"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Emerson

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On birds falling out of the sky and superheroes who never come home...

When news spreads of birds falling out of the sky and superheroes never returning home after routine training, social media shows a genuine outpouring of love for those who receive the worst news of their lives. But usually after a few days, it’s business as usual and most of the world carries on as if nothing happens. Yet for those who hold the title military wife, every broadcast of tragedy striking our armed forces family, something different happens.

You see the life we lead as those who said I do to a man in a uniform comes with challenges. Many of which those who chose a banker or a lawyer or a football coach as a spouse could take a guess at. The goodbyes. The uncertainty. The single parenting. The moves. Most people can find empathy for those living this lifestyle.

But underneath is another layer of hard that many don’t truly understand until you’ve lived it and how with every newsflash of loss plastered across our Facebook pages, something happens in the soul of a military wife. I’ve done this for over 12 years now and I can honestly say, it never gets easier. When the words crash and casualties are uttered, my hearts stops beating. Because every one of us has been holding our breaths ever since our man said the other most important vow he has ever made. We all stopped breathing when he promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Most people think that if he is home, a girl can breathe a little easier. But those of us in this life know that preparing for war is no safer than the actual battle. Accidents happen in training. Or perhaps, some think, once he drops to reserve status, then we can finally exhale. But planes crash flown by reservists as well as active duty pilots. And so we walk through this world feeling kind of faint every time the door slams shuts when he leaves for work and we secretly wonder if he will ever walk back in. We feel so deeply the loss of those in our community, perhaps even more so than those outside, because we know at any moment, it could be our turn.

Most of us, I suppose, see this as the greatest curse of this life. The fact that we never know what tomorrow holds and we never know when our goodbye is forever. But, after walking alongside Rick in his twenty years in the Marine Corps, I can honestly say this has been the biggest blessing. Our civilian friends can sometimes pretend that they have control over their lives and they can believe it until tragedy awakes them from a slumber and they find out it isn’t true. But as death has encroached on our inner circle throughout the years, we get the stark reminder that every moment is a gift and every goodbye should be given as if it were the last. When you face up to the fact that your husband has chosen a career in which statistically there is a chance of him never coming home, you get real cognizant of the fact that time is precious. And every moment matters. You learn what it truly means to number your days. Slowly, but surely you see the unimportant, the trivial, and the minutia stripped away in how you spend your time together, what words you choose and even what you fight about. Sometimes you forget of course, but then lightning strikes and you get reminded once again. Are these the words I want to be our last? It’s a sobering question and perhaps a bit morbid, but it is the one we must ask ourselves daily.

I struggled the first several years of our marriage with a debilitating fear of losing Rick. I would look at the clock, estimate when his helicopter should be touching the ground, and call incessantly until I heard his voice. There have been countless nights when I didn’t get a call and I would convince myself in the darkness of the night that this was it, this was what I was afraid of. Only to feel like a complete fool when I finally heard the sound of his voice and an explanation that his phone had died or he had extra paperwork that night. The hardest part for my kind is that we see ourselves and our loves in every heartbreaking loss. We know that it can feel like we are just playing a game of Russian roulette and there is not much but perhaps luck or an act of God that separates us from knocks at the door by two uniformed CACO officers.  

People want to know what to do in these moments to help those impacted by such pain, but perhaps more importantly, is what we do to help in the moments in between. There is nothing more dangerous than being alone and a mind full of fears in the dailyness of military living. It wears and tears so deeply on a soul. So, how do you help the military wife next door?

1.       Recognize that she doesn’t feel any safer when her husband is “just away at training” compared to a deployment. She can be struggling with the same fears because military training is always meant to imitate the real thing. Don’t show support only during a deployment. She needs it at all times.

2.       Know what to do when you see a news story about something happening to a military member. DO NOT call and ask her if her husband is ok. Be careful what you post on social media that connects names. Too many women have found out that something is wrong by a well-intentioned phone call from a friend or even someone far more removed from her inner circle, like a realtor. If you’re not ready to be the bearer of bad news, don’t pick up the phone or share the article on Facebook. Pray until you hear from those potentially affected by a mishap.

3.       An anxious mind coupled with loneliness can breed all sorts of frightening scenarios. The night seems to only exacerbate it. Offer to come over with a favorite movie and some cookie dough. Silence can be stifling. You don’t have to make it sound like a pity party, but let her know that you can understand that nights can be lonely and you’d love to provide her with some adult conversation (especially if she is a mama) and caloric distractions.

4.       Teach her what it means to place her husband in God’s hands. Model it. I distinctly remember at the height of my anxiety at the thought of losing Rick, God said, Ok, if it happens, then what? I was taken aback by His line of questioning and I replied, well, I’d be completely broken and I probably wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. To which he responded, then what? I thought about it for a few days and thought, well, eventually I guess I’d get out of bed and try to care for my kids. We continued this back and forth until I came to see His point. I’d be utterly devastated. My world would never be the same. But, like so many of my friends who have had their lives turned upside down by grief, life would continue on. Never in the same way. But, God would carry me through each step. It’s an overwhelming reality to confront the fragility of this life, but it is one we all, military or not, will at some point encounter in our journey. We cannot cling to those in our lives as if they’re ours to begin with and that we fully understand the master plan. I am thoroughly convinced that it’s only through a deep relationship with God, knowing Him and starting to unravel His love for us that we can learn to accept and even embrace the pain of this life. I know so many military wives who struggle with this. They need older women, women more mature in their faith, couples who can be like parents or grandparents away from home, pouring into their lives on a daily basis to teach them this kind of trust that places its most prized possessions into the hands of a good and loving Father.

Military wife can really feel more like tightrope walker. It can feel like you’re just trying to keep it all together, balancing perfectly, so as not to completely fall. The fears, the uncertainty, and the reminder that with each kiss that sends our guy off there is a sister next to us who will never say hello again can keep us feeling like we are walking on a wire while holding our breath. It means at times we can be flakey friends, whose schedules seem to revolve around the United States Marine Corps’ plan for our man. Know that doesn’t mean we love you any less, but just that we have to take advantage of every single moment we have together. Because every few months, another story will rock our world and leave us dangling off the edge of that tightrope. And because birds fall out of the sky and superheroes never return home sometimes.


Monday, June 19, 2017

On feeling alone in our connected world

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my little sister about seasons in life and how there are times when we can start to feel so alone, even in the midst of being surrounded by people on a regular basis. Life comes in seasons and friends can enter and leave our lives. It’s funny because as she was sharing her heart on some things about friendships and how hard it can be to feel truly known and seen, I was echoing the same sentiments back. After one of my very best friends moved several years ago, I've struggled to find that in an everyday way. Almost fifteen years separate my sister and me, but we both have been wrestling with similar feelings of disconnection.

A few days later, I was teaching on the book of Galatians and a part came up about if you catch your brother in sin, and we talked about how that verse wasn’t meaning like “caught you red handed,” but rather, if you see someone struggling, drowning, ensnared or entangled in something and they need help getting out of it, you help restore them to the cross. I posed the question do you have people in your life, who know you intimately enough on a regular basis that they could even notice if you were entangled in a sin? The resounding answer, from a survey of women at different life stages and ages was no. I asked if anyone felt someone knew them to the point where they had permission to even speak to those places of struggle and sin and again, the answer was no.

And then a few days after that, I got a message from a friend that a mutual friend of ours had passed away in a very traumatic way. While there are more questions than there are answers and the investigation is ongoing, I couldn’t help but wonder how perhaps a pervasive sense of loneliness played a part in her last days on this earth.

We are the most connected generation, yet we feel more alone than ever. A study done last year found that 72%, almost ¾ of its respondents, felt lonely. An “invisible epidemic” intensified by our time spent on social media, which gives such a false sense of connection. We’ve replaced real interactions with fake ones, phone calls with scrolls. And at the end of the day, we are hurting because of it.

I think about how we all play the victim in this while also playing the perpetrator. Communities of times long ago did the majority of their daily lives together. Meals were prepared and shared together. Children were raised together. Life was lived together. Instead, today we find ourselves always going yet never really getting anywhere. Crossing the paths of so many people on any given day, yet not seeing anyone, not truly at least.

I think our issue is we’ve exchanged depth of relationships for breadth. We’ve allowed our schedules and our lifestyles to weave superficially in and out of the lives of many without the power of profound connection with a few. We sign our kids up for everything, giving us thirty minutes to one hour of surface level interactions with a wide range of people. We are involved in so many circles and spend small bits of time with several groups of people. We fill every empty crevice on the calendar for activities in which we may intermingle with many and yet at the end of the day, we feel empty and alone. Unseen. Unheard. Unknown.

It’s not that we don’t have friends. Check our Facebook page, we have hundreds of them. It’s the fact that relationships, meaningful ones at least, require the one commodity we aren’t always willing to give up: time. It’s the fact that we feel busy and therefore, we project onto others that they feel the same way, too. So, we don’t want to bother, we don’t want to impose, we don’t want to disrupt their regularly scheduled programing. And yet, they are feeling the same way, too. Busy yet alone.

The days come and go and we enter into garages and shut the door until the next day begins and we enter the same rat race as the day before. We busy ourselves with the things we think are priorities, things we think will help our kids or ourselves in reaching some sort of next level of achievement when perhaps the things we all need most is time with people who can know us on such an intimate level that they notice when we are hurting or when we are struggling or when we just can’t even.

We recognize this. We have changed language in our circles and talk about our tribe. But, the question is do we ever do the things that will give us depth over breadth, that will help us to truly experience the implications of a true tribe? Do we sit and look at the calendar and start subtracting instead of multiplying the demands, responsibilities and to do’s? Do we make the phone calls instead of a Facebook message? Do we invite over into our messy, imperfect lives and create a space for connection to be had? Do we show up for plans or do we flake out when a seemingly better offer comes along? Do we sit alone, waiting for things to become Pinterest worthy and wishing for something that we have always had the power to construct?

I’ve got a lot of awesome friends and many who I share very real moments of depth with, but yet there are times when I walk through this place and I can’t help but feel alone in it all. I can scroll social media and wonder why wasn’t I included? Or they are too busy for me. Or some other excuse that keeps me from what I long for, from reaching out, from inviting in. It takes a lot of intentional time to have the kind of relationships that make you feel seen and heard and known. It requires a certain amount of vulnerability to let people know the tangled mess your sin or your heartache has you in. It can scare us when we can’t perfectly curate our lives like we can in a single post on Instagram.

Ultimately our goal, I’ve come to realize, is to be fully known and fully loved. It’s been our desire since the garden and yet our shame in our nakedness will keep us searching for cover instead of welcoming exposure.

What do we do though? How do we stop this crazy train from spinning and spiraling and getting us nowhere?

I love this post by Jennie Allen recently:
Do you want deeper friends?
Do you feel left out?
Here is a secret about all my closest friends.... they need me and they show it and tell me that all the time. Impose yourself upon people. Assume they want to be your friend. Need things from others and assume they want to help!
Make your neighbor run to the mall with you.
Borrow the rake instead of Amazon prime it.
Save a seat at church for someone.
Swap childcare instead of hiring a sitter.
Ask a friend to tag along to chemo with you.
Tell someone you need a training partner for a race.
Ask for advice.
We lead independent lonely lives- and we don't want to bother people so we don't and we wonder why we don't have friends. Pick up pizza and pop by a friend's house tonight. If they are busy... worst case scenario- you have leftovers.

Risk. Need. Bother. It's called community.
I wonder if we will risk coming off as desperate or alone so that we can finally find what we’ve been looking for? We often think it requires making a commitment to so many, but even Jesus recognized the finite limitation of time and relational bandwidth. He had the twelve who knew Him, but then He had the three. What if we started there? Three lives we’d agree to invest in and who would agree to invest back. Three people we’d allow to see the underbelly of our everyday on a regular, consistent basis. What if we exchanged a computer screen or an iPhone for a real life, old fashioned conversation? What if we just started with three simple words: come with me? I wonder if we’d become a generation that would know what it is to be fully known and fully loved.
"One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."-Proverbs 18:24

Until next time,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On sobbing in Walmart and the Executive Order on Refugees...

(My kids and a few refugee friends playing together a few years ago)
This afternoon, I sat at my computer and began to craft a pretty intense rebuttal to all the arguments being tossed around about the Executive Order issued that has halted the US Refugee Admission Program. Reasons why it matters that our current administration has put a stop on refugee resettlement for the next few months. Reasons why it matters that his executive order will be cutting the numbers of refugees allowed to rebuild their lived in this country in half. Reasons why these actions come from unfounded fears and with no empirical evidence to support them. Statistics and resources from reputable sources who are actually actively engaged in refugee resettlement instead of merely slanted news source. I’ve laid this argument out time and time again with facts in other writings, but I was going to try to do it again.  But, then I had to step away from writing to go don a pretend happy face and do some church stuff, with intentions to come home after and pick up right where I left off.

However after all that, I found myself sitting late at night in the parking lot of Walmart sobbing uncontrollably on the phone with my mom, in a way that I have never really cried before. It was almost visceral. I managed to somehow get it together and head inside, only to find myself sobbing in the middle of the frozen food section. At Walmart. At 9:30pm. And I started to pray and asked God what in the world was going on with me and why was I so upset and immediately, the words of a song came to mind:

Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen, Show me how to love like you have loved me, Break my heart for what breaks you, everything I am for your kingdom cause, As I walk from earth into eternity. (Hosanna, Hillsong)

It may not seem significant that those words popped into my mind the exact moment I was having an emotional breakdown in the Walmart, but to me, it was. Because, you see, I have the pages of prayer journal after prayer journal of those lyrics as the cry of my heart, literally written verbatim in the form of a prayer to my God.

My weeping wasn’t the result of the fact that I’ve been exhaustingly trying to explain the facts on this situation and why it should matter to Christians. Why we as believers should be outraged and vocal on this issue. It wasn’t because of the arguments erupting on Facebook and comments on my posts and seeing the beliefs of my friends play out on social media. It wasn’t because I’ve felt very lonely and raw the last 24 hours as I’ve tried to speak up for the poor and defenseless. It wasn’t even because the US Refugee Program is being threatened in such a profound way. It’s because God was answering my prayer. My heart is absolutely breaking, shattering for what breaks His. And one of the things that breaks His is when His children act out of fear, aligning themselves more so with a political orientation than a heavenly one. And so, He told me to write. My heart has no intention of shaming any fellow sister or brother in Christ. My prayer is that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God that is sharper than any sword or tongue or even, pen, I can perhaps be used to be a tool of conviction for any Christian who is in support of the current restrictions on refugee resettlement in America.

Here’s the thing. In our lives, living in this world, being in it, yet not of it, we are going to face times when we have to decide what systems of belief supersede other systems of beliefs when they are in conflict. Many Christians are spouting off rhetoric and arguments and logic that doesn’t align with their confession of faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but rather, in their belief and alignment with a political party. Stop. You, sister and brother in Jesus, are not called to follow a political party. You are called to follow Jesus Christ.

Let’s ask the most important question in this argument for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, where would Jesus land here when it comes to refugees?

Honestly, the amount of scripture that shows God is wholeheartedly about followers of Him, caring for the persecuted and marginalized of this world, is abundant. In fact, it’s pretty much the whole point of the whole Bible. Remember this exchange Jesus had?

            28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

The question of who is my neighbor is one that Jesus addresses with the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Our neighbors, according to Christ, are beyond our cultural and national boundaries. It’s beyond religious bounds. It’s everyone.

So, Jesus tells you and me, we have to love everyone. Now, insert your arguments on how we can love from afar, but based on Jesus’ example, love binds up wounds in the flesh.

Jesus talks about loving the least of our brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). He even says some are going to call out his name, proclaiming that they are his followers, but at the day of judgement, he is going to say, I never knew you based on the fact they never cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger.

Some will argue, but we aren’t just admitting brothers and sisters in Christ into this country, we could potentially admit “enemies” into our midst (an argument that doesn’t take into account the facts and how long the US refugee program and its track record in terms of admitting the most vulnerable, persecuted people from the most war torn and broken regions of the world, without incident). Jesus had something to say about that as well:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.e21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

He also left each of us with a charge:

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

The truth is most of us aren’t going hopping on a plane anytime soon to all nations and make disciples, but God in his ever-loving kindness and sovereignty has presented us as Christians in America a way for the nations to come to us. Refugees are the most vulnerable, most abused and most terrorized in our world, and they are coming here to find hope. Guess what Christian? Your Jesus just gave you the nations on a silver platter, a way for you to show them His love through your attitudes and actions towards people who are yearning for hope and yet, most of you are knocking the plate out of His hand in the name of fear.

Jesus really isn’t about making your life all nice and comfortable, in case you haven’t gathered that yet. He didn’t pour out his life so you could have a sanitized existence, free from any risk for His glory. He’s not about that life. He said a life chasing after Him with all you’ve got, is only going to come from denying yourself at every turn, from laying down your life for the gospel. There is a cost in us doing all the things He called us to. It’s going to take us pouring out our lives for things so much bigger than our comfort, our rights, and our “perceived” false sense of safety and security.

My friend, if your political leanings tell you that this move by the President of the United States is an acceptable one, I pray that you will let your leanings towards the teachings of Christ to supersede them. I pray you won’t follow in the exaggerated fears of your fellow Americans brought on by the confusion and misinformation in the war of information being played out in the media and Facebook. I pray you won’t take a soundbite you’ve heard and extrapolate it as a backing for why this is ok and acceptable. I know this issue can be confusing with so many conflicting reports and data, but Jesus isn’t one bit confusing on where you should stand.

The world is watching and they are chomping at the bit to label us as hypocrites and based on some of the things I’ve seen, they aren’t missing the mark in terms of our American Christianity in how we view the sanctity of life.

The prophet Isaiah faced the same challenge in his day, to tell the people of God that their actions and beliefs were not in agreement with their professed faith. Their religiosity, a checklist of to do’s instead of a heart bent on Him, was turning them into hypocrites. They had forced others to pay debts that were unfair and then they would come before God, ready to go through the motions of their religion. Isaiah recorded the words of God to his spiritual brothers and sisters:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Oh, that we may live in this kind of obedience! May we be a people who loosen the chains of injustice, whether the hands shackled look like ours or not. May we be agents willing to set the oppressed free, whether they are from America or not. May we provide the poor wanderer with shelter, no matter what religion they profess. May we become repairers of the broken walls.

Fear not, sister or brother in Christ. It’s going to cost us everything we have to live this out. But, your God is with you every step of the way.

So, you can choose to label those who are speaking out against this action as “bleeding liberals.” You can repost articles attempting to support the president's actions. You can downplay the implications of this move by our government and justify it. You can label this all a gross overreaction. But, you cannot do those things in the name of Jesus.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

­Proverbs 31:8-9

Christian, your voice should be the loudest in this fight.

And lest you wonder if “destitute, poor, and needy” applies to refugees:

-21.3 million people have fled violence and war with a fear for their lives from their country of origin due to persecution based on their race, religion, ethnicity or political party (this doesn’t include the other 40 plus million who are currently displaced due to war within their countries). Of those, more than half are under the age of 18. Mamas, the only reason your child isn’t included in this statistic is because of where you had the privilege of being born. These are our children.

- Syria is the current top producer of the world’s greatest refugee population. Over 4 million refugees, the US only accepted 11,000. Pull out a calculator. Figure out that percentage.

- The current order threatens to cut the refugee admission program in half. Do some math. The past number of refugees that were resettled in America: 110,000. Under this order, 50,000. Divide that by the 21.3 million.

-Refugees are a vulnerable target for human and sex trafficking.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

The year of HUMILITY

The start of a new year excites me. I love to think of all the possibilities that could happen before I find myself back in the grind of the daily. January 1st is a blank page, a whole year to be written. I was never a big "resoluter." I always failed within days of making demands on myself. So, when the idea of choosing one word, one thing God was going to focus my heart on and do a work in me with, I loved it. I also loved it because it became popularized by a local pastor at a local church of which I love to pieces.
Last year was the year of ENOUGH. It was time for me to recognize my limits and that God was saying that He was far less interested in my doings and so much more concerned with my being. The thing is my works-righteous tendencies pull my heart and mind so astray most days. I have a weird, crazy tally point system attempting to keep me in good girl standing. Except there is the fact that I can't even keep up with that system and then it all tumbles down and I realize, I'm just a mess. I placed value on how much I was able to do, always putting the most pressure on myself, trying to keep a level of perfection in all things. It was the realization that so much of my weariness was directly connected with this idea that I had to do in order for people to love me and for God to love me. The year of ENOUGH meant He started to unwind those threads that were starting to suffocate. It meant letting go of some of the ministries and doings that I held so dear, that I had intertwined my worth and value all up into. It required allowing "good enough" to stand, instead of striving for perfection. It was painful and there are pieces of me that are still struggling with this idea that today is enough, that I am enough, that He is enough. The work continues I suppose, even after our one year is over.  
In the midst of all that work God was doing, He started to reveal an even deeper rooted problem. My issues with perfection and doing, especially doing good things, was really the manifestation of a cancer of sorts: pride. Most people think pride is merely this mentality of seeing oneself as better than others or an arrogance. That isn't my pride, although in some ways it is. No, my pride unveils in the secret places where no one sees: my thoughts and attitudes. My pride says, "why did they get that special thing? I do all this good stuff for people." Or "I've done everything for everyone. Why isn't anyone doing what I need right now?" It creeps as I scroll though social media and analyze the parties I didn't get invited to or the shout outs I didn't receive. It lurks in my house when I compare my day and work to my husband's. It says I've done more and therefore, I deserve more. It concocts these sick score keeping games that do nothing for the relationships I have and that has slowly eroded me from the inside out. C.S. Lewis said, "If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize one is proud." Step one is rough.
But God was preparing me for the one word He had for me in November and December as I was preparing for a lesson I was teaching on humility in relationships. Even after the lesson was done, there were these verses in Philippians that kept coming into my stream of consciousness. You know, those verses that keep popping up over and over again in what you're reading or listening to. It's God's way to get the attention of those of us who are less than quick:
 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:3-11
You see, pride so often reveals itself namely in our relationships with others. Things can look so smooth on the outside, but underneath the surface, our inner dialogues and calculations of who does more or owes what, can be multiplying at an exorbitant rate.
C.S. Lewis said it this way, "Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking of ourselves less." You can do everything in the world for other people and still be thinking about yourself the whole time. And the worst part is, no one will ever really know so you look like a really great and nice person. If there is nothing I have learned more through marriage and motherhood, it is that I am the most selfish human being I know. Relationships merely expose exactly who we are. Close relationships, like marriage and motherhood, rip the lid right off it and show all that festers below.
It has been funny as I've told people my one word. Most people share their fear for me. It's like picking patience, asking God to mess with you so that you have the opportunities for exhibiting patience. Many people said they already see me as a humble person, so why would I pick such a word? But this kind of humility, the kind I know God wants to cultivate in me, comes from a place much deeper than the outside shows. It's the kind of humility that Jesus had. The one that lays down position and rank and picks up a water jug to wash the dirt and smell off the feet of one's followers with a heart of joy. It's the kind that doesn't come into a world demanding pomp and circumstance, but rather drags a cross to death with gladness. It's deeper than just not being arrogant or self-righteous. It's a hollowing out of oneself to make room for so much more. It is the kind of humility that lays down every entitlement and earned reward and seeks to look to the other and what is needed for them in the moment.
I'm not scared of my word because I know my God isn't the kind of God who is waiting to crush me under the weight of this. He works tenderly and kindly. He knows the right balance of grace and discipline. He is tilling soil beneath my heart so that the harvest of His ways can take root deep in my soul. It's not about Him messing with me to get me to be better or me willing myself into behavior modification. He just is allowing us to together focus on the heart work He has for us to do, the dirty and messy stuff people don't see from the outside. The stuff that runs the risk of eroding our inner lives.
So today begins the year of HUMILITY. It will be hard, I have no doubt. He is going to keep revealing my pride and exposing the dirt and grime the deeper we march into the new year and the opportunities to exhibit humility will be endless. But I have no doubt, He who has started a good work in me, will carry it on to completion.
How about you? What's your one word this year?
Until next time-

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Because sometimes there are shanks...

I’ve likened motherhood to a cross between having a frat house and prison mixed together, minus the questionable morals, alcohol, and shanks…but sometimes there are shanks. It’s tongue and cheek of course, but it’s pretty much true.

We had a party this summer and one of my children was caught pooping on a pile of dirt. Pooping. With about 30 of our friends at our house.

I got the kids a slip and slide because they hadn’t had that child of the 80’s joy. They started doing it naked.

I texted my husband the other night, saying I had just gotten to the store, and he told me I was lucky because I was missing all the fun. The fun being a two year old peeing in the dog’s water bowl.

I once came home to a trashed house and a mysterious white substance on the dog, couch, floor, and walls. It was Boudreaux’s Butt Paste…which is virtually impossible to clean up with water because it was designed to protect wetness from well, your baby’s butt.

So yea, frat house mixed with a prison sounds about right somedays most days.

It has been a hard season lately. I’ve got three kids in three completely different stages of life: one is a pre-teen who is struggling with being diligent and following directions because she just feels like an adult (her words, not mine), another is a preschooler who can’t seem to communicate much without a whine or whimper in his voice, and one is a toddler who is perhaps the strongest willed, spiciest girl I’ve ever met and that says a lot. I’ve had an anger I’ve never experienced before as I’m trying to navigate three different stages with three very different needs, all the while trying to catch my breath [which I can’t seem to do]. I’m short tempered. I yell more than I ever have before. I mess up so much each and every day. And then I go to bed each night, defeated and discouraged, vowing not to screw up tomorrow.

Lately, perhaps because I’m already so sensitive to my kids and their challenges right now, I’ve started to notice little comments people make about them, just in passing, I’m sure with no mal intent. Just little pricks in an already deflated balloon about their spice or behavior or a little joke at how crazy they are and my momma heart sinks a little deeper. Because at the core of every mother is the raging critic, questioning and telling her she’s not enough. Because no matter how much truth we know, we all equate our kid’s behaviors to our worth and competence as a mom. All of us do. And we lie in bed, counting all the missteps of the day, drowning in the fears about how you are truly messing your kids up and vowing tomorrow we.will.be.better. Please God, make me better tomorrow. But tomorrow comes, and the pre-teen doesn’t listen again, and the preschooler whines again, and the two year old is still a two year old. And you lose it. Again. And all those things you know your kids are struggling with and being pointed out by others seem to suffocate or perhaps worse, highlight the fact that maybe you are just messing this whole thing up.

Motherhood in this generation is more painful than any before it. The fears are greater, the noise is louder, and we have picture perfect, impossible aspirations thanks to Pinterest. We are never going to measure up to the line that has been drawn for us. And our world is filled with so much clamor about how we need to do more and be more when most of us feel like we can’t add anything else to the crumbling plate and we have nothing more to give. This place feels so harsh for those of us trying to raise these beings we’ve been gifted. It seems like we can never win, no matter which way we turn.

I’ve been praying for God to help me in this place, to show me where He lands on this whole motherhood gig and He keeps bringing to mind this simple verse:

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

{Isaiah 40:11}

Oh mamas, He has such a heart for us. He is so gentle and so patient, even we are not. He is constantly lifting our fallen chin, quivering from the tears and discouragement, and so ever softly whispering, “We are enough.” That lie that you’re not enough, being shouted through the megaphone of this place, is only partially true, you see. You alone will never be enough. But you and Him together, it is enough. He will fill in all the gaps and pour salve on all the wounds that our imperfect flesh inflicts on our kids. He so quietly, so serenely, so calmly calls us to follow Him along the still waters that our parched souls ache to drink to quench our thirst.

One of my favorite quotes that I remind my mama friend’s all the time of is, “Your kids will stop sinning when you stop sinning.” The seasons and challenges will change, but this all-out battle against their own humanity will remain until the end, just as it will for us as moms and as humans. So we don’t place much stock in their behaviors as a reflection of how well we are hitting the mark on motherhood. Instead, we teach them what to do with all this messy sin. We crouch down and say our I’m sorry’s when we yelled when we should have guided. We cuddle the boy who can’t even tell that his voice is whiny. We reassure the pre-teen crying because she knows she messed up again that we still love her so much and that mom messes up, too. And we just laugh at the reality show level of crazy that the two year old brings to our house, because it’s the comedic gold great Facebook statuses are made of. And we carefully speak words of life and encouragement about the children in our lives because we sense that secretly every mama is feeling dry underneath it all and you never know how God may use one kind word from you to help lift that chin up because, you know… sometimes there are shanks.


Friday, October 28, 2016

On Jen Hatmaker

As soon as the article and controversy surrounding Jen Hatmaker came out, I started getting emails and calls from friends wondering what I thought about it. This isn’t the first time this has ever happened to me. A well-known Christian, whose books or preaching have spoken to me in some way and stirred my affections even greater for my Savior, becomes engulfed in a controversy in Christian circles and in many cases, their ministry or platform starts to crumble or be called in to question. It can kind of feel like you just picked the wrong horse in the race. But, here is what I’ve found in this situation time and time again, they were never my horse. Because my horse is and always will be, Jesus. That’s the one I just placed all my bets on. No single person, no matter how smart or witty or great I may think they are, will be the one I’m pushing all my chips towards.

I’m a reader. I’m a thinker. I love theology and doctrine. I love going deeper and gainer greater understanding in scripture. I am constantly seeking out sound teaching from so many sources, old and new. I just finished C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I am currently obsessed with the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. I want to go to lunch with Tim Keller. Matt Chandler and Francis Chan are on repeat in my house. Tozer is my jam. Elisabeth Elliott is my mentor. Beth Moore is my #goals when it comes to becoming a student of the Word. George Mueller changed my life…for reals. I love, love, love the minds and lives of the body of believers.

But every so often, one of those minds says or does something that starts ripping the Bride apart. And if you think the world is quick to tumble down its celebrities once they stumble or say something the majority don’t agree with, you’ve never seen what happens to Christian “celebrities” and how quick followers of Jesus are ready to light the stake they hammer a well-known figure among them, on. It’s fast and it’s so often harsher than anything “the world” does to those it has elevated to any position of influence.

I’m a teacher and there is nothing more important to me than right doctrine and theology. I take it very seriously in my own ministry. I am in constant prayer that I never teach something against God’s Word or intent. I handle God’s Word with the utmost care and I’ve been finding more and more how so much what I thought I knew about scripture was completely wrong or out of context. I think it is why James was so adamant to be careful about exercising the spiritual gift of teaching when he said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.[James 3:1-2]

It’s why Paul was constantly telling his mentee, Timothy to, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” [1 Timothy 4:16] Our life, what we do, and our doctrine, what we think. Watch them, Timothy! They are going to save you and those who listen to you from veering off in this race. They are going to save you from stumbling. Watch. Them. Closely. Because all of our doctrine is off somewhere and our lives don’t align with what we say we believe in all areas and we need to keep looking at it, finding the blind spots, making adjustments so we land where God wants us to in both our minds and actions.  

What God has been teaching me the more and more I read from great thinkers and theologians and teachers of our time and past is that I don’t need another book than the one He wrote. This sounds hypocritical from the girl who has an Amazon book delivery just about every week much to my husband’s chagrin, but the Creator of this universe thinks He gave us everything we’d need to figure out what He wanted us to figure out this side of heaven in one book. So while I love and appreciate words from those who love my God, I’m not banking on the people behind the words. I’m thankful for how they may spur me on in my walk or open my mind to new things I had never considered about God or how He has called me to live. But, I’ve never banked on these people. My first and foremost source is always the Bible. I spend more time there than the books of people’s thoughts on it because I believe that the Holy Spirit is the greatest Bible teacher of our time, more so than any pastor or teacher I may listen to or read.

But beneath all of this controversy is an even greater issue. There are things our generation is facing as a whole and as a Church that we aren’t unified in how we are supposed to handle them. We aren’t always sure where to land on some very complex subjects facing our generation. From refugees to the LGBTQ community to who should be president, the Church is all.over.the.board. I don’t have all the answers except we keep scouring God’s word to figure out how He wants us to navigate seemingly murky waters. But perhaps most importantly, He never intended for us as a family to figure it out over the internet, where words get spliced and people get brave to the point of sheer meanness and harshness. You know where Jesus most often worked out the tensions between truth and grace? The dinner table. Scripture shows us time after time Jesus wrestling through questions that were tripping the generation up reclined at a meal with a ragtag mix of company, from Pharisees to prostitutes. Because Jesus got something we are totally as a generation missing the mark on: important conversations DO NOT HAPPEN across impersonal computer screens, they happen at the most intimate of places—at home, face to face, looking one another in the eye.

The Church has failed in so many ways with so many groups of people. We have ostracized and antagonized when we should’ve extended an invitation to our most holy of spaces: our homes. We have made people think “Christian” was more of a political party affiliation than a radical, counter cultural revolution of following the savior of the world, Jesus. We’ve jacked up in more ways than not. And we have burned bridges of what we need most for the precious truth that so many of us are quick to tout: relational leverage. Jesus always gave truth in the right context of a face to face relationship. He engaged in situations where he could look someone in the eye. He didn’t compromise on His stance, but He always did it in a personal way. Facebook isn’t that place. I’ve said time and time again, I have never met a single person who has had a deeply entrenched view have it changed via Facebook. I’ve never met anyone saved by someone’s you’re going to hell posts. This is not the place where we dig deep and wrestle with hard issues like refugees, abortion, LGBTQ, Donald Trump, and the like. We do it face to face, where we may be a lot less brave and our voices may shake at times because we are trying to not completely devastate a relationship in the midst of disagreement.

I don’t agree with all my friends, many of whom love and follow Jesus. I can get fired up when people start talking about shutting down borders or limiting the number of refugees who enter our country. I can let people’s political posts change my views of them as humans, because I don’t agree with them and God is working on me in that area. I have strong, strong views on this election and how people should vote, and the majority of my very close, Christian, conservative friends and family strongly oppose my take on it. But, the ones who want to know where I stand, we have hashed it out in real life, over lemonade on my front porch or on the phone, not via social media. We’ve agreed to disagree on some very important topics. And I still love them and they still love me.

You know what I did when I heard about the Jen situation? I prayed. I prayed for her that the Lord reveal to her where her theology is wrong or off as I pray for myself as a teacher. I prayed for her and her family as she is about to feel the force of falling from “Christian grace" amongst majority evangelicals. I prayed that all the good that God has done through her writing and ministry, will not be discredited. Because Christians, perhaps more than anyone, are so ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But, more than that, I prayed for myself. For God to reveal to me where I am off, where I have misunderstandings or where I have misspoken. I prayed for Him to show me how to traverse our current terrain because so many things are not just impacting “the world,” but also Christian families as well who are wanting to know how to love people yet be truthful in where they stand. As Jennie Allen put it, these aren’t issues, they are people we are talking about. There are a lot of hard and messy conversations we as a family need to have. But, we’ve got to do it at the right place and the right time and with the right spirit. So where do we go from here? Well, you know what will I do next? I’m going to open my Bible and place my bets.