Monday, July 30, 2012

The Open Road

I don't want to
walk a path
of varnished wisdom--
pretty to look at
at first glance--
but no real character.

I don't want to
offer a perspective
that diminishes problems by
providing easy answers
that cost me nothing--

I want my life to offer
Something Real
insights from answers
that cost me everything--
that still leave gaping holes
ready for redemption

Tell me the answers
you live when
what you bring to the table
is not nearly enough
but Grace reveals itself
in the living

Oh I see now how

Living in the
unresolved tension,
faith building muscle
on the daily treadmill
of trying to see a purpose
in things so hard
is actually valuable

This road teaches humlity

And resourcefulness--

Because there is a daily saving grace--
the small kindness of
a life unfolding with invitations
to JOY
written all over--
still the mess, yes
yet joyful

Oh I want to
open wide my arms
to the all of it

And safeguard my heart
against narrowness,
a life meanly lived
empty of compassion
for lack of vulnerability

On this road
I allow my heart
to feel the fulness
to walk in paths
I would not readily choose

So that compassion becomes
the tread of my shoes

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chocolate Breakfast

I love how my little one sneaks chocolate for breakfast. 

I first noticed it last week.  Tim had alreadly left for work; Jeremiah was the only one awake besides me.  I left him to watch cartoons in the living room while I went to get showered after a morning run.  Soon I was putting the final touches on my outfit when Isaiah comes in and announces Jeremiah's plundering of the pantry.  Sure enough, when I arrive on scene there are chocolate streaks across his little mouth and a nice pile of aluminum on the ottoman.

On the outside I show proper parental disapproval.  On the inside I'm taking notes.  Life is too short and too full of hard things to not have moments of ridiculous joy on purpose.

How do we do that?  How do we enter into ridiculous joy on a regular basis?  Can I just be really confessional and say that it's hard for me at times.  Sometimes I am so preoccupied with all the stuff that's wrong that I forget to focus on all the stuff that's right.  And there are some really right things in my life.  All kinds of invitations to be overflowingly grateful and joyous.

Like being able to take my boys downtown to the fountain to let them play.  On the way home Isaiah says, "Noah, I had so much fun with you."  My heart does a flip-flop of love at the sound of those words.

And then there was our sleepover in the living room floor.  We pulled out an old movie, popped some popcorn, and nestled in together for a mid-summer adventure.  And when the movie was over we all settled in for the night sleeping on the living room floor.

This morning I had a powerful reminder of the life I once lived, full of making a difference in the lives of young adults.  It was sweet.  And hard.  I asked God why I wasn't making that kind of difference anymore. 

And then He reminded me that He is giving me the opportunity to make a difference in my own home.  And chocolate breakfasts, fountain play dates, and living room sleepovers are important business in the life of my kids.  Someday they will remember these times and tell their own children about the "good old days."  And my presence will be right in the middle of each memory they share.

I only get to be Mommy to my own little boys for just a swift moment. 

I want to get it right.  And the only way to do that is to be right here.  Right now.  Ridiculously right.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is This the Right Door?

Apparently while you are training to be a minister it is actually important to practice being a minister.  While I was in seminary each student was expected to complete several semesters of field education.  I remember at the time what a quandry it was.  I had to find something.  It was a requirement of the journey I was on. 

The seminary was situated across the street from the University of Kentucky.  I remember trudging my way across the campus to find UK's Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist Campus Ministry.  I was making a cold call, so to speak.  Because I had such a great experience at my own Wesley Foundation when I was in college, I thought maybe I could volunteer at this one.  Perfect plan, right?  Who would refuse free labor?  And sure enough, when I met with the campus minister, explaining my need for a field education experience as well as my hopes to fulfill it by becoming a part of ministry there, he was very supportive.  I left that office feeling like I checked an important box off my "do this to graduate" list.  My summer was flooded with relief.

Until the fall semester began.

When I showed up for the first meeting, it was obvious that no one had remembered I was supposed to be there.  The only explanation that made sense was that I wasn't. 

What I did not realize at the time was that God was getting ready to open a door for me Himself.  The church where Tim's dad pastored needed a youth pastor.  The position paid $100 a week, as well as milage.  And each weekend that Tim and I traveled to Leitchfield for me to work with the youth, we returned to Lexington with a trunk full of food Tim's mom cooked so that we could eat.  We were so poor those first two years of marriage as I finished seminary.  I am convinced that Nanny and Pop's generous hospitality are what made the difference for us.

I return to that memory often. 

I consider how things might have been, if my own plans had been manifest.  We would have missed out on God's desperately needed provision.  And the ministry lessons I learned while there are priceless.  I just had no way of knowing that God was getting ready to work in my behalf.  I believe the same truth permeates our lives today.  For me it means doing the best I can with the information available.  I believe God honors that.  That He sees us trying to do our best, trying to follow Him the best we can.  I believe that He allows us to do our best and then He shows us HIS best so that we can see the difference.  So I live my life trusting that God's best is able to break into my reality at any moment.  My step of faith is to then relinquish my own ideas and plans to yield to His.  I have to trust that God's mercy is bigger than my attempts to make everything fall into place.  When things get jumbled and bumbled because my best cannot pull us through, I have to trust that God not only can, but will, straighten things out so that His Glory shines through.  And when my heart is mangled and tangled, I have to trust that He can unravel what I've done with good intentions and set things right.

In this uncertain journey called life, the best we can do is to step out in faith, doing what we genuinely believe is the next right thing.  When we do it prayerfully, asking for guidance and provision, we simply have to go with what we got, and then trust God to rearrange when necessary.  I'm trusting Him to do this.  In mercy and love.  Closing doors that need closing, and opening just the right one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Goin on a God Hunt. Scared?

The other day in Bible study one of our participants was speaking of the fear of God in her life.  She spoke of the holy reverence that she feels.  I have been sitting with my own thoughts and feelings about such a phrase--fear of God.

In my life's journey, fear has been a dominant player, from early on.  The fear of loss a constant in my growing up years, wondering who would leave next.  In my early faith life my fear was always about trying to keep God from leaving.  If I could just be good enough, maybe the thing I feared most wouldn't happen.

I don't fear God in that way anymore, as One who watches everything I do, watching for that moment I will mess up, ready to head for the door.  I remember the day my whole perspective changed.  I was sitting in church, racked with guilt for something I had done or had left undone.  In my heart I was pleading with God to forgive me, begging Him for mercy.  And I felt these words pass across my heart, an aching Question:  "What kind of monster do you think I Am?"

I am no longer afraid of God. 

God is my hiding place, my refuge.  My only fear of Him is that He is really into character development.  He is relentless in His pursuit of Godly Holiness in our lives.  And no matter how gentle and loving He is, He never relents from ushering us into those places of growth and refinement, and oh how the Fire that Refines hurts.  That's what I fear:  that the God of the universe is so interested in my character that He never backs down from taking me places I would rather not go when that is exactly what His Holiness in my life demands.

But my "fear" of Him is exactly why I am not afraid of Him.

It is this Psalm that explains what I feel most deeply:
As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.  For he knows how we are made; he remembers that we are dust  (Psalm 103:13-14).

He is more acquainted with my dustiness than I am.  When I cry out to Him in painful circumstances--He gets it.  When I look at the mess of  my life and cannot for the life of me figure out how to solve it--He gets it.  He gets my inadequacies and my heartaches and my fear of failing and my insecurities and my wondering how in the world this will ever get better.  He gets it.  He gets that I want to give up and give in because I feel so small in the face of the needs that surround me.  He gets it.

And He has compassion.  Even as He leads me on a path through the mess, the unresolved tension, the circumstances that demand answers I don't have and cannot give, He has compassion.  Can't go around it.  Can't go under it.  Have to go through it.  And even in the pain of walking this path that Oh God this is so hard and lonely and impossible!!!!! He has such sweet and deep compassion.  Even as He insists I keep going.

Monday, July 16, 2012


It's that time again!  VBS--yeah!  If you are not familiar with those initials, it is Vacation Bible School.  It's one of those things that is so big, so involved, that I dread it until it gets here; and then once I'm in the middle of it, steeped in the middle of the energy of it, I'm like YEAH! VBS ROCKS!!!  I can't lie.  I do love it.

I love the singing.  I love the dancing.  I love the silliness.  I love how God comes alive in the imagination of a sea of children who experience His BIGNESS in the middle of a whole bunch of fun.  I think this is what church should be like all the time.  But the thing that gets me is how God always times it with a message that goes straight to my heart.

Take for instance this year's theme:  Zapped.  It's all about how "God wants to do something with me that's bigger than just me." 

It's crazy to me how the circumstances of my life intersect with a children's VBS message that nails my great need on the head.  I'm at a crossroads.  I need to know that my life still has significance.  I need to know that God still has plans for me.  And then I show up for VBS.

It's not really crazy at all; it's the Holy Spirit. 

I am always amazed at how God aligns everything with such timing, to get all the people who need the Word in the right place at the right time for the right thing.  And we scratch our heads and wonder who's been peaking into our private thoughts--that the answer to our delimnas are plastered in the song that our kids are jumping and dancing and singing out loud with all their might?  Who can do that but God?

The thing that stuns me even more than this, is that when God sends forth His Word it is not just a singular word, even though it feels deeply personal.  There are many who hear it at the same time and know it was Spoken just for them.  Only God can do this.  I've heard it said that in God's economy nothing is wasted.  But it's also true that in God's economy everything is SUPER-SIZED!

And so I am spending my week getting Zapped!  Yay!

I praise God for Zapped--
I praise God for the opportunity to laugh and sing and dance and be crazy for His Glory--
I praise God that I get to be steeped in His Presence in the middle of a whole bunch of kids--
I praise God that I get to see my own children experience His Grace and share His Love with their friends--
I praise God that we are never too old to hear the old, old Story in new and wonderful ways!

Tomorrow night is pajama night!  Oh Yeah!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


The house is so quiet.  My sweet husband took the boys with him to the grocery store, to give me a few moments of peace on my birthday.  Did I mention it was my birthday?  Oh, and not just any birthday.  Today I turn 40.

My uncle sent me an email this morning congratulating me, and then told me that 40 is the new 30, so I could just tell people I'm thirty today.  But I think it is significant, special, to reach this milestone.  I will not shrink back from my age.  Those years have been hard earned.  I have made up my mind to love 40.

More than that, I love the meaning of 40.  It seems to be one of God's favorite numbers.  When He made it rain on Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights.  When Moses fled to the wilderness as a fugitive, God had him shepherd Jethro's sheep for 40 years.  When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they rested in that same wilderness for 40 years.  When Jesus came out of His baptismal waters the Spirit drove Him into the desert for 40 days.  I've decided that if God thinks enough of 40 to include it in His story over and over, I will think highly of it too.

I believe God gave me an early gift last week on the mountain, to take home with me.  It was the last morning we spent there.  We were all scrubbed and brushed and packed and loaded and ready to go.  As a family we were to sit in on a casual praise and prayer service before leaving.  I mentioned to Tim I wanted to walk the prayer labyrinth before our departure.  Since we were early for that morning service on the mountain he encouraged me to go ahead.

Situated by the lake, next to a small chapel, the labyrinth path winds round and round.  It looks like a maze, but it is really one path.  As I entered I felt a holy nudge to breathe deep, and then take off my shoes.  Yes, Lord.  Feet flopping in a circuitous trench, stepping over and around goose droppings, I began to wonder of the wisdom of such obedience.  And then the images and stories came to mind.  Moses on a mountain, staring in wonder at a burning bush, burning yet not burning up, not burning away.  Don't things burn readily in dry places?  And yet nothing burns without also being consumed.  And it is this attention to such a stunning yet obscure detail that draws him close to the Presence of the Almighty.  Almighty says to him, "Take off your shoes; THIS IS HOLY GROUND."

I walk.  Purposefully.  Aware of the limitation of time, the morning dew kissing my feet and smearing it with trodden path grime.  God says to me, "Take off your shoes."  And I become aware that the ground He is calling me to walk in reverence has nothing to do with the mountain I am standing on but everything to do with the life He has given me.  It is significant to me that God did not speak such a Holy Word to Moses the deliverer.  God spoke so boldly to Moses the shepherd.  And God did not speak such a Holy Word to Sami the one I will be, but to Sami as I am now:  the mother of small boys; the wife of an assistant principal; the preschool teacher; the writer with a only a blog to show for it.  And God says to me here and now, when spectacular is the last word anyone would choose to describe me:  "TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES."

God has His reasons. 

I am so full of love for Him.  I love Him.  Not that I do it well, but my heart is only happy when He is the biggest part of it.  And I am so full of the wonder of the significance of this number 40, that I made it this far, that I am a woman I like keeping company with, that I've learned so much in all those years of living, that nothing in me wants to give up anymore, that I want to live the next 40 as fully and even better than I did the first.  And I think of all these things and decide that 40 for me is not so much about asking God for something as much as it is feeling like "how can I not give Him something for helping me make it to here?"  What do you give the God of the universe?  I call God "God" so much, and Father, that I forget it is God the Almighty Holiness that speaks these words to me.  So I decide, and oh this is so hard to do, I decide to give Him my trust.  Oh God I choose to trust You.  With the next 40 years of course.  But more significantly with the next 4 minutes.  With the next 4 hours.  With the next 4 weeks.  With the next 4 years.  It's harder to give that kind of radical trust in smaller increments isn't it?

When Moses took off his shoes it was the first step in a journey that would change his everything forever.  I believe when we take of ours such a gesture has the power to do the same thing.   Not because of anything extraordinary about our circumstances, but because the HOLY permeates the mundane ground we walk on. Because it is a recognition that ALMIGHTY is with us.  ALMIGHTY knows us and calls us by name.  ALMIGHTY is situating our life around a HOLY FIRE that will thoroughly light our lives, but will not consume us.  Instead it will illumine a journey that brings us to purpose, meaning, fulfillment.  So that our consumation is the joy of being alive.  And the world will be forever different because we did. 

My dear family has just walked in the door, busy with the hustle and bustle of a birthday dinner to prepare.   Gratitude and joy wafting in with the noise of little boys.  Oh God, You are so good.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mountain Calling

Our vacation was in the mountains.  I enjoyed our time there.  We went on some good adventures.  Well, as adventurous as you can get with a two year old.  It was a struggle for me in some ways.  The last time I came I was still a campus minister.  I was attending a ministry conference.  This year it's just me as mom.  No ministry to return to.  No ministry conference to attend.  I've wrestled with feelings that have caught me by surprise.  But what I've discovered beneath the anguish is a longing to be in ministry again.  I could not say this a year ago when all I wanted to do was hide in my kitchen and heal my weary heart. 

It is significant to me that I'm dreaming again.  I have dreams for myself again.  I dream of writing.  I dream of bringing good news to weary souls.  I dream of speaking hope into life stories longing to be free.  Ultimately I dream of being a megaphone for Jesus.  Letting Him lead and shape and voice a Word that sets captives free.  I know what captivity feels like.  And freedom is so much sweeter.  I want to share the goodness I've found.  I want to share the Good One who found me.  Ministry may look different in my dreams than it did before, but it is still a calling of my heart.

We've been staying in one of my favorite destinations on earth:  Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains.  Lake Junaluska is a camp and conference center for the United Methodist Church.  The first time I visited I was employed as a summer youth intern for a youth group in Florida.  We were on our Sr. High summer youth trip, and I was one of the counselors.  We were attending Youth Week at the Lake, a time set apart for young people to grow deeper in their experience of Jesus, surrounded by other young people, engaged in meaningful and fun experiences that nurture their souls.  On the last night all the youth walk together to the giant cross at the top of the hill, lit up, looking across the Lake.  We shared what the time had meant to us, how God had moved.   It was a powerful week.  At the closing worship the following morning, they had an altar call.  But this altar call was not just for people who wanted to accept Jesus.  It was also for those who were feeling the nudge to answer a call to ministry.  And when the invitation came, my feet moved.  I was a 20 year old college student at the time.  It was the beginning of journey that would change my life completely.

Through the years I have returned to the Lake.  In the past I would attend a ministry conference while my family would hang out at the pool.  Then in the afternoons we would enjoy excursions into the mountains.  And at night we would walk to the illuminated cross overlooking the water.  Just as the Celtic Christians of ancient Ireland identified holy places in their own landscape, Lake Junaluska is a "thin place" for me.  I feel most keenly the presence of God there.  I always feel a renewed invitation to follow Jesus.  This time it pinged within my soul, stinging as I realized a desire I thought was gone was still very much alive.  I miss ministry.  I miss it.  I don't want to go back to where I was.  But I  have new hopes for what could be. 

What surprised me was the ferocity of desire that I thought had gone.  Indeed desire is very much alive.  Transformed.  Molded to fit a new life.  But full and overflowing my heart.

I think of how each of us are made.  We are made to live as passionately as the the God who made us.  Great Disruptions can cause us to pause, to put a hold on our dreams.  But it is only a pause.  Though we don't realize it at the time.  God is always doing a new thing in us.  I think the new thing is the renewal of the core of our desires.  He works creatively within our circumstances to bring it to authentic expression, over and over again.  He surprises us with resurrected opportunities where we thought vibrant living was over.  And so I found that my inner frustration was not such a bad thing in this pilgrimage to the Lake.  Indeed it was a good thing, because it pointed me beyond this moment to future moments brimming with possibility.  My life isn't over.  My adventure has really just begun and everything else was just preparation.  That shiny cross on the hill, peering over restless waters, still speaks a greater Word over my life than closed chapters.  This is hope.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


I like coming to the mountains.  It makes me feel close to my ancestors.  Sounds cheesy huh?  It’s the truth.  My Cherokee blood line can be traced through my mother.  Her mother’s lineage is registered with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and through her both myself and my sons are registered as well.  I am so thankful.  So thankful.  My mother’s father also had significant “Indian blood,” but his Native American roots were never registered.  The story that has been handed down says that there was a day when the government came to the elementary schools asking which students had Indian blood.  It was not something a child wanted to admit.  Being Indian was looked down upon.  So my grandfather’s aunt just sat there.  The other children teased her, saying "You know you have Indian blood in you."  Her reply was, “I don’t have enough to hurt.”  The stigma of being different stung too much to embrace a disappearing heritage.  My mother used to say that my grandfather didn’t have the right papers, but all you had to do was take a look at him.

So I like coming to the mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, where the Cherokee people first lived.  Where a remnant live still.  There have been a couple of moments when I have quietly slipped off my shoes, to walk barefoot on the ground.  I imagine my feet passing over the earth that the Cherokee people walked hundreds of years ago.  I imagine walking in their steps.  I do this quietly.  It would be a hard thing to explain.  But to me it is holy ground.  People travel across the world to walk where Jesus walked.  For me it is holy to remember where I came from.  I believe it is a gift.  Just as the Cherokee people believed the land to be a gift from the Great Spirit.

A couple of days ago we visited the Cherokee Museum.  It tells the story of the Cherokee people from their earliest beginnings.  The biggest part of the museum is dedicated to their forced removal from their homes in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky to Oklahoma, what has become known as the Trail of Tears.  At first all resisted the removal, but  eventually three responses emerged.  The first were those who sold their land to the government for five million dollars and received land in the West.  These were the first to go.  They were deemed traitors by their own people for “selling their birthright.”  Then there were those who fought with every legal means they could, resisting to the very end.  They even received the backing of the Supreme Court.  But the legal proceedings allowing them to stay were ignored, and they were forced to leave anyway.  Their journey to Oklahoma resulted in four to eight thousand deaths.  This journey is what is known now as the Trail of Tears.  The final group are those who fled into the hills, hiding out to escape capture.  These eventually formed what is known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, who reside in the Qualla Boundary, or Cherokee, North Carolina, today.

Here’s the thing that speaks to me.  After all the anguish, turmoil, and disruptive circumstances that the Cherokee people experienced, they still survived.  Their stories are still alive.  Their culture still undergirds  each new generation that emerges.  I am struck by the Grace and Mercy of their survival.  Because my life has its own upheavals.  It seems that I am constantly surprised to find new ways that upheaval has shaped the life I live now.  But the Hope that I find in the people of my ancestors is that the Story still continues.  They are not gone.  I’m not either.

My story continues.  I have no idea how or what shape it will take.  I just know that it will be a story worth telling, a story worth hearing.  I know that years from now when I look back on my life I will see the Hand of Mercy guiding and directing my steps, leading me faithfully through, bringing me to a place where all the mismatched pieces come together for a beautiful and satisfying conclusion.  There will be a day when it all makes sense.  And I will walk barefoot through the memories of my own life and be grateful.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

As the Journey Unfolds

On Sunday Pastor Rick preached on what it means to follow Christ.  He spoke of it in terms of a journey, not something that is obvious from the beginning, but something that unfolds along the way. 

It sounds so beautiful, a journey that unfolds along the way.  It sounds poetic, scenic, spiritual.  But living it?  Is life really like that?  Ever?  In anything but in hindsight?  I can make every moment sound poetic, scenic, and spiritual looking back on it.  It’s the going through it that is so rough.  Poetry fails me then.  It’s hard to wax eloquent with sweat and fear dripping  from the brow, anxiety settled in the gut--when everything feels uncertain and meaning takes its time announcing itself. 

Before our pastor announced the benediction he prayed a blessing on the coming week we would walk through.  It struck me that this is the week we spend in the mountains, to me one of the holiest places on earth.  I had no idea then how much I would need a benediction—a good Word to go out on.  All times past I have traveled up the mountain for spiritual replenishment, always taking the form of a conference, a ministry event.  This week it is just me, here and present, with my precious family.  I am wistful.  On the one hand I love being here with everyone and free to spend the whole day on our vacation adventure.  On the other hand I feel a bit lost without the meetings.  Not so much the time spent away, but the content that has a way of reframing my current context and gives purpose and direction for the year ahead. 

The only thing that comes to mind as I try to make sense of the lostness I feel is a conversation Tim and I had a few months ago.  We were in the car (we always have our best conversations in the car, or on a hiking trail, something about journeys) talking about life and where we are right now.  I was talking about how discombobulated I felt, trying to figure out how to reclaim my equilibrium.  As I thought out loud, I mentioned that maybe what I needed was to go on a silent retreat.  Before I had children, when I was working in a full-time ministry, I would do this, spending three days alone in complete silence.  After children I would go away for 24 hours, and eventually just for the day.  But I always got away and reconnected with Jesus—just me and Him without the distractions of the world butting in.  As I was explaining this to my sweet husband, he looks at me and says, “I know why you can’t get away.”  I replied, “I know, I just haven’t made it a priority.  I just have to find a way to make it happen.  He says, “No, that’s not it.  And this is from God, it’s not me talking.  The reason you haven’t gotten away is because your ministry is now to those who can’t get away.  If you’re really going to minister to them you have to find a way to connect to God without it.”  After he said it, I knew he was completely right.

Doesn’t make living it any easier.

The Grace in his statement is that it assures me that a God connection is indeed possible.  Just knowing the thing I am hungry for is possible gives me hope.  God knows me.  God knows I am aching for Him.  God knows I need Him, here, especially.  He knows.  And He is available.  Even if that availability comes in a form I haven’t discovered.

Oh this unfolding journey will be the life of me yet.