You are allowed to be human.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2f5cI don’t know if anyone has said it to you lately but take a break. It’s okay.

Drink tea. Read for fun. Take a nap.

In case no one has mentioned that you are allowed to think for yourself, you are.

Discuss big things with voices you love and trust. Think. Use your God given wisdom. Pray.

Not many people are saying it at this exact moment, but it’s okay for you to get some ice cream and laugh with your kids. It’s okay for you to hop on social media and look at home decor. It’s okay to fold the laundry in complete silence. No documentary. No audio book. Just, silence.

My heart, my mind, my every second has been overwhelmed with news and tragedy, hurt and harm. My emotions are racing to keep up. My brain working overtime to take it all in and decipher what to do. What not to do. When the noise is all consistent and constant it has a masking effect. When we can no longer hear a scream because everyone is screaming, screaming can lose its effect. We call it white noise. It’s how we lull our babies to sleep. Let’s not be lulled.

Our desire can be to try to make up for lost time. To fix things quick. To cram all the information in that we didn’t know before and to keep up to speed with the happenings of every other person on the planet. But let’s stop for just a second and think about how this applies to other areas of our lives.

When we’ve realized a way that we’re parenting our children has been off and our eyes have been opened to see a better way, we can’t read every book in a week, become an expert in two, and have a new kid by next month.

We know there is a long and slow work to lasting change. We know that the alterations we make and the steps forward are good but don’t happen overnight. We know that the process is time-consuming and we’d be best to pace ourselves before fatigue sets in and we abandon our new intentions altogether.

Every time I open my phone these days, scrolling through instagram for a few minutes to see sweet girls prom photos or a birth announcement or some tips on what to cook for dinner, I am bombarded with a to-do list. The to-do list may have good things on it. But it’s not how I can find a space of rest.

I can’t nap and clean the bathroom at the same time. I can’t lay on the couch and cook dinner. And in the same manner I can no longer hop online and hope for just a few minutes of peace. The two can’t co-exist anymore.

It’s overwhelming and tiring and I’m not finding quiet in my usual spots. Or there’s a feeling of guilt by trying to. Guilt and rest are two things that also don’t co-exist well together.

If you’re a learner and a doer, the person who values productivity like me, then seasons like we are currently in can be detrimental to our souls. I have to intentionally build rest into my weeks because it’s not my natural at any point. I like to be moving.

But rest, calm, silence, time away, time alone, these are so necessary and right and good for our hearts and our minds and our souls. Turns out, these things don’t come by flipping through social media anymore. They don’t come by scrolling netflix. All of those are now voices, loud voices, consuming our rest time, our work time, our every bit of time, threatening to dull the important screams into constant murmur that our brains begin to decipher as normal.

In case no one has given you permission and you feel like you need it, it’s okay to turn it all off for a second, for an hour, for a day, and give your mind the space it needs. This isn’t wrong. It does not make you the enemy. It makes you wise. It allows you to hear the important cries again.

As I stole away with silence and my bible I came to Colossians and it created a framework I need these days. A way, a design that I need for all of my days.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above……”

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth….”

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

This is where we start. When we feel confused, when the sides are pressing in, when information (or mis-information) is flowing at such a rapid pace we feel like we’re going to be thrown from the boat, this is where we find our solid ground.

The world wants us to label everything and force us to choose. The voices declare there are categories and we must slide perfectly into one or we are the other.

Right or Left. Black or White. Police or Not. Protest or Hate. Jew or Greek. Circumcised or uncircumcised. We’ve been here before.

Co-sleep or crib. Agave or sugar. Bottle or breast.

City or suburb. Ministry or marketplace. Calvin or Arminius.

The stakes are higher currently, yes, of that I am fully aware. But our operations in one bleed into the next. We don’t wake up one day and decide that now we’re different, now we’re kind, now we listen, now we will allow others to use their very own minds. No, it slips from the small to the big and chances are how we treat one another in debate over the small is exactly how we treat them in debate over the large. The scale of the debate determining the scale of our reaction.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

What’s ruling my time? What’s ruling my mind? What’s ruling my actions, in all things?

I am for Jesus. I am for the kingdom. I am for discipleship. I am for justice. I am for peace. I am for the poor. I am for the widow and the orphan. I am for making wrong’s right. I am for seeking forgiveness. I am for repenting of my sin. I am for admitting when I get it wrong. I am for growth and sanctification.

I am also for sleep schedules and nighttime cuddles. For organic and sour keys. For intimate small community and large churches. I am for work and play. I am for global and local. For books and movies. For people and alone. For grief and for joy. For challenge and for rest.

We don’t have to choose. We get to have both. Today, I will power off, I will unplug, I will find silence and rest. Tomorrow I might choose different. This does not make me uncaring or complicit. It makes me human.

In case no one has said it to you today, it is okay to be human.

Listen to these beautiful words by Chinese Church leader and Christian teacher Watchman Nee,

“The Christian life consists of sitting with Christ, walking by Him and standing in Him. We begin our spiritual life by resting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus. That rest is the source of our strength for a consistent and unfaltering walk in the world. And at the end of a grueling warfare with the hosts of darkness we are found standing with Him at last in triumphant possession of the field.” – from his book Sit, Walk, Stand

 

 

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid : Disappointment Doesn’t Mean You Got it Wrong

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Overlooking LA before we knew COVID-19 was a thing but it totally was!

I was walking inside of a mall just days before Christmas when a call came in. The window displays were chalk full of twinkling lights and all things red when my phone screen lit up. I looked at the friend beside me and stated with certainty that I had to take this.

I was a late adapter to all things cell phone. I abhorred the way that any one, at any moment, could pull you out of where you were or who you were with. I vividly remember the day I realized that I had become a slave to the google ‘ding’ when I had mail. I saw my tendencies to fall headlong into the trap of the immediate. Immediate contact. Immediate praise. Immediate everything.

I fought these things by always leaving my phone on silent and trying to never interrupt a real life moment for one that was virtual and could wait. But as the call came in on this particular day I had my phone in hand checking the time when the name flashed across the screen. Within 2 seconds my mind ran through every possibility as to the reason for the call. She never calls, always texts. Something must be wrong. It’s my husband. Answer now.

And so I did.

Nothing was wrong, at least in my world. But that day I learned that there were devastatingly horrible things going on in the lives of two little girls. Unthinkable. Heartbreaking. The sorts of moments when you look to the Lord and ask why. Why so much for these two? Why does this have to be their set of circumstances? Tragedy after tragedy befalling little lives makes my heart ache.

We speak against fair in our house. It’s long been a tagline for us to challenge our children with, “You want fair?” We nearly always ask it with a side glance and eyebrow raise. Because we know that what we’ve received from Christ is anything but fair. Fair is me paying the penalty for all of the ways I’ve rebelled against a Holy God. I don’t want fair. I want grace.

But on this day the words came to my lips. It’s just not fair.

Then came the reason for the call, as Christmas music played its nauseatingly jolly tones on repeat and the rhythm of bells rang out in the distance, “Would you consider adopting them?”

My words came quick and easy. Yes, of course. But let me talk with my husband. 

Ladies, these are always things that are better decided together. We get that, right? Even if it’s Christmas and this may just feel like your miracle.

The next moments, the next days and the subsequent months felt a bit like a blur but one thing rang constantly true in our hearts and our heads.

Do not be afraid. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go, with however many children you have, with the finances He’s provided, with the house you live in, with the employment you have. (Additional phrases mine)

There were so many questions, so many what-if’s, so many moments of wondering if this was truly what the Lord had for us. And, if this was what He had for us, then we hope He understood that He would have to do the sustaining and the providing and the detail-figuring all along the way.

In the book of Numbers the Lord gave very specific details to Moses and Aaron about the ordering of things and how they should exactly be arranged. There were ways for the camps to be set up and directions each should face. There were various duties and roles given out based on tribes and ways to do, well, practically everything. There didn’t seem to be much left up for debate. Instructions were given clearly and directly.

In Numbers 8 there are even distinct directives for lamps and how they give light and where the lamp stands will be and the exact workmanship of them. Scripture says, “according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lamp stand.” (Numbers 8:4)

According to the pattern, and not just any pattern, but the pattern the Lord had shown. The divine pattern. The pattern given directly from the Lord. This is how they were to go about things.

The Lord has given us a clear pattern, too. We can see it as we read scripture and I’ve seen it in the working out of our life. It goes something like this. God lays something before us and stirs our heart to it. We say yes. God tells us not to be afraid. Then it’s usually followed by some time of me actually being afraid and Him reminding me of the pattern as to why I don’t need to be and the whole cycle begins again.

Of course, there are times this has been easier than others. Sometimes it brings tears. Sometimes there are big questions in the dark of the night. Sometimes we wonder if we’ve heard wrong.

But the pattern and the faithfulness show without fail that when God asks things of us and we answer Him with our yes, He will take care of the details. Those are never ours to worry about or even plot very far down the road.

A current family photo reveals instantly that we do not have two little girls in the mix. We walked the journey, we followed the stirring, but the answer apart from our yes, was a no. 

This isn’t failure. This wasn’t our lack. This simply was not to be ours.

How important it is to grasp that we don’t always get what our mind desires when we follow what God lays before us. Just because there’s disappointment or grief or things end up horribly different than the expectation does not mean our yes was the wrong word. 

We can get married and have a spouse that brings hurt. Pursue adoption and have every door closed. We can raise children in the instruction of the Lord only for them to follow a different path. We can get pregnant and lose babies. We can move countries only to be met with loneliness. All of this in answer to giving our yes.

This isn’t where we question the pattern or wonder if we’d heard wrong. This is the place we allow God to be who He is and decide the outcomes no matter how far into the future we had planned just exactly how it would all play out. My guess is even Moses may have had some design ideas about the lamps.

The answers are not ours. They never have been. It is a simple following of the pattern that is ours to obey. Moses and Aaron followed according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, and in turn the lamp stand was a constant source of light to the Holy Place. As we follow the pattern that God has placed in our lives, the same thing happens as we illuminate the Holy One through obedience in our lives and He gets to decide where we shine.

“You are the light of the world…in the same way, let you light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14a & 16

I’ve Been Tricked!

Walk into my home and you may come to a few quick decisions about me. You might decipher simple and orderly is high on my list of musts. You may ascertain our family is a bit quirky when you see what’s hanging on our walls. You might decide we’re super trendy with our paint (non) colour of choice or maybe we decorated a bit too early for Christmas!

We live in a society that feels the need to portray our inner most being through our things. We desire for the things we own, the car we drive, the art on our walls or the shoes on our feet to speak about the inner parts of our character – who we are at our very core.

Oh, you’re Adidas not Nike? I see.

Oh, you’re feature wall over all white? Hmm.

Ah, brand new sofa. Interesting.

It’s a constant conversation in our home with 4 teenagers. How do we not come to assumptions about people based on what we see flashing before our eyes. How do we not predict their priorities, their bank accounts, their style, their heart when we see how they adorn themselves?

How quickly are we to make judgments? How upset are we when people are quick to judge us?

So while you might walk into our home and think certain things, I’m pretty sure I could kaibosh them all with the stories behind them.

Our home – it holds quite a tale of prayer and release and somehow God landed us here.

The white walls – choosing a colour gives me nausea for days and I’m a terrible painter and white is so forgiving.

The shoes – whatever was on sale.

The quirky stuff on the walls – our friends are amazing artists – we display their gifts.

The Christmas decorations – they’re not! I just happen to like twinkly lights on dark fall nights.

We all have likes and dislikes and I think that’s amazing. My favourite food is different than yours and these are the beautiful things which make us unique.

But when we’re deciphering the things in our lives, the wants versus the needs, the choices we make which may fill our need for identity, for validation, for acceptance from people – we can easily deceive ourselves.

We do know how easily deceived we are, right? How we can turn wants into needs by justification. How we can trick our minds into thinking our choices are wise by comparing ourselves to others and the choices they’re making. How we can validate our thoughts, twist words, rationalize anything. Just me?

The words of God in Isaiah 55:8-9 have been stirring in my heart for weeks now.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I like to think I’m decently smart. That my decisions are mostly good and right and wise. I like to think I’m not deceived by my own ways or desires. But this passage tells me I’m altogether wrong.

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts.

God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

My ways are not God’s ways.

God’s ways are higher than my ways.

He doesn’t soften the blow here. My ways and thoughts are not His. How deceived am I to think they are. How delusional to consider I can come up with things in my own brain which would match His. I can’t. My ways are not His. My thoughts not His.

Last night as we gathered around, bibles open in our laps, large teenage bodies strewn out over every inch of furniture, we sought to unpack this concept.

So what do we do? How do we make our ways in line with God’s ways? How can we line up our thoughts with His?

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be tricky. We were given a pretty specific manual of His thoughts, a fairly straight forward guide to His ways.

In fact, it’s not tricky at all. There’s no rocket science involved. But it sure isn’t easy. Our hearts are so bent to benefit ourselves and God’s ways are exactly opposite to our natural inclinations. Ask me what I want on any given day and it can be summed up in just a few words – comfort and ease.

Now open up the Bible and get some insight into the mind of our Maker and what exactly He calls us to. Spoiler alert: it’s not comfort and ease. At least not as long as we live in a world where things are not as they should be. Yet.

God’s kingdom is upside down to everything my heart instinctively wants.

I want someone else to do my laundry, cook my dinner and please, would someone else wash my truck? God calls me to be the one to serve.

My actions show I care a great deal for myself. From the clothes in my closet to the phone in my hand to the food stock piled in the freezer. God calls me to love my neighbour as if they were my own flesh and blood.

My thought process involves much human thinking and a decent amount of justification. His ways tell me to always pray.

His ways say deny yourself. Mine says lavish yourself. You deserve it. It’s been a hard week.

His ways are for me to love those who harm me. To embrace those who speak ill of me. To do good for those who hate me.

His ways are to give not only generously, but sacrificially. Not to myself. I’m really quite skilled at giving myself good gifts. Clearly that’s my thought, not His.

Speak truth. Rejoice in adversity. Be joyful in sacrifice. Love in suffering. Don’t be angry. Be patient. Make disciples.

Ironically, we’re reading through the book of Luke just now and the very passage we were on after discussing all of these things was Luke 6:46,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Needless to say, some nights we don’t get further than one line.

 

 

Mud Puddles of Pride and the Sludge of Self-Righteousness

C.S. Lewis has a famous quote that talks about us being content to play in mud puddles because we don’t understand, we can’t even comprehend, what a vacation at the sea may look like.

We were in San Diego for a few days (ironic, I know, considering I just wrote about how we almost never vacation) and we crossed from the downtown core to a beautiful little place known as Coronado Island. There’s a small ferry that shuttles you back and forth from hustle and bustle to Island living. Beach homes and adirondack chairs make up its landscape. Charming is barely enough of a word to describe it all.

As we docked island side there’s a small shoreline, a small patch of beach perhaps big enough for 5 families to set up and play. The boys found a spot, kicked off their flip flops and stepped into the water.

They were content. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of room to run and there were no waves to jump in. But there was sand and water and they were pretty sure this is what we said the day would entail, so with certainty they believed this was it.

We explained to them there was more. If we crossed through the small town to the exact opposite side, there was so much more.

Why? They wondered. There is sand and water right here. There’s sun and our family and all we need.

We convinced them no, we weren’t going to play in mud puddles when there was promise of a vacation at the sea. We’ve referenced this time and time again in our lives and so they understood. There had to be more waiting on the other side and sure enough, the beach for miles, the waves to frolic in and the space to spread out and run and play was endless. Of course, this was so much better than the tiny beach on the other side. But without someone telling them, how would they have known? Without someone who knew the promise guiding the way, why would they leave where they were? I mean, the tiny shoreline seemed good enough.

I think often about the mud puddles I may be sitting in just now. I wonder if I’m content to play in the mud when there is so much more my mind can’t even comprehend. Am I splashing along the tiny shoes of unneeded business, performance related achievement and needing the world to see that I can, in fact, do it all?

Am I sitting in the sludge of needing to impress? Who? I’m not quite certain.

Am I lying on the tiny beach of pride and wallowing along the shores of self-pity.

Am I trudging along the path of too many yes’s so as not to let anyone down, even though they rob me of the places my heart finds joy and my soul delights in.

I’m sure there are so many places I don’t even realize. Places I’m sitting, thinking – this is it, this is as good as it gets, this is accomplishment and happiness and life! When really, I just need someone to come along and say, step out of the mud puddle, little one. Follow me. There’s more life and more joy and more hope right along these other shores. Let’s just cross through town to somewhere new. Somewhere different. Somewhere you haven’t yet seen and somewhere your mind can’t even comprehend. I’ll show you. Follow me. I’ve got you.

Isn’t this what Jesus said to his disciples before they even knew they were his disciples. Hey, you fishermen over there who think this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life – put down those nets and follow me. Hey, you doctors and businessmen, you tax collectors and prostitues, you women and children and gentiles and all of you – put down all the ways you think are right and good and come and see what more I have for you over here. Come and see where there is life and rest and joy and peace. I know you can’t see it just yet and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but come.

John Piper challenges us with a similar concept in his famous “Don’t Waste Your Life” sermon. He says,

“…I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.

That is a tragedy in the making.”

Mary Oliver inspires with tingly feels as we read the words often emblazoned on coffee cups and tee shirts – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

What will we do?

Where will we be content?

Who will we listen to?

Will we be content to sit in the puddles society tells us are it. The ones culture tells us we must sit in.

Or are we willing to step out of what we know, give up what we think is right, lay aside our nets of business and self-righteousness. Untangle the places where we find ourselves trapped in the self  indulgence of leisure and the gluttony of stuff. Wash off the thick mud of entitlement and what we feel we deserve and be washed with the fresh water of Jesus and the ways He calls us to.

His ways are crystal clear waters, vast ocean shores, springs that well up unending and perfect wine in new wineskins.

I dare us to dream together beyond the mud puddles. To see what’s on the other side of the island if we dare to try a different way.  Scripture calls it an upside down kingdom and yet – do we feel upside down just yet? Or just tossed to and fro.

Let’s journey together. Let’s pray for more than mud puddles. Let’s set aside our small visions and see what the Lord has outside of what we already know, the traditions our culture pushes us to buy into. Let’s pray the scary prayers and ask him to show us what our mud puddles are just now and the places He wants us to see anew. It’s terrifying, I know. But the promise of the ocean compared to puddles is yours and mine to have. Why wouldn’t we want that?

 

Don’t Just Act Like You Know Where You’re Going

I recently had the privilege of sitting in a meeting with someone 4 bajillion times smarter than I am. I’m not kidding. This woman knew stuff.

I use to find myself quite nervous in situations where I knew there was a vast chasm between my knowledge base and that of the person I was talking to. My mind would tell me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or have enough letters behind my name. (FYI: I have zero) My posture would overcompensate for my lack of college degrees and I would follow the advice a random stranger gave me while I was wandering the streets of Chicago with my camera many moons ago.

“Just act like you know where you’re going. Act like you have every purpose to be where you are and you’ll be fine.”

It hadn’t crossed my mind to be worried about where I was going but clearly the gentleman saw a naive girl nearing territory she may not want to be in and felt compelled to warn her. I thanked him and stuck to the main streets from then on.

Act like you know where you’re going might be decent advice when you’re lost and don’t want to fumble in dark alleys with a map. I can see that. But as far as wisdom for life, I’ve come to learn it’s pretty terrible.

If we pretend like we know where we’re going, how on earth do we know where we’ll end up?

If being in a certain place at a certain time is all about acting like I belong there, faking it to fit in, impersonating those who’ve figured it out – then all I do is a sham.

I know it sounds high school-esque and trying to get in with the popular crowd but it goes so far beyond that. I know, we like to believe we’ve advanced as we head out into the real world post graduation, but how often have we soaked in the culture of a work place and made it our mission to fit in. Or maybe we’ve taken part in a bible study and been worried about speaking out loud for fear our words might not be big enough or christian enough for those listening. We stay silent until we know which words the culture in that room uses and then we spout forth our wisdom once we know we’ll get it right, once we’ve assimilated enough.

It can happen in any setting even as adults. We like to fit it, to belong, to be a part of and this can become a lot of acting when our minds or our hearts don’t know the right notes to sing with a particular group just yet. We’re not so great at harmonizing with a crowd, each of us taking on our part. Instead we long to sing the same note that everyone else is singing because at least that way we don’t stand out quite so much if we happen to get our part wrong.

Over the years I’ve learned that the older I get the less I actually know. Turns out, the less I know the more I need to learn and the more I need to learn the more open I had better be to dropping the disguise and getting on with the business of asking questions.

If I take one man’s advice and act like I know where I’m going, sure it might keep me safe this time. But is it not wisdom, rather, to ask some questions and learn which path I should actually be on? Isn’t that what will keep me safe in the long run.

It’s taken time but I find myself rarely intimidated by those who possess much greater wisdom than I do. Instead, I want to sidle up next to them and ask them all of the questions I have no answers to. I want to sit with them for hours and pick all of the facets of their minds and hearts and like a toddler pepper them with a thousand, “but why’s.”

If we look at the world, our country, our cities, our schools, our churches, our neighbours, our spouses and our kids and we stop pretending like we know where we’re going and in humility admit we don’t have all of the answers does it not force us to ask a few more questions? To find the people who know more and ask them why without simply assimilating for the sake of looking smart or fitting in or whatever our excuse is. Would we not know so much more if we opened our hearts to hear some answers as to why instead of waxing poetically all the live long day but never really understanding the truth.

Before I left the meeting with the woman whose mind knew so many things, I looked her straight in the face, craving one last nugget of truth, and asked, “Do you have any more wisdom for me?”

“No,” she said. “But if you have any more questions you may ask.”

I laughed. Of course she didn’t. She had already given me everything I needed. Because sometimes there’s no need to belabour a thing you’ve already been given the answer to.

She told me to walk forward in confidence. Right. I could use a dose of that just now. I’m learning the pattern, slowly slowly slowly learning the pattern. Obstacle. Humble heart. Ask questions. Petition God. Rely on His Spirit. Move forward in confidence. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,

his righteousness live in the fertile field.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;

its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Isaiah 32: 16-17

(Read the whole chapter for context here)

A Life of Ease is Not My Prayer

Many months ago we started the plan in motion and prayed that the Lord’s will be done. Francis Chan says in one of his books (though I will butcher it in my paraphrase) that as Christians we ought to assume that we are to do the things that God commands. He says to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27) and so we just should. We don’t need to wait for it to ‘feel right’ but rather we ought to walk forward because it’s what He tells us to do in scripture. Of course, He can stop us in our tracks and change our course if He sees fit. But that’s His job – not ours. Ours is obedience.

Our plan was to head somewhere as a family with the purpose of serving the poor, using our hands, our voice and whatever else God has gifted us with. We explored options and landed on a small town in Mexico.

I know short term missions trips have gained a bad reputation in recent years. There are books and blogs written about when helping hurts and story after story about trips that become poverty tourism and not service at all. I don’t know the logistics of all of these things. Quite honestly, it’s beyond my scope of understanding. I do know that there are great organizations who need many things – one of which is hands on deck. We found one and prepared for our journey.

I struggled with how to prepare, exactly. Oh, packing was the easy part but how do we ready our eyes to see things they’ve never seen before. How do we ready our minds to comprehend what we’re seeing and our ears to hear stories that feel altogether too much. Most importantly, how on earth do we prepare our hearts. What do we pray? I found myself completely lost.

The Lord brought Psalm 107 to my heart and I read it over and over again. Throughout this Psalm, time and time again the people are brought to the end of themselves through various trials. In each situation, when they come to the end of themselves is when they cry out to the Lord in their trouble and time and time again it says that He saved them from their distress.

My soul felt compelled to pray simply that each member of our family would be brought to the end of ourselves so that we might cry out to God and the work would be His. That we would feel so beyond our capabilities that we had nowhere to turn but to Him. That we could take no credit for anything we did but all of the glory would be His.

It can be scary to pray hard things for our families. For our very lives to be challenged. My heart longs to pray that my kids be comfortable and their life be easy. But I know full well that in times of ease I learn very little and rely on my own strength very much. But in times of trouble, where can we turn? In times of calamity, what choice do we have? When our efforts are exhausted and our mouths are parched and our knuckles bloody and bruised, we can no longer walk in our own strength, but rely solely on His. This is what I prayed.

My husband was heading home on his last day of work before we left and he got only ten minutes up the highway when lights started flashing on his dash and shortly thereafter I got the call. Vehicle not running. Tow truck required. Help?

What terrible timing. Does he not know I have my own work to finish up? And packing to do? And many important things that need to happen? What a nuisance. I can’t believe it. We don’t have time for this!

But when we’re troubled where do we turn?

My son had one more day of work the following day and  we awoke to a call at 2 am saying that we needed to get right down to where he was. He had hurt himself. I heard the word stitches. My husband got up and headed out and I figured they’d be back in a few hours. At 6 am I stirred and there was still no sign of them. At 7 am I got a call. Stitches, yes. But also, he’s lost mobility in part of his finger. I heard the word surgery. It all got foggy.

Are you kidding me? We hop on a plane tomorrow. What terrible timing! We don’t have time for 13 hours in the E.R. Our plans don’t have room for surgery. We’re trying to serve your people, Lord. Now we may not be able to go?

When we’re in distress where do we turn?

Our trip hadn’t even begun and the Lord was bringing us to the end of ourselves. He was forcing us to our knees and showing us in no uncertain terms that we need Him. We can make all of the plans that we want. We can do all of the laundry. We can buy the plane tickets, and we should. But the Lord decides whether we go.

It’s an illusion to think that we accomplish such things on our own, and I have the worst form of this delusion. I’m organized and efficient and have lists of all of my lists. But the Lord, in all of His graciousness, began to answer my prayers before we even left home.

We would accomplish nothing without utter reliance on Him. We wouldn’t even make it on the plane without Him. We left broken, we left injured, we left stitched and medicated. We left tired and worried and processing all of the emotion of what had just happened.

We left at the end of ourselves and crying out to the Lord in our trouble. He saved us from our distress.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Psalm 107:8 (and 15 and 21 and 31)

If Mother’s Day Was Hard

Mid-way through Mother’s Day I got a message. It said, “I am sucking at Mother’s Day this year. In the full throws of disappointed pouting.”

I love honesty and I love the Mama who sent it.

I wonder if you didn’t have a similar day or even moment of your day. I’ve sucked at Mother’s Day so many times I’ve lost count. My boys can easily recall one in particular. “Remember the one where you were crying in the office?” they say. Yeah. Yeah, I do.

Thing is, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s hard because we’re human and we believe lies – especially lies about our mothering. On a good day we’re quick to assume we’re failing, or at very best just staying afloat. We can easily translate someone’s glance in our direction as judgement on our child’s behaviour. How many days do we throw up our hands wondering if we’ve done everything wrong?

We believe a different sort of lie though, on Mother’s Day. The same sort of lie our sister, Eve, fell prey to in the garden. We believe that we deserve something on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what that looks like for you – it could be anything from lavish gifts to obedient children to having children at all – but either way it ruins the day for us.

It ruins the day when we get anything less than what we feel we are rightly owed. Eve was owed the fruit from that tree. I remember feeling like I was owed not having to lift a finger and all of the gifts in my mind that I’d never verbalized to any member of my family I even want. And then, when that didn’t happen every horrible scenario would run through my head and I would think my entire family are jerks and I wonder if they’ll ever not be selfish. They probably will be forever, I surmise. I think about all of the time and energy I put into planning the perfect birthdays for them. The gifts, the balloons, the birthday wake up song. The dinner, the cake, the card with all of the words I want them to know about how much I love them and how thankful I am for them. Then I would move onto every other thing I do for them. The sports, the driving, the constant grocery shopping and cooking. I would run through every unselfish act I did for them in the past 364 days and wonder why on earth they couldn’t do one thing right on just this one day! For me!

The enemy preys on our hearts and mind on this day, Mama’s. 364 days of the year I am so thankful for each of my kids. They are a gift from God and it’s an honour that I get to raise them. To be entrusted with their very lives is the biggest privilege I’ve ever had. I know that the work that I do for them is good. I know my job, while challenging on the best of days, is worth every second I pour in. I know this is kingdom stuff, the raising of our babies to adulthood, teaching them the ways of Christ. But for just one day our minds get all muddled up and we think it should be about us.

And in that moment, that moment where we believe the day is all about us, that’s where it all falls apart. Because if we believe it should be all about us and it isn’t, then we pout. Then we get angry, or worse, silent. Then we sulk around disappointed because how dare they!

No day was ever meant to be all about us, Mama’s. Not one. Ever. Each day is about Him and when we forget it, well –  it just never goes well. It doesn’t matter that our culture has placed our handle on this day. It doesn’t matter that every ad shows us what we deserve. Those aren’t the point and they certainly are never supposed to be our focus.

Each day is the Lord’s and how we live each day doesn’t change because someone somewhere said we should be celebrated. No, each day, including Mother’s Day, we are to treat other’s as better than ourselves. Each day we are to serve those around us. Each day we are to practice love, patience, peace and kindness. We’re never told to take a day off from those – even just one – y’know, to be selfish, entitled, mean and pouty.

It’s been years since we’ve had a pouty Mother’s Day around here but I can’t say it’s come easy and I feel everything for my friend who was smart enough and brave enough to fess up that the day wasn’t going well. I’ve been there more times than I want to admit and even still I can feel it trying to creep in.

It takes heart prep and much prayer and constantly reminding myself of who I am and who He is and what that means my life will look like. It takes time spent alone in prayer asking the Lord to show me ways that I can serve my family on that second Sunday in May. It takes waking up that morning and opening my hands in prayer asking Him to help me love well on this day as on any other. It takes words lifted up and pleading for heart protection as I move throughout the day because the lies are thick and so easily latched on to.

Don’t believe them for a second. Not one little second. Mama’s, know that you are doing a great job. Know that your children love you and appreciate you. Thing is, they don’t know how to show it because they’re 4 or 8 or 13. You haven’t failed to teach them. In fact, you’ve taught them so much. You’ve taught them that they are safe and they are loved every single day, so much so that they don’t even realize what they have. You’ve given so much to them and they don’t even know to acknowledge it because they’ve never felt lack. You’ve given them a beautiful gift of being loved beyond measure. They know nothing of heartache or hunger or loneliness. So yeah, they take you for granted because they’ve never been anywhere else but in your loving clutches.

It’s a beautiful thing, Mama’s. Your work is good. It is your worship. Don’t give that up for a day of disappointment and pouting. Keep on. It is worth it!

 

Smashing Mirrors, Building Monuments + Learning to Walk in Love

“Love and self-denial for the object loved go hand-in-hand. If I profess to love a certain person, and yet will neither give my silver nor my gold to relieve his wants, nor in any way deny myself comfort or ease for his sake, such love is contemptible; it wears the name, but lacks the reality of love…” C.H. Spurgeon

My words have been muddling up in my head and heart as of late and it’s proving difficult to string them into coherent sentences on a page. I call myself a reflective writer – I have no idea as to the accuracy of this statement but I’m sticking with it.

I usually think hard on some things, wrestle with them, ask too many questions (my husband is a saint), and then once I have some answers and can see the ways that God is working, I reflect and it comes out here.

But what happens to a writer when the answers haven’t come? When the problems sit there unsolved and the ‘in it’ time has gone on for so long now that there’s no time to reflect. And if there was, there wouldn’t be much to say other than – yeah. I’m still here.

It’s been months of seriously’s and now what’s and wow’s and repeated sighs all followed up with, didn’t see that coming.

And I wonder when it will settle. Dare I say, if it will settle. And who am I to hope that it might?

It seems as if this suburban town  can trick us into thinking that settled is what we’re owed. Comfort what we deserve. Easy the way it should be and anytime we step even a tiny bit outside of that we pine and whine and count our days until we can get back to that good life we need so much.

Every single person in this little tribe of mine has been smacked over the head repeatedly these last months with our own personal idols. It’s as if God himself just thinks we don’t get it and so – there He goes again – SMACK! If I’m honest, I’m starting to get a little ticked. I mean, I get it. I desire comfort. And rest. And quiet. And simple. And personal space. And just, easy.  What of it? Don’t we all?

And there it comes again. Smack. Sure we do. It’s what our hearts want. But should they?

We’ve gone back to the very basics in the bible study time happening ’round these parts. We’ve scaled it all back, all the theologians and deep thinkers and commentary that makes us feel smart and we’ve handed our time over to the best bible teacher around. Sally Lloyd – Jones and her brilliant little “Jesus Storybook Bible”.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, some of us are nearing the big 4-0 and others of us can nearly vote and even the very youngest isn’t new to the teenage realm. But we need it. The very simple truth that every story whispers the name of Jesus. Our story included.

We did giggle a bit when reading “Hello light! You’re good! Hello sea! Hello sky! You’re good!” Of course we did. But we also nodded along when we read that sometimes the people in the bible make big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). And sometimes they get afraid and run away. Yeah – we do, too. Some of us might have even gotten a little teary when we read that God loves His children – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. Maybe. Just some of us. *whistling*

These words aren’t kid words they’re truth words. And sometimes when we’re in the midst of hard things in life and we’re not exactly sure which way is up, they’re just what we need. Because when we’re in the midst of hard things we don’t need deep theology or trite comments of, “It could always be worse.” We need to know that our Jesus loves us unendingly. Always and forever. That’s it. Nothing more.

We sit around our scratched up old table, dishes from dinner still strewn about and we talk about what’s making us hurt and it’s always the things that hold up a mirror to our hearts. Why is that arrogant person ticking us off? Because we want to be the best. Why does that friends habit drive us crazy? Cause they show us a piece of who we are. Why are we ever frustrated or bitter or upset? Because our idols are being held up in front of us and we’re being asked to smash them and we don’t want to.

When your whole household is seeing their idols it can get a bit much and so we’re learning together and admitting we don’t have it all together – together. We’re asking questions about what it really means to deny ourselves beyond saying so in words. We’re wondering what picking up our cross actually looks like in physical form. We’re wondering if this whole following Jesus thing isn’t harder –  a bit more – than we once thought.

We’ve sat around this very table so many times before, declaring we want to follow Jesus and yet we really like our luxury too soooooo – conundrum.

We’re learning ever so very snail-like slowly (maybe) what laying these things down every day looks like. We’re learning that we aren’t so different then the builders of Babel or the erectors of the golden calf. So quickly our pride and our fear and our self-sufficiency all swoop in and we just forget as we create great monuments to ourselves with our time and our money and our very lives.

“A willingness to be inconvenienced is the ultimate proof of love. This is what dying to live means: You love as much as you are willing to be inconvenienced…if I won’t be inconvenienced, I can’t know love,”  – Ann Voskamp.

And we wonder aloud to each other if we’re actually willing to live this sort of inconvenienced life? And we’re being challenged daily by what following Christ really looks like in our North American home. And we question if this is truly what we want and yet we all nod our head that we do. It is. We lay it down and our tendrils grasp furiously back at it and we grip with all our might until we lay it down again.

We sit silent and we let our whole selves absorb what it might mean, this death to self, this inconvenient love, this following Jesus and we brace ourselves just a bit to ensure we’re ready for the ride. And we pray and plead for help to lay it all down, to be joyfully inconvenienced and to love in large ways. This day. Choosing moment by moment to lay down our comforts and our need for ease for the joy set before us in following the one who was inconvenienced to death for us. He gave up a throne for us. He came down to this harsh world for us. He bore the cross for us.

Makes our whining about making a meal or sending a word of encouragement or feeding the poor or befriending a widow or taking in an orphan cause we’re just so tired and busy seem silly, no?

“…true love must be measured by the degree to which the person loving will be willing to subject himself to crosses and losses, to suffering and self-denials. After all, the value of a thing in the market is what a man will give for it, and you must estimate the value of a man’s love by that which he is willing to give up for it.” – C.H. Spurgeon

 

 

Take off the costume of Love

When I think about the moments I can still feel the daggers. The way my heart started to pound, the way my eyes cast down. The gross feelings I already felt being awakened again.  I sat … quiet, listening. I listened to the words spoken. You are not enough. I nodded in agreement. She was clearly right. You ought to try harder. You need to be better. You just aren’t getting it right.

We’ve all had moments of judgement in our lives. For some of us it’s been so often we get particularly good at brushing it off. The callouses so thick we don’t even feel it. Turns out, no matter how thick the skin – there are a few times that sting especially deep and long and hard. Those ones we remember. In fact, we remember it all – the noise in the background, the look in the eyes and the exact words spoken straight to us.

I hear the words and I feel the shame and I see the finger point and all I can think is –  do they think that I think I AM enough? Because I never feel like enough. Do they really need to point it out like this? I know I don’t love enough or give enough or use just the right words often enough. I know I’m not patient enough or kind enough and I don’t reach out to strangers enough. I know that the ways I love my husband aren’t always right and I tend to get snappy with my kids especially when they’re snappy with each other. I know all of this. I feel it achingly on my own without anyone else pointing it out.

The dagger pierced my heart when I was new to this whole gospel thing, a tiny babe in the ways of loving our Lord who gave His all for my freedom. A finger pointed straight at me and told me all of the ways I’d hurt, harmed, and damaged.

I know! I know I have. What more was there to say? But knowing wasn’t enough. I had to hear it from the lips that sat there across from me. Just to make sure, I suppose.

The knife twisted years later, as I was gaining footing and learning about loving Jesus with all of my heart – though failing to do it well, naturally. Turns out my ways of loving the Lord weren’t quite right. They weren’t enough. I needed to conform. There was a way to do this Jesus thing and I certainly wasn’t doing it. I needed to cozy up to particular theology and never question. I needed to speak in certain ways to get it just right. There was a mold and my misshapen self was not fitting into it.

The tears came as I nodded in agreement. Yeah. I get it. I fail on repeat and daily I repent and I know I’m not the model for christian lady magazine.

My heart was defeated as I sat in this place again, listening to the words describe my failures. I know. I’m never going to get this christian thing right. The attacks might as well keep coming. I’m a mess.

Years later my roots had plunged much deeper into the soil. Or at least I had a bit more understanding of grace and mercy and the gospel and my sinful heart. I also understood that perfect was not something I needed to be, yet the words came again. I sat there and listened as I was told my words didn’t honour God and I’d be right to change them for how can we honour God if not with our lips and our words.

I cursed in my head right then and there and walked away.

There’s a costume worn sometimes that resembles love. It can be put on over top of self-righteousness and power. It can be worn as a layer on the outside when underneath is need for control. This love disguise can be used to feign concern, care and worry. It’s almost as if those wearing the love costume are actually interested in our well being. But they’re not. Because love doesn’t point fingers and heap shame. Love actually says, I love you. Love says, my heart is for you. Love says, I’m with you and how can I help.

As difficult as these moments in my life were, I know that they’ve grown my character and faith. They’ve taught me what love is and what love isn’t. I know now that words of love are ones that draw us in but harsh words only point with fingers that push away. Words of love share with us who Jesus is and desire to disciple us to live and love like He did. Harsh words show us who people are and their desire for us to live and love like THEY do.

The kingdom of God is not about manipulation. It’s not about shame. It’s not about speaking perfectly or living righteously for all to see. It’s not about putting on your Sunday best or polishing up your act. It’s not about assimilation to christian culture but to have a heart that yearns for Jesus and a desire to follow what is laid out for us in scripture. If the kingdom of God is for everyone, and it is – for everyone – then it can’t be about speaking our culturally-canadian-christian words or failing to measure up.

Loving and following Jesus in obedience is not living a perfect life and pointing out the faults of those who may not do it just the same.

Loving and following Jesus means coming alongside people – all people – and speaking words of love. It means not having a preference for one type of person over another in terms of who we choose to share our love with.

Loving and following Jesus means not placing undue emphasis on lives that look shiny and polished but rather on hearts that are lowly, sackcloth and ashes, understanding  that we know we keep messing it up! WE KNOW! It’s the very reason we need a Saviour.

Loving and following Jesus means loving people as they are. My friends, listen for just a moment? There is a difference between loving people as they are and wanting people to be just like you.

My goodness is it ever hard to love people who are different, isn’t it?  And it’s easy to think that our ways are THE ways and it’s hard to not want people to conform to our very simple, suburban, white, middle-class way of life. It’s so much harder to trust that the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding all of those who love Jesus and so our lives may look different. The places we hang out, different. The music we listen to, different. The place we lay our heads at night, different.

My hope is that by understanding the love of Christ, I understand that He loves me. Me! A wretched, awful sinner who wants to follow Him with all of my heart but is wooed so easily by the things of this world. Me! A hypocrite who tells my kids to be patient and peaceful and kind and self-controlled and then within moments yells at them that we’re late and it’s time to go, NOW! Me. A simple girl who can’t get it right and has learned that the years don’t change that.

I don’t know all that much but I do know that if God loves me in all of my mess then it is my privilege to love others in all of theirs.

We aren’t meant to be pretty or perfect or polished or poised. We’re meant to admit that we’re a mess and that our darkened hearts need One who is greater. We aren’t meant to simply place love on as an afterthought to our motives, but we’re meant to be love to all.

I’m a mess friends, but I’m a mess who loves Jesus and wants nothing more than to say to those who cross my path – come. Come taste and see that the Lord – He is good.

Just Show Up

I was told a story recently about one woman saying to another woman, “Let’s get together for coffee sometime!” To which the other woman replied, “Please don’t say that if it’s not actually going to happen. It’s hurtful to me if you say that and then it never happens.”

I was first struck by the boldness of this response. It felt a bit much to me. As if to assume that everyone’s intentions aren’t genuine. But the more I thought about it the more I want to be the woman who speaks with such honesty.

We are a culture of platitudes. We know just the words to say to come across as thoughtful, charming, insightful. I’ll call you. I’ll pray for you. Oh girl, I’m here for you. I just want to support you.

And while I believe that the heart behind these words is right and good – intention doesn’t really get us anywhere! I’ve long told my husband that it is certainly NOT the thought that counts. It is action that counts every time. You may not simply think about my birthday gift – I want the actual gift!

We can talk ourselves up all day long about all the things we will do – we want to do, even. But then, we just don’t. Life gets busy and things happen and those prayers we really meant to pray get forgotten. We all have enough going on in our own lives to worry about the happenings of the family next door, right?

It turns out – talking about something enough actually confuses our brain into producing the chemical response which makes us feel as if we actually did the thing we’re talking about! So talk all day long about how you want to help the poor, and you  start to feel like you’re actually helping the poor though you haven’t done a single thing! Strategize all day long about that business you want to start and you have the same great feelings as if you’d have started the business – except you haven’t.

It’s a tricky business, this sort of talk.

In our lives we’ve had tons of people offer their support through various seasons. I’m so grateful for it, for the thought, for the intention even. Except I’m learning that it doesn’t actually do anything to help. I’m starting to think the woman in the initial conversation had it right. To people who say, “We want to support you,” I sort of want to say, “Please don’t say that if it’s not actually going to happen. I know you mean well. I know you want to. But it’s hurtful to me if you say that and then nothing ever happens.”

So how can we actually support the people around us? Show up. That’s it. Just be there, literally though – not just in word.

Be right beside them when they have to trek up to the hospital room. Barge into their home and scrub the bathroom they haven’t been able to clean. Send the text AFTER you pray to tell them what you just did. Leave a bag of green apples and nail polish on the front step. (You know who you are!) Drop off a dinner. (You know who YOU are!) Schedule a coffee and just show up. Make the soup. Drive the kids. (Thanks, Mom!) Pick up the groceries. Lend the book. Give up your half used gift card. (Love you!)  Steal them away for a movie out.

I’m endlessly thankful for the people who have simply shown up for us. In a million ways – big and small. It has allowed us to show up for the broadened circle of people in our life. Which in turn has allowed them to show up for their people. It’s a beautiful cycle, really.

I want to be a show’er upper. Talk is cheap, so they say – and I’m thinking whoever ‘they’ are – they’re on to something. I learned from that bold woman that talk is more than cheap, it’s hurtful. Talk can lead people to believe in something that will never occur. Dare I say, this type of talk is just a lie?

I sat with a woman a few days ago who told me evangelism was easy. I looked at her with my head tilted slightly and my facial expression saying something like, “Huh? What now?” Evangelism and easy wouldn’t be two words I would string together.

So easy, she went on. You just show up. You show up and you sit beside. You show up and you listen. You show up and you bring the meal. You show up and you hold the hand. You show up and you just sit – silent. You show up and you let the tears fall. You show up with paint brush in hand. You just show up. Evangelism is just about showing up. Once you’re there, once you’ve done the showing up, Jesus just makes sense to people.

All of the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.

Don’t just talk – show up.

Evangelism is easy – show up.

What would Jesus do?  – show up.

Jesus didn’t send a text to the woman at the well telling her they should grab water sometime. He didn’t mention in passing that he would pray about the storm stopping. He didn’t tell those who were sick that he really wanted to support them and then carry on.

No, he showed up. He showed up and said drink. He showed up and commanded the storm to stop. He showed up and told the lame to walk and the blind to see.

Just. Show. Up.

Not sure where you can show up? Pray! Ask God to show you who needs you, who needs something, who needs your time or your resources or you hand. There are people on every street in town that need someone to show up. Maybe that someone is you.

Let’s be world changers. Just show up.