Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Writing with Four Legs: Wonder upon Wonder

Author's Note: Dakota, my 3.5-year-old yellow lab, is guest blogging today. She was a 2014 April Fool's joke that quickly turned into a foster situation. Her peaceful, honey-colored eyes and sweet, quiet temperament ultimately won us over and she became a permanent member of the family.

Occasionally she has things to share. Here are her thoughts...from under the Blue Table.

Today is Bob’s birthday. I’m excited because I’m guaranteed there’ll be wrapping paper on the floor at some point during the day. Michael and Sarah are home and they’ll be available for petting and playing. Jenn will cook, so there’ll be tasty spills on the floor for me too. I'm excited about "wonder upon wonder" just like it’s written in Isaiah 29:14. 

I hear Jenn say “praise upon praise” sometimes. I’ve heard “blessing upon blessing” said once or twice before too. "Wonder upon wonder" is my favorite. It describes my life.

Most days, Jenn throws the ball for me. Each and every time, that fuzzy, green ball flies across the sky and then tries to hide from me. It dives into the leaves or under a bush. Sometimes it even goes over a fence or bounces off a big tree. Once it hit a car. Over and over it flies. Over and over I chase. 

Wonder upon wonder.

Jenn and Bob give me mysterious presents all the time. It’s one of my favorite things about them. There’s something about a present that’s magical, yet mysterious at the same time. There’s this wonderful mystery about what’s inside.

I take my present and shake it.
Toss it up. 
Squeeze it. 
Bite it. 
Carry it around the house. 

It’s all part of the wonder.  

And then, when I can’t stand not knowing what’s inside, I joyfully rip open my wonderful present. My joyfulness is so great that Jenn and Bob often confuse it with destruction. Joy is powerful that way. Wonder upon wonder. 

I see people doing a lot of goofy things this time of year that look more like "stress upon stress" or "cat upon cat." I want to teach you a new trick. Fill your holidays with wonder upon wonder instead. Start with just one, like a ball.  I’ve learned that, most of the time, every wonder quickly leads to another wonder. You may have to sit first and possibly even lay down, but wonders will come. Although bones may show up a week or two apart, some of the best wonders will appear from someone who loves you and has a ball chucker in their hand. 

If you will hunt for them, you will find them. Wonder upon wonder.
  
Merry Christmas from by the tree (instead of under the table),

Dakota

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let there be Light

Sunrise at Browns Bridge Church.
It begins before I'm actually coherent--an awareness of a new beginning, the slow dawn of comprehension.

Here we go again.

I lean hard into bliss, trying to retain my hold on the fleeting moment of innocence--when I was ignorant to the light. But placing my head under my pillow or turning my back to the window only delays, but does not deter, the inevitable.

I have to face what I would like to pretend doesn't exist.

I could hang blackout curtains but I don't.

In my first house, I had blinds, vinyl shades I'd pull down to deter the light's gentle, yet persistent advance against the night. But the light did what light always does--it invaded the darkness, streamed in around the edges, and made its presence known, undeniable.

Light can only be what it is, and all it represents is a choice. It or darkness.

Some feel our country has seen the light; others believe we are entering a time of unprecedented darkness. And it's Christmastime, supposedly a season to celebrate the coming of the Light. Instead, friends experience heartache and pain, and strangers in Aleppo, Mosul, brothels, and forgotten neighborhoods are trapped by darkness that seems to be looming large.

I open my Book to the words of Isaiah, seeking enlightenment, and I'm blinded by the declaration of the ancient prophet:

"The people living in darkness have seen a great light; 
on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned." 

He speaks as though it has already happened. The people were living in darkness. The perpetual shadow of death had cast its gloom over them. Then a great light dawned, and they saw it.

But the advent of this prophesied Light hadn't already occurred when Isaiah spoke about it. In fact, the people he referred to continued to live and die in darkness. God was silent for 400 years. 

Four hundred years.

northpoint.org
Then, when the fullness of time had come, Zechariah, another holy man, echoed Isaiah's words about the Light Incarnate:

"...the Rising Sun 
will come to us from heaven 
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

And the Rising Sun came, just a few months later. The Light Incarnate was Jesus and He burst forth into a dark, cold night. His life was the Light that showed mankind the way out of darkness and ushered in the reality of everlasting peace. He offered all a simple choice: Light instead of darkness. Life instead of death.

+++

Once we've been awakened, once the Light has dawned, it's almost impossible to return to sleep. The light doesn't care if we're not ready to begin another time around the circle. It is immune to our frustration, our desire to believe it hasn't arrived.

Dawn breaks anyway, and we are forced to deal with it.





Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Influence: The Power of Showing Up

On Monday, I wrote the following for QPlace about Showing Up. I'd like to share it with you here today.

Influence. It’s something everyone wants, right? But how someone become a person of influence? According to Reggie Joiner, influence comes when you decide to become “a consistent presence in someone else’s life so that you can earn their trust.” He’d contend it all boils down to showing up.
If you’d ask him how he developed his view on this subject, he’d tell you he learned it from Geneva Bray.
Influence begins with empathy
Geneva Bray was born in 1893. She grew up in rural Georgia and lived most of her life without indoor plumbing.  She never drove, and her dad withdrew her from college because his brother convinced him that he was wasting his money educating a woman. She taught Sunday school in a small Methodist church.
One day, a nine-year-old girl was brought to the Bray family farm. She was the adopted daughter of Geneva’s brother, Herschel, the attending physician at the little girl’s birth to an unwed mother who couldn’t keep her. Herschel had committed suicide the year before, and his wife had also ended her life, leaving their little girl orphaned. A family meeting had been called because the county wanted to know if anyone would take her, even though she wasn’t a blood relative.
No one would. Except Geneva.
It’s Never Too Late
She was 54 when she took Dee Anne into her home. She had no idea when she added on a bedroom to her house, cooked for her, took her to church, made sure she did her homework, screened the boys who wanted to date her, funded her college and her wedding that her decision to show up would have a “ripple effect on the faith of a generation.”
How did Geneva Bray become someone with that level of influence?
Dee Anne was Reggie Joiner’s mother.

And who is Reggie Joiner? Reggie Joiner was the founding executive director of family ministry at North Point Community Church, the largest church in the United States. Reggie now heads up the reThink Group, an organization he founded to create curriculum that helps churches partner with families to cultivate the faith of the next generation.
Is showing up worth it?--does this pull the punch?
Although Geneva lived to be 98, she never knew the enormous impact of her decision. But it didn’t matter to her. She just knew that Dee Anne needed her.
Reggie shared his Aunt Nene’s story recently in a message series at North Point called “Helping the Next Gen Win.” He said, “When you show up, you don’t always know what’s going to happen. You can’t always see the future. But you find out that it’s worth it.”
What kind of influence do you want to have on the next generation, on your family, on your neighbors, your community, your nation? It all begins when you commit to show up.

You can hear Reggie’s complete message about the power of influence, entitled Show Up, at northpointonline.tv.

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.
Here.
...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? 
No.
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

Cheerleader

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

Standing

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

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.




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Got Pain? Finding God in the Ruins

I've been on a reading kick this year, and this is the second of three non-fiction book reviews. You can find the first one here. Enjoy! --Jenn
In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers (and me) something disturbing: "In this world you will have trouble." He wasn't kidding. What He says next has always been something that has heartened me: "I have overcome the world." I've believed that all my life. As I've aged, though, I've wondered what to do when I can't reconcile that statement with the evil I see in the world.


Matt Bays has personal experience with evil. He too has grappled with what to do when the cliches of Christianity didn't mesh with his reality, leaving him to wonder where God was while he lived through things he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

So Matt put God on trial to see if he could find Him and retain his faith in the aftermath of his agony.

Originally, I bought this book for a friend of mine who is walking through an incredibly difficult season. Before I gave it to her, though, I thought I should be familiar with the content so that we could talk about it later. 

I had no idea how this book would resonate with me.

I have long had the need to, as Matt describes it, "know the why" of everything. Then when I couldn't, particularly in light of the challenges I had faced and the predicament of evil in the world, I told myself that His ways are not my ways, and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I didn't know anything else to do when that didn't satisfy my need to know.

My own brokenness was also a challenge. I didn't want to embrace it; I wanted to remove it. When the Apostle Paul boasted about his weakness because it allowed Christ power to rest on him, I thought, "That's nice for you, but I don't want to boast about my weakness. Any other way I can get Christ's power to rest on me?" Then I read this by Matt about that very passage:

"The word glory is often defined as 'the silent existence' or 'the unspoken manifestation of God.' The Greek word for glory is doxa, which is also used to convey God's intrinsic worth or his core value. So not only is the glory of God revealed in our brokenness, in the ruins of our lives, in those things we can't figure out, get right, or seem to overcome, but his core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest. The silent existence of God is alive in my brokenness, where his power is not simply present but 'made perfect.'"

Wow.

Through this book I found an invitation to search for God's presence in the midst of my irreconcilable differences. Matt's heart for those who have felt they had no other option but to walk away from faith, still holding their unresolved pain and questions because they believed their only choice was to swallow their disbelief beats loudly. Matt almost did the same. He describes his church experience as a child this way: "The dominating message was that God wanted me to say yes no matter what and that the more difficult questions of life were unnecessary."

This book is so needed today. Many have never believed and many have walked away from belief because they didn't think they had permission to question, examine, or rail against this God they couldn't square with their circumstances. Matt understands our difficulty and has done what most wouldn't in order to give others hope: he has gone first.

In Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain, Matt stares God down as he works through every single question he has about his twisted childhood, daring God to show Himself real and present. One of his most powerful discoveries answered one of my questions too: Where is God in suffering? Matt found that while God allows evil, He is not absent while it is taking place. Not only is He present, He is experiencing our pain, the violations, the injustice WITH US. 

I had never before thought about what Jesus' suffering on the cross for the sins of all humanity for all time entailed. Matt explains what God showed him: Somehow, while He bore the weight of all those sins once for all that day two millennia ago, He also chooses to bear them with us as they happen. 

Matt describes it this way: "God wasn't staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on a dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn't leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised, and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me. It was him, the same as it was me." 

That's the God I want to--and do--believe in.

In the end, Matt shares this about his process: "We will never know what makes him God. We can make our guesses, but in the middle of our pain, the answers wouldn't matter anyway. We need more than answers. We need the love of God, no matter how awkward or fumbly."

Matt doesn't advocate blind faith or acceptance of the mysteries of God for God's sake. He invites anyone who has questions, doubts, pain, or unresolved irreconcilable differences with God to bring all of that before Him, out in the light. He's giving us permission to stand nose to nose with God and ask every single question we've ever had, show Him every single wound we've received, and ask for, demand, an explanation. He promises God can take it. 

I'll leave you with this final quote: "...I walked away from the faith I knew, and I'm glad I did. I closed the door until I was ready for something more--for something greater. Passing through darkness will always be a part of life because trouble will always be with us. But as I strain my eyes amidst the shifting shadows, I find Jesus in silhouette. Every detail of his face is not recognizable, but his form is unmistakable."

Matt has created a seven-day Bible reading plan to accompany this book. You can find it here: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1809-finding-god-in-the-ruins/day/1 

You can find his book on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Finding-God-Ruins-Redeems-Pain/dp/0781413834/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460558864&sr=1-1&keywords=finding+god+in+the+ruins

What pain haunts you or has you in its grip? Are you mad at God because He doesn't seem to be offering any purpose for it? I invite you to share in the comments.






Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Transform Your Broken Crazy by Looking for Lovely

Ever have a conversation with a friend and find yourself saying, "Me, too!"? This book felt like I was having that conversation with someone I didn't really know, but felt like I did. After reading Looking for Lovely, I'd like to find Annie, give her a hug, and do life together, and I'm pretty sure you will too.

Annie's honest, transparent look at a hard season of her life--which she calls the "broken crazy" (I can relate)--gave me the courage to do more than just say, "Me, too."

Looking for Lovely gave me ways to look for what's lovely in the midst of my struggles, and showed me that in those beautiful moments I would find hope. Annie's theory is that beauty discovered in the midst of hard ignites hope, making it possible to persevere to the other side instead of quitting.

Who doesn't want to persevere and not quit? I know I do--more so now that I've seen how "lovely" can be one of the gifts of a difficult process. 

Don't miss this book. It'll change how you view your "broken crazy" for good.

Have you read Looking for Lovely? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it! If not, you can find it here:  lookingforlovelybook.com

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Good Friday Conversation with Jesus

I'm conflicted every year on this day. On one hand, I like contemplating what You accomplished on this day. On the other, I'd like to skip over it to Easter morning. I know, though, that there'd be no Easter without this day, so I need to consider--try to feel--what my part was in Your crucifixion.

I like to think of myself as not all that sinful. As soon as I entertain that notion, I'm deceiving myself and in need of another rehearsing of my Lenten prayer. The truth, even if I can't get in touch with all the feels, is that I am sinful. I was sinful in my mother's womb, sinful from the day I first drew breath, doomed like all mankind from the moment Eve and Adam bit into that apple.

Yet it's not just inherited. I have willfully done what I knew was wrong. I still do. I have gone my own way. In spite of what I knew, I chose. Mine was just one of billions of decisions like that which made your death necessary.

Forgive me for being so flippant. It's hard for me because for as long as I've been aware of my sin, I've been aware of Your offer of salvation. I accepted it on its face as soon as my mind would allow me to comprehend the gift. Having accepted it so young, though, is like getting a gift from someone that I didn't fully understand how desperately I needed it. It's hard to be appropriately grateful because I don't know exactly what I've been saved from.

image courtesy Viziblee Different Design
I mean, I know the affects of my sin. But the suffering I've witnessed others experience because of their sinful decisions has not been my experience. Not that I'm any better. I'm not. All sin is equal in Your eyes. But You said when you were here with us that those who have been forgiven much, love much, while those who have been forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47). I feel like I fall in the latter category because I can't fully grasp the depth of my depravity, the immensity of my sin.

Still, I want to push through the intellectual assent that affords me the level of detachment and try to express the gratefulness I want to feel.

Lord Jesus, I deserved eternal separation and days without peace filled with endless struggle.
I deserved torment from the enemy as he led me about by the nose, thoroughly deceived and damned.
I deserved never to experience supernatural, unconditional love but only its earthly facsimile and broken relationships.

Instead, because of Your death on my behalf, in my place, this day:
I have a restored, right relationship with the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God of the universe and a secure eternal destiny.
I have the hope, the assurance of heaven and the knowledge that this life is not all there is.
I have peace in the midst of circumstances that surpasses understanding.
I have protection from and victory over the enemy of my soul because the Way, the Truth, and the Life was made known to me, and I've been set free from sin and all its eternal consequences.
I have experienced unconditional love that will never fail and can offer that love to those you've placed in my life.

For all that and more, I say, hallelujah, what a Savior!

Monday, March 14, 2016

When Desperation Trumps Fear

As I lay on the table, I asked Emily, my massage therapist, if it was just my imagination, or were there less knots in my shoulders than last time I was there.

She agreed there were.

Huh.

Last month, I shared how uncertain I was about participating in Lent. I was scared to listen to what God wanted to tell me, but too desperate not to.

I wasn't really sure He'd speak to me. In fact, I was pretty sure He wouldn't. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I began to hear things.

First, He told me to lower my shoulders. They were residing by my ears, and I was a hot mess of anxiety. The words "be still and rest" came to me over and over before I could accept that I was hearing correctly. Still, I squirmed with fear at the idea.

Second, He told me to lower my standards. Turns out, I'm harder on myself than God is. While I wrung my hands, wondering if I was measuring up and doing it right, He reminded me that I don't have to fear being examined. I am accepted.

Third, He told me to lower my shame. I cringed at what I imagined God would show me when I invited Him--every single day for 40 days--to "see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." While He did show me myself, God didn't open my eyes to my self-preserving behavior to give me the full picture of His condemnation. Instead, He gently and lovingly revealed my worth in spite of my sin and guided me to seek forgiveness of Him and of others. It has been freeing to see myself as I truly am.

As I've prayed the same words day after day, slowly--ever so slowly--I'm realizing that what looked like something I initiated was really a response to His relentless pursuit. God initiates relationship. With me, with you, with everyone.

Are you scared or desperate? I hope my experience will help you see that you don't have to be either. God knows your heart and wants to lead you in the way everlasting. Trust Him.

How would you describe your relationship with God? 


Monday, February 29, 2016

Toilet Paper Shares the Love of Jesus




I love how often God shows us that He isn't limited to words--or our best laid plans--to get His message delivered to those who need to hear it. This is the story of how God used a roll of toilet paper in a ziploc bag to share His love.

When Molly Scott of Cumming, GA, began facilitating a women’s small group from Browns Bridge Church in August 2014, she knew that one of the suggested activities for building community was finding a way to serve together. After discussing various opportunities, the group determined they wanted to help seniors. So Molly went to the county’s senior services department. There she met Jim Yarbrough, who oversees volunteer efforts.
Jim mentioned during their conversation that of the 200 seniors in the county who qualify for Meals on Wheels, 40 of them were categorized as high risk. Molly remembers Jim’s heartfelt concern as he said, “I don’t know how they make it each month. Many of them are homebound.” As their conversation concluded, he said, “Those people sure could use your support.”
I'm guest blogging at onQ today. Click on the link to read the rest of the story...
http://onq.qplace.com/2016/02/toilet-paper-really-sharing-jesus/#.VtRt6ZMrLMU

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rest

Sunday. I'm not sure how you spend this day each week, but for me, Sunday is a day of rest. At least that's what it's supposed to be, in theory. Well, not in theory, actually, but in practice.

I'm having trouble with the practice.

I'm not someone who rests well. My husband has perfected the art of the nap, but that's not really the kind of rest I'm talking about here. I don't naturally gravitate toward being still, although I'm not a person who always likes to be moving. When I know the goal is rest, I squirm. I'd be an excellent subject for a scientific study on restlessness. It would be interesting to see how many times I am up and down from the couch when I'm attempting to read a book. This past Sunday, I'd wager it was more times than a toddler at the dinner table.

I don't know why I have such trouble resting. Maybe my brain doesn't know how to be idle. I'm not a daydreamer. Maybe I'm trying too hard. My wise friend Donna says that when we are striving, we are not resting. While I know that's so true, most of the time I still find myself striving to rest! (The irony of that is not lost on me.) Sheesh.

While I was sitting with this dilemma, a fragment of a verse came to me. It might contain the beginnings of my answer. The psalmist said, "My soul finds rest in God alone."

Therein lies the rub.

I've practiced resting on Sundays, remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy (to quote the Ten Commandments), for as long as I can remember. But haven't been seeking rest for my soul.

How do I find rest in God alone? Other translations of this verse use the word "wait" for "rest." In order for my soul to find rest, I must wait with God. Again, I ask, how? With over 2200 Sundays of practicing under my belt during my 49 years on earth, the answer still eludes me.

Maybe how is the wrong question.

What comes to mind when you think about rest? 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Silencing My Easy Button

psdgraphics.com
I'm a firstborn daughter of two firstborns. I'm married to a firstborn and am the mama to a firstborn. You might say perfectionism is in my genes.

I've long joked that I abdicated my role and let my sister take all the firstborn tendencies I didn't want, but the reality is that while I may not feel the need to be perfect, I have wrestled with perfectionism's evil twin, approval, for a long time. A long long long time, folks. I'm tired of trying to measure up.

Can I get an amen?

Nothing pushes my approval easy button quite like Lent. If you're not familiar with the annual practice, it's the 40-day period before Easter when Christ followers choose to identify with the sufferings Jesus endured while being fully God and fully man during His 33 years on earth. I haven't studied Lent, but from what I understand the precedent for this is the biblical account of Jesus' 40 days of temptation by the devil in the wilderness. To show that they are willing to suffer, Christ followers choose to abstain from something that is a source of temptation or distraction. Like chocolate.

Perhaps now Fat Tuesday makes more sense.

Fast forward to the first of this month. It came to my attention that Ash Wednesday was Feb. 10. (WHAT? Four days BEFORE Valentine's Day?) I felt very uncertain about participating because I was very certain that I was feeling a bit lost, exposed, vulnerable, fragile, numb, and detached from myself. I was beginning to hear a whisper in my head, and I knew I needed someone to tell me the truth about myself.

The whisper? You're a poser. What makes you think doing Lent will incline God to tell you anything? God only speaks to the really spiritual people. Sure, you can write, but what makes you think you're an author, let alone an editor?

I wasn't being fooled, but that wasn't quieting the hissing voice of the accuser who was tempting me to believe those lies about myself.

So, even though I didn't feel up to trying to measuring up, I signed up. I didn't promise to give anything up. I only told God that I would pray one prayer every day for the entire 40 days:

Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
--Psalm 139:23-24

In years past--the approval years--I've not wanted to know the truth about myself, because I thought I didn't need to hear God confirm what I already knew. What I'm discovering is that His words to me are a lot different than I expected them to be. Yes, He's showing me my offensive ways, but He is also leading me into truth. I'm learning--or relearning--how to see myself the way He does.

Forgiven.