of interesting little things that are fun to look at.  Finally add a penny, cap it, and tape it up tight.  When the child is having a difficult time have them take some deep breaths.  Then give them the bottle, and ask them to find the penny.  "Sanity Saver Bottle" to the rescue!

I made one today.

Here's the crazy thing:  I thought I was making this for little kids who needed distraction, but something wonderful happened as I held it in my hands.  I began looking at the beads tumbling in the sand and my heart was strangely soothed.  I began to search for the silver heart, the butterfly charm, the shell.  I found the bead that had once been on my favorite bracelet, the one with subtle streaks of blue and gold, the one that reminds me of harvest and Psalm 126.  And I began to realize that the random things I put in this simple bottle were not so random.  And the bottle itself is not so simple.  Each little bead, and charm, and shell fragment, and sequin come from meaningful parts of my life. Watching them tumble around in the sand, playing hide and seek as they appeared and disappeared, made my heart pause and remember--the Holy One with us always.

Psalm 139 says it this way:

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  I try to count them--they are more than the sand; I come to the end--I am still with you  (Psalm 139:17-18).

Even if we could count every particle of sand in this bottle, we would never be able to come to the end of God's presence with us.  And if God's thoughts are more infinite than the sand we cannot count, then how much does He think of us?   His thoughts toward us have weight to them.  They are not passing, random thoughts.  They mean something.  They mean something not just to us but for us.  Our sweet Lord has thought every thing through.  Nothing has escaped His attention.  And more than we are waiting for Him, He has been waiting for us to realize we are with Him still.

There is no detail that escapes His notice. 

I don't always know how to calm the 4 year old heart.  But I'm so thankful the Holy Spirit knows how to calm mine.  And I am grateful that the Holy One waits for me to realize that in my sandy life, He is the treasure that I seek.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Hope in My Hands


Tomorrow I am helping in Kidzone.  I am the host for children's Sunday morning worship time; my husband is the storyteller.  The theme is contentment.  The story is the two loaves and five fish.  And oh how Jesus multiplied them!

Life is still not perfect.  And there is this part of me that says I should be stressing more.  Worried more.  Scraping together more pennies.  Counting.  Scrounging.  Scrapping. 

But instead . . . .

I just feel peace.  Peaceful.  Content.  It's like I'm holding my fish and bread in my hands.  And I know there is not enough to go round.  There is not enough me to go round.  But I am so confident in the hands of my Savior.  I know He can take what I got and make it enough.

There have been several times this summer He has done it, when the Provision just appeared.  There is that still nagging part of me that whispers "what if?".  And I tell it the Provision came when I wasn't looking for it.  Won't it also come when I need it so much and my eyes are weary with searching for it so much?

Kind of like today.

I was putting away our packages from trips to the store, arranging provisions around the house.  And my hand felt funny all of a sudden.  I looked down and one of my rings was gone.  How odd that one would be there on one hand, but the most important one, the wedding band, a sweet anniversary gift from my husband, with precious stones in a delicate setting, was gone.  Panic.  I could not find it.  Not in my pocket.  I did not take it off.  Not on the floor.  Not on the counter.  Oh God how could it be gone?!  And my Tim saying, "just breathe," and "when was the last time you remembered having it on?"

I knew it had just been on my hand.  I had just washed my hands in the sink.  I had just put away the few groceries.  I had just put some plastic bags in the trash.  My prayers were fast and furious.  "Oh God please help me find this ring!"  And Tim picks up the dish towel to dry his own hands and out it falls.  We catch it before it goes down the drain.

Provision.

Help.

Answered prayer.

I know that we are in a season of having to trust.  But my Savior is so close.  And even in the tumult of crazy days when my words come fast and furious in rounding up boys for the next part of our adventure together, I know He is nearby.  Ever so Big and Able and Willing to help.  And how can I worry?  I believe this is a time of hope.  I'm so thankful for the difficulty that demands all our trust because it means I have been delivered from another difficulty that was secure, but was sucking the life out of me.  And here I am free, breathing easy, and filled with peace.

And holding my two loaves and five fish.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Crossing the Distance


Last Sunday I spent the day traveling to TN for a funeral.  Vicki's mother had died.  I didn't know her mom so well, but Vicki was one of my best friends in Junior High and High School.  Her mom had just been diagnosed with cancer.  The prognosis was not good, and doctors had only given her mom a year to live.  Before the month was over, her mother was gone.

It's hard to explain why I had to go.  It's harder still to explain why I need to write about it.  Vicki and I haven't seen each other in 16 years.  Our lives have taken us down different roads:  I live in Kentucky, and her home is in Los Vegas.  Yet she returned when her mom got sick.  And too soon she was saying goodbye to the most precious person in her life.  How do you bury your mom?  Especially when it comes way too soon, way too unexpected.  When I heard where and when the service would be, I just knew--I had to go.   Call it the draw of the Holy Spirit or that intuition that my friend needed me.  I couldn't not go.

Two hour drives are good for thinking.  And I spent the drive there recalling the depth of the friendship I felt, the whole reason behind this magnet pulling me away from my domestic life of chasing boys and shopping for groceries and cooking dinner and giving baths and preparing for another busy week.

When I was in seventh grade we moved to Small Town, Tennessee.  Such a rural place.  Most everyone had been there since before birth.  Even after graduating from High School there, I always felt like an outsider looking in.  That first year was tough.  At the little school I attended I met Vicki.  Both of us rode the bus together.  She and I became fast friends.  But the thing that cemented our friendship could have been the thing that shattered it.  I remember that everyone had to participate in music class, but both of us loved to sing.  As it happened there was a small solo we both wanted.   One morning as we sat on the bleachers waiting to be dismissed to our homerooms several of us were joking and cutting up and talking about music.  I joined in by teasing that I thought I would get the part over her, that I thought I sang better.  What was I thinking, twelve year old me?  Why would I say something like that?  Who says stuff like that?  Well, what I remember thinking was this is how people joke around with each other.  But the group listening didn't take it that way.  They considered me a braggart and decided that someone who brags so much about themselves and puts others down is not someone they wanted to associate with.  And they didn't.  Ever.  For months on end.

But Vicki did.

She kept being my friend.  In fact she became my best friend at that school.  We rode the bus together.  We ate lunch together.  We spent recess together.  We spent our summer together.  We became inseparable.  And what I remember most is that she forgave me, and made that unbearable season of my life, bearable.

Big deal, right?

But it was a big deal.  I already had all kinds of abandonment issues crawling all over me.  All kinds of heartache weaving its way all through my sense of self.  There wasn't a moment my heart didn't hurt.  And in all that pain here was a friend who forgave me and loved me and accepted me just the way I came.

Two hours on the road from my Old Kentucky Home to an out of the way place in Tennessee, I am remembering all this.  "Oh God, show me why I am here, show me why I am making this journey."

When I arrived, it was just in time.  I walked up the front steps, in through the door.  The service was moments from starting, but someone says, Vicki is in there.  And in I went and here she came to greet me, arms open wide, just like old times.  She draws me to her and seats me beside her and we hold hands and I gently rub her shoulder and back during this oh so hard time.  For sixteen years she had been waiting and saving a seat.  I am awestruck.

After the service we were able to draw close for a bit and share our hearts.  In sixteen years so much of her was still the same:  her voice, her smile, her eyes, the warmth radiating in all of them.  I just felt enveloped in that same love that had held me together so long ago, welcoming me into a friendship that wouldn't let go.

Two hour drives are good for thinking.  As I made my way back home, I replayed the memories of years gone by.   It is hard going back to those days, remembering times I've spent so much effort forgetting.  The truth is, I never felt like I belonged somewhere until I went to college.  And I never truly felt at home until I got involved in campus ministry my sophomore year.  That's the year the whole trajectory of my life changed.  I found my calling.  I met my husband.  I discovered my own heart, and for the first time loved it.  I haven't wanted to revisit those before times that felt so awkward, and painful, and lonely.  When I left my hometown at graduation, I truly left. 

But going back last week was redemptive.  It showed me that even in those years of  heartache, God had provided Light, and Love, and Hope.  And it was enough to help me get through to the other side.  And couldn't I give of myself to someone so dear so that she could make it to her other side?  Couldn't I let the Love of Jesus be present for her through me, just like she had done on my behalf so many years ago?  Don't we all just need that Love that crosses the distance to get us to the other side of hurt and heartache so we can touch Hope?

I've pondered that--that Love that crosses the distance.  Jesus crossed the distance in my life and redeemed every part of it that made me ashamed to be me.  He showed me that I am a person worth loving and holding and helping.  He showed me that He could do things in me and through me and for me that I could not even imagine!  And I am staring down this road of who I am amazed at what He has done with such a girl as I am.  Oh when He found me, oh what a mess He found.  But that Jesus is so fond of messes.  And I love Him.  And I am so thankful for all He has done to bring me to this time and place.  And I am oh so grateful for the call to go and be with a friend who needed a hand to hold while she helped her mother make the journey Home.


 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Holy Paper Towels and Soapy Water!


My life is so full of ordinary.  I am a mother and a wife and I work as a pre-school teacher and no one would ever guess by looking that during college God called me to ministry, or that I answered that call and am answering it still.  God led me here.  To this time and place, this season of life where I am more likely to be covered with sweaty hugs from my three sons or the remnants of pre-schooler lunches that I helped open than the formal stole and robe that I wear as an ordained minister. Yet in the middle of my ordinary, the Holy Spirit reminded me that ordinary is often the deepest well one encounters.

It's so easy to slip into assumptions that only the big things count in life, those things that leave us wonder struck, amazed, and impressed.  Ever notice how difficult  it is these days to leave an impression?  We are so hungry for gargantuan achievement that anything less is rendered obsolete, as if it is not worthy of notice. 

But God notices everything.

It happened so quickly that if I had not had that grace-filled moment of clarity I would have missed it.   I was getting ready to paint handprints for our sweet 4 year olds to take home to their mommies.  I had carried an old tub to the bathroom to fill with soapy water so that our children could easily clean their hands.  I guess it was the way that I tossed the collection of unrolled paper towels over my shoulder that did it.  Another scene flashed in my mind's eye.  It was if I was witness to that upper room that Jesus filled with His Presence on the night that he was betrayed, claiming a few precious moments with His disciples before He was taken away.  I could see Him swinging a towel over His shoulder just before picking up a basin.  He was preparing to wash the grimy feet of His dearest friends.  I was preparing a place for my little students to wash away the paint from their little hands.

That picture of Jesus is so precious to me.   I am a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.  The towel and basin are the symbol of the servant ministry Deacons are called to.  While we don't often serve the Church in the traditional sense, we have the special task of connecting the world to the Church, and the Church to the world in roles that serve others.  But Deacons are not alone in that Call.  Anyone who follows Jesus is Called.   And although it can be shaped in so many different ways, at the heart of our Calling, we are still continuing that intimate ministry of service, demonstrated by the Savior who takes a special moment with each disciple simply to wash dirty feet.

It's ordinary.

It ain't glamorous.

But Jesus honors it as ministry close to His heart.  So everytime one of us as His disciples serves someone He loves, He honors it.  And He multiplies it. 

I think the message in the moment is that everytime we pick up the towel to serve, He is there.  In our love poured out, in the face of the ones we are waiting upon.

The work of mommies and daddies counts.  All those tasks that seem so insignificant in the grand scheme of things (getting little teeth brushed, dressing wiggly bodies, washing sweaty heads, fixing fast dinners, getting those wide-eyed wonders in bed)  is love being poured out on another life He loves.  The work of loving a husband or wife counts. All those small encouragements are not insignificant, given to this one who walks each day beside us, prayers prayed in hard circumstances, the unseen ways we prop that precious one up when gravity keeps pulling them down. The work of teaching counts.  All those passing minutes that require delicate patience and creative communication so that little ones learn to love learning are not wasted.   The work of plumbing, , and banking, and principal-ing, and writing, and computer science-ing, and farming, and . . . and . . . and . . . it goes on and on into every nook and cranny of ordinary we occupy.  Each day that we go into the unglamorous world of making a living, yet do it with hearts willing to serve, not for the recognition but because others need it, we are Counted by the One who was initially dis-counted and hung on a cross.  Hanging out on the low end of the totem pole counts, because that is where Jesus counts Himself, and that is where we have opportunity to serve Him the most.  When no one is looking.  When the world would not count it as impressive at all.

Jesus counts it as Holy.