Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Know What to Do

Yesterday, Ann Voskamp shared a conversation she had with her husband while he was driving the combine, harvesting soybeans. While he manhandled the combine's steering wheel, she told him about her struggle to know how to respond to the enormous humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

I leaned in and listened closely. When she asked, ”How do you know how to best invest your life? How do you know what’s wisest, and where’s wisest, and who’s neediest, and is any of this even the point?” she took the words I’ve been wrestling with for weeks now right out of my mouth. There they were, on the proverbial table, for deliberation.

I was so relieved to know someone else was struggling too. It's been a few weeks now since we were all holding our collective breath, wondering what kind of havoc Hurricane Matthew was going to wreak on the island. What happened in Haiti is old news to most people, especially compared to the blaring, relentless reality show that is the presidential election.

Like Ann, I feel the need to do something to help the people of Haiti. The question that keeps me from making a donation or applying to go on a work team is simple--

“Is that really what You want me to do?”

--yet so big that it seems risky to answer impulsively, without really weighing the options.

The reality is that, while I wait until I’m sure His answer is “YES!”, I’m secretly hoping He won’t really make me do something that would cost me that much--
that much time,
that much of my comfort,
that much money,
that much risk.

But Ann pointed out that, while she and I are dithering, people are dying. Her husband said, “Sometimes if you wait until you really know what you are doing — means you don’t really know God and what He can do.”

You may not be wrestling with your response to the people of Haiti, but perhaps you’re wrestling with what “something, anything” you could do for the people in your neighbors, for your city, for the good of humanity, if you could just get past yourself. You know people are dying, yet what you have to offer seems so insignificant. But it’s not, because

people are dying.
...and in Haiti.

And, as Ann so eloquently, but pointedly, put it, “Being with Christ as He goes to the lost and the least is always doing the right thing.

For me, this is not just about Haiti. This is about how I do life in my world, my neighborhood. I no longer want to be content with inaction because I’m more interested in protecting myself, my time, my resources, my energy. I want to live like I believe that “something” and “anything” is better than nothing. Because

People are dying.

What question are you wrestling with that's keeping you from doing "something, anything"?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Loving My Neighbor: Falling Free, part 2

Fall book launch season began last month, and every time I've turned around, it seemed someone else's story, now in book form, was being profiled on one of the blogs I follow. {I happen to follow writers, and writers endorse writers, so therein may lie some of the rub.} A small, uninvited thought began to niggle in my consciousness: what do you have to contribute to this noise? Why would anyone care about your story? And for a while, about five minutes, I believed it.
Then I reoriented my mind and decided that the amazing, wonderful thing about being human is that every single one of us has a unique story that is our life. As a writer, I try to capture with words what is happening in the current chapter of the story I'm living. I'm doing so because I live in a community, both physically and virtually, and I believe God has given me words to share that could impact someone else's life. 
My story, your story, every single person's story is worth sharing, even given the plethora, myriad, glut, proliferation already floating around the internet.
My last post profiled someone else's story. The story of Shannan Martin and her family and their move from an idyll wild to the wrong side of the tracks of a smallish town's inner city. I wrote about her book, Falling Free, in light of the mission of QPlace, an organization dedicated to equipping people enter into meaningful conversations about spiritual matters. 
When I wrote the piece, I had only read the initial chapters of Shannan's story. I had followed Shannan's blog for several years without really knowing the backstory to her current life. I picked up the book out of a desire to know more.
The more I found in those pages was way more than I expected. 
As I was drawn deeper into her story, I found myself equally enthralled and disturbed. As she recounted her story, I realized a similar theme in mine: I am very committed to my own security. I have lived my adult life believing Jesus' words about not considering myself better than others, about caring for the widows and orphans and the poor and needy. As I contemplated what Shannan shared, I realized that I'd never really sacrificed in order to put feet to what I said I believed. 
Yes, I believe I'm supposed to love my neighbor as I love myself. I just have a hard time seeing the little ones who press their noses to the glass sidelights of my front door--wanting to play with my dog and eat popsicles out of my freezer--as in need of my love.
Yes, I believe in caring for the widows and orphans. We support children through two ministries, and I have a hat with "James 1:27" embroidered on it for all to see. I went to Kenya so that I could see firsthand how micro-enterprise can lift widows out of abject poverty. I donate food every other month to assist local food banks and I served dinner to the poor at a mission in a neighboring town once. I've given time and funds to my church's annual Be Rich campaign and felt good about all the money raised to assist organizations "on the ground" doing vital work with the poor and the needy. 
But have I ever sacrificed my comfort for their betterment? Have I ever seen myself as poor and needy, just like them? 
I've had lots to contemplate as I've read Shannan's words. Her tone is never condemning; she simply lets truth speak for itself and land its own punches. She never projects superiority or judgment. She simply admits to being unable to return to her old life after being blinded {"Our retinas burned for days." pg 50} by the light of reality.

Some of my reasoning, my excuses, really, for not getting my hands dirty was that I don't know how. I felt I was supposed to help them, save them, show them a better way. One of my favorite lines that let me know I wasn't alone in this false belief was this: "I was called not to pretend I could save them, but to love them, to simply be with them. They bore the very image of Christ Himself...His people needed neighbors and we could do that. He promised we could." 
I was both relieved and embarrassed and uncomfortable as I pondered those words. Shannan was saying that being a neighbor wasn't about being equipped. So where did I get the notion that I was exempt because I didn't know how? I knew the answer to that--I learned it in church. I am a Christian, therefore I know I'm supposed to take Jesus' message that He wants a relationship with anyone and everyone to anyone and everyone. In that commissioning, however, I missed the very important fact that I couldn't save them. But not pretend, love them as I love myself, and be with them? I knew I was not ill-equipped to do that. 
I started this post telling you about my momentary angst about whether or not my story matters. Reading Shannan's story showed me that it's not so much about what I do with the finer points of my story that matters, but what I share of myself that God wants to use to make a difference. First, in me, then in them. 
What that's going to look like will probably begin with choosing to see the opportunity in the daily doorbell ringing, and giving the popsicles in my freezer without any strings attached. And more. I will follow Shannan's lead and watch for God to show me what to do. Like she said, "New beginnings always start with seeking."  I encourage you to read Falling Free. The Martin's story could help you realize that you have your own story to live out loud and specific people He wants you to share it with. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Choosing Life on the "Wrong Side" of the Tracks

I'm guest posting today over at the QPlace blog.

"...we were getting a little desperate to experience the mess of the gospel, the parts that come with rowdy and wide-eyed trust, and even parts that promise pain and land good folks in the same trenches where Jesus chose to spend his time. We wanted to feel something beyond ourselves. We wanted to be free." (Falling Free, Shannan Martin, HarperCollins ©2016, p.8)

This quote from Shannan Martin's newly released book, Falling Free, describes the initial moments when she and her husband Cory realized...read more

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Tie That Binds

I grew up singing an old hymn with the following lyrics: Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that Above.

I have been part of the community of faith since my birth. While I've not always been aware of how that reality shaped my life, last night I glimpsed its influence and felt its impact again.

We were sitting around our dining room table, enjoying a simple meal together. David and I had become acquainted in college through a mutual friend from his hometown. He was the layout editor for the school newspaper my senior year when I was the editor-in-chief. I only knew of Donalee because she and David began dating that year. I settled in the Chicagoland suburbs after college and married. They married and also settled there. We shared a few evenings and spent a weekend camping together, but we were never really close friends. They moved out of state and we lost touch.

Donalee and I.
Fast forward to 2013. TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER. We meet again at our alma mater during the dedication ceremony for the new science center where my son would spend the next four years studying to become a chemist. Donalee and I talked about the unique joys and challenges of raising only sons. We decided to stay in touch.

Two years ago we began meeting online weekly to share our lives and concerns. We prayed over her son's choice of colleges. We prayed for my son's need for friends and community. We prayed for our husbands and we prayed for ourselves.

We live over 900 miles apart, but our hearts share a supernatural bond that had been initiated in personal faith and established during our time together at a place that holds as one of its core values intentional community and "doing life together."

Last night, those friends sat at our table and slept under our roof. We talked about our lives as empty nesters and marveled at what was birthed in the community we experienced then and didn't fully comprehend.

Experiencing community and "doing life together" is both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I feel the ache of their departure this morning. While I do not wish for the past (because that is not where real life is lived), true community seems harder to find the longer I live. Although I'm always on the lookout for it, last night was a rare gift, 27 years in the making. Grateful.

Who are you in community with today? Tell them what their presence in your life means to you.

Friday, September 9, 2016


My athlete, holding up one finger to commemorate his first ride on his new bike.
I've never been a cheerleader. To those of you who know me, this is no shock. Several weeks ago, though, I became one, serving as a personal cheerleader to my dear husband. He decided to start exercising after over a decade of believing he couldn't.

I've been surprised at what I've learned about cheerleading.

A cheerleader can make a huge difference in the life of an athlete, not because she wears a cute outfit (I don't) and not because she whoops and hollers some encouraging chant as loud as she can. (He can't hear me above the '80s rock blasting through his headphones.)

If it's not the cute outfit or the vociferous callouts, how does a cheerleader make a difference? In my case, it's by getting up with him at 6:30a, prepping his water bottle, remembering to grab a towel to soak up his perspiration, and riding shotgun to the practice parking lot.

This cheerleader, and others like her, impacts her athlete through the power of her presence.

I discovered (after he instituted headphones) that the power of my presence during the half hour Bob rides has its limitations:

  • I can't ensure he has a good night of sleep the night before.
  • I can't make him get out of bed.
  • I can't ride for him. 
  • I can't make him pedal faster. 
  • I can't encourage him with words.
  • I can't motivate him to push himself up that hill. 

But what my presence can do is demonstrate my belief in my athlete's ability to "just do it."

You may not realize it, but you've been a cheerleader. 'Fess up--you were standing there in front of the television screen, yelling as your favorite athlete competed during the Olympics last month, weren't you! Everyone likes to be part of the athlete's "squad" when it's go time, the time when the results of all those hours, days, weeks, months, and years of practice shine.

Only a select few know what has gone before that moment: she was there, sitting quietly on some bench for 16 years, yawning into her coffee after chauffeuring her daughter at o'dark-thirty for swim practice, or because she's sat in the ice rink for over a decade, bundled against the cold, shivering while her boys skated after a puck and sweated. Those who accompany athletes to their practices are ministering to them with their presence. Not their words.

Because I cherish words and like influencing others with them, this is a hard reality. But I have to take my athlete at his and believe that my cheering is impacting him. The results of his performance are his alone.

Results aren't what I'm there for anyway. Yes, I'll slap his butt or knock knuckles with him and make positive listening noises when he shares his heart rate and calories burned. I now know that my job isn't to motivate, but to encourage.

Just by being there.

Who are you cheering for? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Notice the difference between the leaves at the bottom
of the tree and those at the crown.
I was sitting on the back deck a few days ago, reveling in the lower-than-usual humidity and the thanks-be-to-God cooler temperature when I noticed it. A tree that had, for most of the summer, looked like it was on death's door had produced a new crop of leaves in its crown, a long way from the ground. I grabbed the binoculars from my blue table just to confirm that my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. Trees don't produce new leaves in August, do they?

To this point, there had been no evidence whatsoever, and really more to the contrary, that anything productive was going on. The tree had stood there silently all summer, giving me no indication that anything of this magnitude was happening. In fact, its spring leaves shriveled and browned as they hung there, lank.

This summer my life has, in many ways, looked like that tree. I haven't written anything since June, even though my mind has been awhirl (the first week of July just about sent me over the edge). The days just kept whizzing by and I couldn't keep a thought in my head long enough to ponder it, let alone ruminate on it for anyone else's benefit.

It has appeared as though nothing of consequence has been transpiring.

There was unseen industry going on inside that tree, although I'm not sure the tree really had much say in the resulting leaves. It did what trees do--it stood with its face to the sun and drew nutrients and water from its roots. Without those, no amount of will or desire could've made anything happen.

Like that tree, I've done all I knew to do: stand. No amount of understanding, processing, and analyzing made anything happen. All I could comprehend was that those efforts were a futile waste of resources, a squandering of "nutrients" and "water" that was being drawn by Someone other than me from somewhere deep inside me to perform a work I couldn't even envision. I struggled mightily with the lack of productivity, but I couldn't do anything else.

I'm still not sure if any leaves have appeared (could you check my backside?) or are going to appear. But I'm realizing it's not my job to forecast the results. It's my job to stand.

What has your summer been like? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, June 6, 2016


Details. I love them. I like to collect them and roll them around in my mind like a handful of marbles. Around and around and around. It's mesmerizing and engrossing.

Details create stories.
Details frame events.
Details evoke feelings.
Details solve mysteries.
Details foster order.

Six lovely questions--who, what, when, where, why, and how--help me manage and organize details. Those questions generate more questions, which translates to more details to keep track of!

In May, three solid weeks of rolling marbles created detail overload. You could say I momentarily lost my marbles. There were so many details I wanted to understand so that I could make sense of what was coming. What I really mean by that is that I wanted to know what was coming so that I could manage my response to each situation.

My rationale was this:
1. If I could manage the details, I would be know what to expect.
2. If I could know what to expect, I could anticipate how I would feel.
3. If I could anticipate how I'd feel, then I wouldn't be helpless.

After 21 days of crazy, God sat me down one Monday morning. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) or I wouldn't get my marbles back. Our conversation went something like this:

Be still and know. You need to know Who I am more than you need to know details.
But I want to know. Why can't I know?
You wouldn't be still if you knew.
What do You want me to know?
That I am God.
Why do You want me to know that?
Because You can't control Me like you think you can those things you want to know.

I worked on the "be still" part by studying what it means. (Yes, I was looking for some kind of loophole.) In Hebrew, the word for that phrase is raphah. Raphah means to slacken, to cease, to let alone, to stay. When I pictured what it would look like for me "to slacken" my hold on details, I immediately imagined my hands slowly releasing the deeply wrinkled lapels of a man's suit, smoothing the fabric in an attempt to apologize for seizing it so tightly. Guess that was a clear indication of how tightly I was wound, huh. I needed what God had for me in this exercise.

Raphah also means healing. Somehow by being still I thought health and balance would return. It wasn't working. I wasn't experiencing relief or healing like I thought I would. I had a feeling it was because I was avoiding the second part of God's prescription: know that I am God.

I took some time to think about how I would embark on yet another earnest quest to know God. I've been trying to know God for as long as I've been in relationship with Him, which is about 45 years. I've tried gathering up all the details about Him I can find. I've rolled them around and around and around in my head, trying to make sense of Him. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. The only way that seems to work is to let Him make Himself known to me, let Him take control the process. Like He was doing now. Oh.

I still felt like I was back to square one. How was I going to be faithful to the second half of that verse? When I talked this through with my husband, he pointed out that the verse didn't say "know God." It said, "know that I am God." The rolling marbles slowed and my frazzled mind was soothed a bit. I already know that and believe that. Perhaps what I need to acknowledge is that He knows and manages the details better than I ever could. Probably has something to do with Him being sovereign and omniscient.

I'm still wrestling with my desire to know all the details, but I'm learning to let go and trust God with the marbles.