Tuesday, December 24, 2013

“This isn’t how I thought it would be.” : a Mary story.

As I sit here in the glow of my Christmas tree, soaking up the scent of my holiday candle, I see the packages under the tree that my parents sent from Kansas.  There are a couple of open boxes in the corner that haven’t been mailed.  An unfinished Christmas project has overtaken the coffee table, which also holds a box of cards that won’t get sent.  I’m so bad at Christmas.

Ya know, I’m just not really what you would call a “Christmas person.”  I know, I know.  How can I love Jesus,  be in church work, and NOT be excited about His birth?!  Well, perhaps the Grinch and myself have something in common, but I think it has more to do with the crazy of the season and my tendency for ridiculous expectations.

I love giving thoughtful gifts.  I secretly dream of getting THE PERFECT THING that each person on my list has always secretly hoped and dreamed to receive.  If I fall short, I’m disappointed.  I get bummed when I don’t hear from loved ones I’m thinking of during this season.  It’s hard to spend the days leading up to Christmas, knowing that the Schwalm girls are filling the kitchen with goodies and sneaking gifts under the tree.  I sit and wonder who will wrap my Dad’s gifts for him and why I didn’t take time to adopt a Christmas angel this year.  I didn’t get to go to the Holidazzle parade or make it back for my alma mater’s Christmas concert.  I miss snow and I can’t make desserts like my mom.  My apartment is empty and my work load is full.  And I can’t help but think to myself: “This isn’t how I thought it would be.”

I heard someone say once, “This craziness of Christmas is ridiculous!  Do you think the first Christmas was like that?!  No!”  I can’t argue about the over-the-top nature the holiday has taken, but I’m pretty sure Christmas has always been crazy.

God blessed me with new eyes for Jesus’ mother, Mary, this Advent—a glimpse into her story.  Picture her.  Sweet teenage Mary.  Engaged to a lovely man.   Dreaming of the festivities they would have with the whole village to celebrate their nuptials.  Enter Gabriel the game changer.  Mary takes her assignment of birthing the Messiah with obedience, grace, and faith and in a flash, the holy baby bump is the talk of the village.  Hurtful words and whispers abound, dreams of a joyous and honorable wedding are dashed, and her man is having doubts.  Thankfully Elizabeth gave her some encouragement and Joseph jumps aboard after a little visit from the Lord while he was sleeping.  The wedding is still on, but not the large, honorable festivities, I’m sure.  She would never have a wedding like the one where her Son turned water into wine.  They would always be under scandal.  People are wondering about Joseph, too.  Just like that, this couples’ obedience to God has earned them scarlet letters.   And I have to wonder if at the thought of her crushed bridal dreams, she said, “This isn't how I thought it would be.”

But moving on, there’s a baby on the way.  Of course, they didn’t have a baby registry or a nursery to decorate, but there were still plans to be made.  I’m sure Mary had spoken with Nazareth’s midwife.  I'm sure those were interesting conversations.  I'm thinking she had delivered enough babies to question the whole virgin birth thing.  There are certain to have been conversations with Mary’s mom about what to expect and tricks to handle the pain.  They probably prepared a place for the birth and a few items for the baby soon to come.  After all, it could be any day now.  But wait, word arrives to Nazareth that there is a census being enforced by the Roman occupation.  All must register.  No exceptions.  (Note God's creative use of political oppression here as a tool to get Mary and Joseph 80 miles down the road to Bethlehem so the prophecy would be fulfilled.  Well played.)  I can only imagine the tears rolling down Mary’s face as Joseph broke the news.  “I’m sorry, Mary, but we have to go to Bethlehem right away.  It’s a long journey, but we have no choice.”  She rushes to gather a few things together—a few loaves of bread, a wine skin, and some strips of cloth for swaddling for the baby’s arrival—while her mother repeats delivery instructions over and over again to the young, first time parents.  Mary wouldn’t have her midwife there, or her mama, or anyone who had been a parent before.  And as they left Nazareth all their plans for the birth of their child fading behind them, I’m sure Mary had to have thought at least once, “This isn’t how I thought it would be.”

Yes, I know she was obedient in this calling, but she was still human.  And any human riding nine months pregnant on a donkey for four days is sure to have some unholy thoughts.  As they come into this humble village of Bethlehem, the place is packed.  So packed that they can’t even get a room to sleep in.  The kind innkeeper offers a livestock cave out back so they can at least get out of the wind.  And Mary goes into labor.  In a place with sheep dung all over the ground, reeking of animals, chilly, and rocky.  I could image her desperation in that moment.  “Okay…I didn’t get the wedding, my first child is shamed, not celebrated by my village, the Romans force us to come to Bethlehem with a baby bouncing on a donkey ride, and I’ve been a good sport.  But…this?!?!  This. Is. Ridiculous!”  She has nothing to welcome her little one with, except for a few strips of cloth she brought and a new dad to help with the delivery.  This was so not how she thought it would be.

Jesus is born and Mary is exhausted.  She needs to rest, but can’t put Jesus down on the sheep poop floor.  I have to believe Joseph improvised with the whole manger idea and was so proud of his problem-solving dad moment.  He knew it wasn’t what she’d imagined, but the best they could do.

But wait.  There’s more.  God is so excited about the arrival of His Son to earth that He has to tell someone!  Why not some shepherds?  They’re close and still awake…bring ‘em over!  And poor post-labor Mary welcomes a bunch of filthy shepherds to the cave, probably accompanied by some sheep, to see the Christ lying in a feeding trough.  It really had to be nothing like she’d expected.  But that was the moment that it all hit her.

It was as if she relived all the moments that led up to that point, starting from Gabriel’s visit.  The pregnancy scandal, the talking neighbors, the almost divorce, the census, the journey, the donkey..oh, the donkey, the crowded inn, the sheep cave, the broken birth plans, and shepherds being the first to visit the newborn.  But she smiled and pondered all of these moments in her heart because through all of that, a stringing together of one crazy event after another, the Messiah was born just as she’d been told.

It didn’t get easier from there.  They had to flee to Egypt for awhile.  Their families wouldn’t have met Jesus until they returned to Nazareth when he was a young child.  Perhaps she’d thrown her expectations out the window by then.

So I stop and look around at my Christmas crazy.  My packages and projects.  Or just my regular crazy.  My unattained goals and unreached landmarks.  Are my expectations getting in the way?  Am I willing to give up my dreams and expectations for what God might have in mind?  Do I trust that when difficult arises that God’s provision and protection is bigger than my fear and discomfort?  Am I taking time to ponder in my heart what God has done this year to bring me to this point?  Am I missing the Savior for being focused on the manger?

There have been SO many times in my life that I’ve uttered those words, “this is not what I thought it would be.”  But one thing remains true every Christmas since the first, and it’s true for this one.  Jesus is here.  God has kept His promise and in a way no one expected.  Christmas has always been crazy.  This year is no exception.  Take a cue from Mary.  Roll with it.  Do some pondering.  And join in worshiping with the shepherds.

Sometimes I wonder if she really knew what it all meant.  I mean, she knew Jesus was the Messiah, but what did that mean to her?  Did she expect Him to reign as King of Israel?  Lead a mighty military?  Overthrow the Roman oppressors?  Did she really expect him to…be a carpenter like His dad?  Well, both of His dad’s did like to make things…so I guess it works.  Did she expect him to have a posse and travel around speaking and healing?  I don’t know.
There was a moment where Mary stood next to John, the one Jesus loved, and looked up at her first born.  A baby once wrapped in cloths was now a beaten, bloody mess hanging with His hands and feet nailed to a cross.  As His mother stood there in John’s arms, overcome by sadness, I believe she was grieving dreams of who she thought Jesus would be both as her son and her Messiah.  Perhaps saying for a final time, “This…this is not how I thought it would be.”

But on that Good Friday at the cross and that night in Bethlehem, heaven replied, “For you, for the world, for hope, life, and salvation, this is how it had to be in to accomplish what’s meant to be.”

You having life for hear and eternity is what’s meant to be.  Jesus brought that for you. 

Merry Christmas. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

fall: God's lesson about the beauty of death.

Since I can remember, I’ve been the little girl that loved to soak up every moment of summer.  No school, bikes, pools.  But something in me has shifted in the last few years.  After years of summer confidently standing in the number one spot, fall has wiggled its way in to gain the gold.  Maybe it was my first Phoenix summer a few years ago that began a wedge between summer and me.  At just that time, I returned to Minnesota for the most magical season of color and crispness.  Some of my favorite moments with the Lord have been spent running or sitting along a lovely walking path that parallels the Mississippi River that splits Minneapolis from St. Paul.  The path is best in fall with massive deciduous trees shedding color combinations only God himself could create.  The crisp air on this girl’s face inspired and empowered me with new energy; perhaps a necessary jolt before the winter hibernation set in.

It’s the perfect time of year for a walk with a sweater and scarf.  Just when it gets a little too chilly, you can find your way into a cozy coffee shop that smells of sweet cider drinks and warm conversation.  There’s just something about this season.  Fall makes me feel alive and romanced.  I grieved missing the leaves, the orchards, and the sweatshirt weather this year as I sit by the pool in capris and a t-shirt.  The desert doesn’t do fall quite like Minnesota or New England, but there are echoes of the same refreshing sentiment.  I love the smell of fire pits in the evening and the ability to be outside again after our season of summer hibernation.

This season just resonates in me.  Its beauty and romance are just captivating to me and I wanted to figure out why.  Why is a season of death so stunning?  That’s really what it is.  The trees shedding their dead and burying them into expired lawns.  It’s a gorgeous death.  I got a little concerned for a bit that maybe at my core, I was enamored with a season of dying and my future will be resigned to reading Poe and wear black jackets and eyeliner.
But I don’t think that’s the case.  What if God, at the fall of humanity, weaved His redemption narrative into creation?  I mean, that sounds pretty simple, right?  We see dead things making soil rich to bring new life.  New growth emerges from out of the snowy winter.  We see parallel stories to Christ everywhere.  Maybe it’s been obvious to everyone else all along, but I have been captured these past few weeks by this notion:  God weaved a season of beautiful death into creation’s rhythm so it would already be familiar to our souls.

Think about it.  Death is the most ugly thing in existence.  It can be gory, gross, the most destructive and permanent part of life.  It goes against everything we are as created beings to find death beautiful.  So perhaps God did some foreshadowing in nature to prepare us and familiarize our beings with this seemingly oxymoronic concept that is essential to the Gospel.  Jesus took the most horrid death imaginable and redefined love and beauty where a curse once lived.  It’s a stretch for us to believe that God not only makes beautiful things out of the dust and dead, but He made death itself beautiful.  God shedding and killing our old selves to make us look more like him is beautiful death.  In a very literal way, letting go of life here to enter into eternity will be the most beautiful and true moment our souls will ever know.  I struggle to grasp it all, but Fall helps me to trust it’s possible.  I’m grateful today that God helps us see images of His truth in what He’s created because He knows our lack of faith and understanding.  What a good Dad.

Some of the most wonderful glory I’ve witnessed has been through this season of death.  It’s taught me to pay attention in other life seasons where death seems to prevail.  In relationships, in jobs, in health, in tragedy.  The promise stands that God is making it beautiful.  If we don’t stop and take a walk among what is dying, we may miss the beauty He’s painting into death to woo us, comfort us, and draw us further into His romantic story of redemption.  May we never miss it.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Word for the Worship Leaders: impractical, extravagant worship

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. " 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  John 12:1-8

Each fall our congregation does a series focusing on stewardship. Often when I think about stewardship, I perceive it conservatively. I immediately ask myself “where can I trim the fat and be more frugal so I that I can give more?”  There's always room for simplification and to really think carefully about how we are spending what God has blessed us with.  This story from John beats the concept of frugality to a pulp and throws it out in the street with its brother practicality.  There is nothing conservative, or stingy about Mary here.  The disciples are appalled at her wastefulness with using a bottle of expensive perfume to worship and honor Jesus.  They don’t understand.  Jesus was so simple in living.  Mary was being extravagant.  When they gave her a hard time about it, expecting that what Jesus would do, He defends her actions.  I’m sure they were confused and frustrated, but Jesus was delighted.  The power of love and forgiveness has transformed Mary’s broken life and story.  It had over taken her to the point of extravagant, over-the-top, impractical worship.  When we are called and claimed as Christ’s, we are set apart and transformed.  Life looks different when we see that no expense was spared for our salvation.  Without realizing it, we’re moved to spare no expense, not even our pride, to bring honor and praise to a relentless, loving Father.  In the Old Testament, when Solomon's temple was being built, there was no expense spared to honor God in that place.  There was no budget on the beauty, time, or expense given to honor the King of kings.  It pushes us to think about that seriously.  How can I worship and honor God extravagantly with what He has given me?  Am I so changed and in awe of God’s love for me to give up much for his honor?  How do we be good stewards of our resources and still worship extravagantly as a body?  This week and in the weeks to come, what does it look like to give up something valuable -- time, money, attention, looking cool -- to fall at the feet of Jesus in worship for how great His grace is toward us?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Word for the Worship Leaders: the power in praise.

[Word for the Worship Leaders is a new type of post that has come out of creating devotional moments to feed and encourage the worship leaders and teams of our ministry.]

 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  Psalm 8

This coming week, we're focusing on children in our "All in the Family" worship series.  God has created us to praise Him -- even as children and infants we are filled with breath and song to give our God glory.  And why?  Verse 2 says that praise silences the foes.

Nothing delights me like singing Bible songs to my godchildren and nephew as they fall asleep in peacefulness.  I have this powerful memory of my two week old nephew on the night of his baptism.  He was almost humming along with his baby noises as I rocked him and sang "I am Jesus' Little Lamb" over him.  Even so small, he was singing the praise of Jesus.

Much like the lullabies for children, singing praise calms us and puts our hearts to rest.  God is once again sitting on the throne of our hearts in our worship.  When I am afraid or worried or just spinning with thoughts, I often sing worship songs or hymns 
outloud to proclaim the truth of God's power in and among me and that situation.  It's a deep breath that reminds my heart of what is true.  Praise lets the enemy know that I'm not believing his lies or afraid of his work, but claiming the power of Christ crucified and risen.  The power grows as we proclaim praise collectively, as we speak God's promises to each other and go forth collectively in the power and purpose of God.

To my fellow worship leaders, we must remember that we are blessed with that opportunity every week -- to proclaim the praise of Jesus and speak the truth that silences the foes.  We get to lead the song of victory and proclamation for our gathered family of faith.  Whatever lie the foe is whispering or tactic he is trying to turn, when we praise with our heart, the lie loses ground.  The tactic weakens.  Our worship is so much more than a cool song with a sweet melody.  It's proclaiming the praise of Christ that silences every foe.  May this be our goal as worship leaders and people of faith -- to proclaim foe-silencing praise in our lives and for all those gathered.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

perfect isn't real (PART 2): protecting an honest house.

So I received a lot of feedback from last’s week’s post “perfect isn't real: the foolish art of hiding your crazy.”

I must say that I am proud and a bit relieved to know that so many people I’m connected to are resonating and considering the same things of being authentic.  My friend, Lindsey, who has been a wonderful and lovely mutual sharer of crazy for a long time, asked a great question that I’ve been chewing on.

How do we go about being as honest as we can with strangers or others who aren't yet "safe”?

She went on to profoundly capture the struggle we find ourselves in:

Some of our crazy is only safe with those who won't turn that knowledge into a weapon...but if we never get to a place of feeling fully or at least mostly seen by others, then the devil's lies of "they don't really know you..." gain strength. 

Knowing my friend speaks great wisdom, I’ve continued to wrestle.  Not everyone has earned the right to know all of our stories.  The truth is our crazy is not safe with everyone we meet.  People who over share their life stories and wounds too quickly may not be guarding their heart as they should be. Scripture encourages us to guard our hearts, but also to not be a dish only clean on the outside.  So how are we honest, but not completely compromised?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the "closed off" side of this spectrum, to the point where it kept people from getting to know me.  The summer I worked at camp, a fellow counselor said to me in frustration, “you’re like Fort Knox..everybody knows there’s gold inside but nobody can get in.”  I don’t think I was being dishonest in that season, but just very guarded.

In effort to better connect with others and build relationships, I’ve dabbled on the “too open” side.  I’ve been so excited about building relationships, being affirming and pursuant, and letting people get to know me, while making them completely overwhelmed. 

There are people who didn’t protect my heart, my feelings, or my crazy and I got really hurt because of it.  There are others I was so distant from that they gave up trying to know me.

I admit that I’m still trying to figure this stuff out, especially as experiences continue to shape how much I swing back and forth on this social pendulum.  Awhile back, though, I was given an image that has helped me immensely to figure out how I’m honest and also protecting myself.

Picture yourself as a house.  Imagine away: the yard, the paint color.  How many rooms?  Is there a porch or a fence around the outside?  My house is a cozy small home with a grayish paint and white trim.  It has a big front window and a porch with white furniture.  A small white fence runs around the yard with grass and flowers.  What’s yours look like?  Can you picture it?  

Now, someone new is coming over.  Will you go out to meet them at the gate and chat with them across the fence?  Will you invite them to sit on the porch with a glass of iced tea?  Are they welcome to step inside to the foyer right away or even have a seat in the living room?

Some people are completely comfortable having new faces come right in and sit on their couch.  Some might want to meet on the porch a few times first.  You may decide to only chat over the fence with some.  Others may get to skip ahead to the foyer.  There may be months before anyone gets to see your kitchen and years before someone is invited into your room or your back closet full of the craziest crazy.  You know...the closet with the random junk you don’t know what do with.  It exists in our real homes and in our persons.  So here’s the deal.  This piece that gave me freedom and encouragement in all of this.

You get to decide.

You’re the one who gets to decide who is allowed in the yard, but not in the kitchen.  You get to decide how quickly someone gets to progress or not progress into your home.  You get to decide if someone is never allowed within the fence again.  You choose who stays in the yard and who is always welcome to sit on the couch.  You get to decide.

BUT...here’s the twist.  No matter the level you allow another into, let it be honest.  Don’t try to convince someone that the big mansion down the street is you.  Don't spend your life savings paying a gardener for a perfectly manicured front lawn and leaving your home inside in shambles.  When you invite people into your home, leave your Rock and Roll posters on the walls of your office.  Leave the encouragement you wrote to yourself on the bathroom mirrors.  If you're blaring N'Sync in the house, listen to it on the porch, too.  If someone is allowed all the way to the kitchen, offer them a Capri-Sun from your stash in the fridge.  Ask them to take off their shoes before entering an area that requires extra gentleness or leave their shoes on where there's broken glass or lost Legos in the carpet.  People who make it to your kitchen and don't like what they see, will either make themselves at home in the mess, roll up their sleeves and help you do the dishes, or find themselves uninvited.  That's how it works.  You need people in your kitchen, but not everyone in your kitchen.  People mocking, destroying, or stealing from your house get asked to leave.  People who take the time to love the process of being welcomed will cherish your house and join you in its protection and care.

Permit me to be so bold here for a moment with some real talk for my single friends.  Until that future spouse of yours has bought the keys to the whole house, the bedroom should stay locked.  It’s really tough to catch up on the bonding of the porch stage and regain the boundary of the living room, if someone has been given free reign of every part of the house.  Single or married, set that room aside for the most intimate relationship you will ever have—a place where no other relationship will go. Guard that room from any other relationship.  Be selective.  This is where your biggest crazy is shared and protected by someone else and you share and protect theirs.  This is not a room for just anyone.

So choose your safe and healthy pace for building depth in any relationship, but be authentic at every level that you invite someone to see.  And remember to be patient and gracious as the other person is doing the same with you.

Relationships of all kinds aren't about who hides their crazy the best, but who is managing it, protecting it, bettering it, and sharing it with trusted someones.  Because we all need that friend or two who will help us open the door to that scary back closet.

Friday, August 30, 2013

perfect isn't real: the foolish art of hiding your crazy.

I think I’ve always been pretty good at hiding my “crazy.”  I’m sure, like most people, I think I’m better at it than I actually am.  You know what I mean by your “crazy”…those parts of yourself that are less than becoming; your quirks, personality flaws, major turn offs even.  Despite your best efforts, I know you’re not perfect, because I know I’m not.  Some may not even know what theirs is, but everyone has their own set of crazy.

Our culture rewards people based on their ability to hide their crazy.  All you have to do is observe candidates running for office to witness this in action.  Slick suits, smooth rhetoric, a sweet smile, and charming, winsome words.  We run toward people who seem to say and do all of the right things…at least while people are watching.

They who have mastered hiding their crazy get the most (first) dates, followers, job offers, and birthday wishes on Facebook.  In a world of photoshop, tummy tucks and auto-tune, we begin to believe our goal is an unreal and unattainable something.  It breaks my heart.  

Sometimes I can’t help but think that so little has changed since Jesus walked the earth.  The religious teachers looked the part, spoke the law perfectly, followed every regulation, and were highly revered because of it.  No wonder John the Baptist didn’t make much of a splash with this crowd!  This unkempt, bug-eating, wilderness dude’s presence didn’t quite compel the masses into preparing for the Messiah.  The average folks didn’t have ears for someone who wasn’t bright and shiny on the outside.  The dude was out there.  Jesus pointed out to his disciples in Matthew 17 that an Elijah had come back to prepare for the Messiah.  It was John the Baptist and people didn’t recognize him in camel hair cloak.

I’ll admit, I can often struggle to see beyond the crazy of others.  1 Samuel 16:7 always gets me. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."   I am guilty of this.  I have been drawn to those who hide their crazy well and have lived most of my life wanting to fool others into thinking mine doesn’t exist.

As I’m maturing, I’m realizing the truth of 1 John 1.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  I’m over mastering this “crazy hiding” art.  It makes me tired.  It makes me wonder if people would really love me if they knew my quirks and shortcomings.  I don’t want to blindside someone with “who I really am” and I don’t want to be blindsided by someone else.  I've never felt so loved as when I've been in a community that is totally aware of my crazy, I of theirs, and we walk together growing in faith and wholeness.  Community is most beautiful when messy.  When you can be you and know you are loved.  Crazy and all.  That's what Jesus is about.  Loving us in the midst of our crazy and asking us to be honest about it.

I’m learning that lesson--to be drawn to people who are honest, healthy and working toward health.  Healthy people know they have crazy and are working on it.  They are honest and self-aware; understanding that people may take or leave them because of their crazy, but refusing to live any other way.

So I will tell you, if you want to prove to me that you’re perfect, our friendship won’t go far.  I am leery of perfection.  It only makes me more nervous about the crazy that bubbles beneath the surface.  If bits of my crazy are showing and I feel cast down, our connection will also be limited.  I’m tired of trying for “perfect.”  I’m working on “better,” while resting in “honest.”  Take me or leave me... glasses and s'mores on my face and all.

So how do we navigate the road between hiding our crazy and scaring people off with our freak flag  (especially if you're someone who would like to find a spouse or some friends)?  Stay tuned for part 2…

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

one sure step: how a marathon begins.

When I go hiking with people who are new to it, I often say to them, "every step a sure step."  Meaning take your time, get your foot set in a good place, and then take the next step in the same way. It prevents many unnecessary falls, hurts, and backsliding.  It ensures healthy, solid forward motion, one step at a time.

This sentiment has been echoing throughout blogs and books I've read, Bible studies I've attended, and guidance I've sought out in the past week.  I'm beginning to get a clear picture of my newest goal--simply taking one intentional step.

I'm a big change kind of gal.  I want to do something major.  Funky colors in my hair.  Write an album's worth of songs.  Make banners for every week of Lent and each Holy Week service (but seriously..what was I thinking?).  Become an expert at all that I scratch on the surface.  When asked how I can work on myself, I give a list of 10 things I'm starting immediately.  This is me.   I won't always jump, but when I do, I run, leap, twist in the air, and cannonball into whatever it is, expecting to make the tidal wave splash.

I want to win the marathon as soon as I cross the starting line.  I struggle with the single steps.

If you're anything like me, you can get hung up on the fact that life isn't perfect.  When things are hard, out of sync, or even feel broken for me, I follow one of two tendencies (usually one, then the other).

1.) I wallow thinking all is lost.

"This thing sucks.  He hurt me.  She is so difficult to deal with.  This isn't working.  I'm not where I want to be.  I don't know what to do."  Sound familiar?  Maybe it's just me.  I struggle to turn off the reruns of my life's worst clips.  I have to put up mental stop signs and not allow myself to go there anymore.  I have to ask God to show me all the blessings He's given me and to fill me with gratitude.  Choosing not to wallow is difficult sometimes, but choosing to continuing wallowing is, by no means, what Jesus had in mind for our "life to the full."

2.) Scrap it all and start over!

Then, I pendulum swing.  I make some bold proclamation followed by a bold step.  Usually it doesn't last for too long, but actually, usually shifts me just enough to accomplish jarring me out of my wallowing funk.  I try to be super intentional and make a big change, but that's the problem.  Gym memberships go half used.  Books are left read a quarter of the way through.  Healthy food spoils.  The scope has been way too broad for me to be successful.  I wind up feeling frustrated with a diminished sense of self-efficacy.  "Welp...guess I can't fix it, so I'll just ignore it or go back to being bummed about it."

But God is teaching me about small steps.  Well, even a singular "step."  One step taken with purpose.  One step to grow in my relationship with the Lord.  Then one change to be more healthy.  Then one action toward better boundaries.  Then one step to grow in community.  Being intentional one step at a time not only keeps us from ending up somewhere we didn't want to be without us realizing it, but it takes us somewhere better than where we are.  Bit by bit.  Because small steps are sure steps, that encourage forward motion without fear of backsliding or failure.  Not many have energy to overhaul their life every time something feels off.  Small steps are manageable and grace filled.  We can win at them and victory spurs us on to take another.

I adore St. Francis of Assisi who said this: "Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

That resonates with my "go big or go home" attitude. :-)  That's the power of taking a hike full of sure steps.  Asking God to shape us one small adjustment at a time, takes us to a totally different world that we never thought we could actually reach.

Small steps have revitalized me and given me hope to believe I can make positive change in my story.  To feel more focused, more healthy, more free with each drop of my heel is invigorating.  I know I will require much grace for this less than expedited process, but I trust and believe that everything God grows takes time.  Growth is slow, but somehow so riveting.  Even though you never see the exact moments of movement, growth is measured over time and the beauty that unfolds is well worth the wait.

I know that I'm just starting the marathon of intentional steps I want to take in my story, but I'm learning that I can't finish a marathon without taking that first sure step.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"3 reasons why you must guard your heart" : a blog from Michael Hyatt.

I recently came across this blog post from Michael Hyatt, who is a guru in the realm of leadership and who recently published a book called "Platform" that is making quite a splash.

This blog post, however, brings such humility, humanity, and reality to this big named leader.  Someone with years of experience and who has seen favor throughout his career, points out the incredible importance of the heart.  It just might be one of the most truth-filled and important things I've read in awhile.



Saturday, June 1, 2013

writing on the hard days: beautiful things in his time.

Creativity is an overflowing of life for me.  And when I “don’t feel like it,” it’s difficult to create, to design, to write.  I love writing.  More and more all the time it seems.  But on hard days, it’s a struggle to get there.

I don’t want to remember the junk and frankly, I think people have enough of that to read and deal with in life. 


Last week, God showed me something amazing.  It’s like He was letting me in on a backstage tour of some of His recent top-notch work.

I had coffee with a friend who was visiting from out of town.  It’d been awhile since I’d seen her and I was thrilled to meet her new little baby girl.  As I held this sweet angel in my arms, I looked up at her mama and reminded her where we were a year prior.  Just months before, we were pleading with the Lord to bless her family with another child.  Our eyes filled with tears just thinking about what God did in a year!  Beautiful things in His time.

Later that day, a dear friend called me to let me know she was engaged!  I knew it was coming and was so happy to celebrate with her.  She’s a long-time friend whom I’ve had the wonderful privilege of walking with through the ups and downs, the uncertainties and unknowns of life.  And we, too, had a moment of remembering the transformation of the past year and what God had done in her story in such a short time.

God delights in redeeming stories; in working things out in ways we could never ask for or even imagine.  (Eph. 3:20-21)  I loved how He let me watch that happen and made sure I noticed His mighty work of the past year, twice in one day.


After some days of not writing, I presented my struggle to the Lord in a conversation of prayer.

He said this: “I want you to write on the hard days.”

“Really?!  Why?” I reply.  “I don’t want to remember this or stay in this place.  I don’t want people to think this is who I am.  I just want things to be different.”

“That’s just the point.”  I imagined Him saying it with a smile.

“I want you to write on the hard days.  Remember the struggle and ache.  Remember all of the things you’ve laid before me in the midst of your hurt.  Remember that I'm there, reminding you of My love and promises; that my faithfulness is unwavering through difficulty.  Remember just where you are today, so when I’ve redeemed this day in your life and further unfolded your story, you will be able to look back with the deepest sense of awe and gratitude about what I’ve done.  You’ll be able to look back and be amazed at how I made everything beautiful in its time.  Just as I’m promising you, today, that I will.  Write about your hard days, so you can see just how I unveil my redemption in ways unexpected and in a time unknown.  Write today, so that a year from now, you will be able to see my beautifully creative work reshaping and guiding your story.  You’ll see how I’ve been working behind the scenes.  The more you trust Me, the more you will be different.  You won’t be in this same place when you look back.  This is your before picture, so you can more fully praise Me for what you see after.”

I know that sin runs too deep for hard days not to exist and that the resurrection of Christ is way too big for better days not to come.  So today, trusting that God’s living and active promises are bigger than what I see and feel in this moment, I write.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

women are life givers: thoughts on mother's day and the many types of mamas.

I read an article this past week about Pope Francis speaking to a group of nuns from around the world.  His word to them was this: be spiritual mothers, not "old maids."

Days like Mother's Day always get me reflecting on how grateful I am for whomever or whatever is being celebrated.  My mom is phenomenal and I am so blessed each day to call her mine.  But the Pope's remark got me to thinking a lot more broadly this week about what it means to take up the calling of motherhood.

Women are set apart to be a different kind of a blessing to the world.  The first woman and mother was given the name "Eve" which means "life."  What a bold reflection of our life-giving God!  Women have been made to be life givers.  That's seen most obviously through child birth, but it can look a lot of other ways, too.  We admire you mamas that went through labor and breastfeeding or spent long hours waiting and watching for your adopted little one.  We honor you today for your lifetime commitment to loving these children of yours.  Additionally, though, I also want to acknowledge mothers of all shapes and kinds who may or may not be called "mom."

There are lots of phenomenal women throughout my story that have gone out of their way to love me and mother me.  Spiritual encouragers, mentors, friends, teachers, coaches, RAs, bosses, professors.  My life has been filled with some top notch women.  Some of my favorite mothers have never bore a child.

I think about my vocations at the moment.  Being an auntie to my nephew, Jared, and a godmama to Aaron and Lydia are among the top of the list.  The responsibility I feel to invest in them, let them know they are loved, and help them to grow in truth is huge.  I've yet to have a child of my own, but I hear God's calling to be a spiritual mother.  I think of the love and responsibility I've felt and feel for my college students and youth as their leader and mentor.  Some of my residents in college used to call me "Schmama."  I loved loving those freshmen girls.  I wanted to encourage them and speak life into their worlds as others had for me.  As my former students keep in touch and are excited to share milestones with me, I swell with joy and pride to have been part of their lives.  I also think of some very special families in my life that have invited me to join in loving their kids.  I value that role and those relationships deeply and want to love them well.

This is what Church does [and I'm speaking particularly to the ladies today].  We must be encouragers and speak life to the young, just as others did for us.  Today, I say thank you to those magnificently strong and faithful women that have encouraged and inspired me in what it means to be a woman of God.  I'm grateful to be inspired by mothers of all kinds.

Mothers who are creative and make everyday an adventure for their kids.
Mothers who may not ever deliver their own biological kids, but are mothers to many abandoned and abused children in orphanages or homes.
Mothers who commit to praying and encouraging us and in turn, teach us to pray and encourage.
Mothers who are their baby's source of food for months and months.
Mothers who teach their kids to love strangers.
Mothers who sacrifice so much for their kids to eat healthy and accommodate dietary restrictions.
Mothers who set an example of quiet humility in a role that doesn't often receive much glory.
Mothers who say their sorry and teach their kids to apologize and forgive.
Mothers who don't protect their kids from every challenge or struggle, but walk with them through it.
Mothers who are their kid's biggest cheerleader, even from half way across the country.
Mothers who are so nurturing at their core, that they can't bear to see children without a family so they adopt or do foster care.
Mothers who help their daughters become mothers as they also take on being a grandmother.
Mothers who aren't just raising good kids, but molding great adults.
Mothers who look more like fun aunties who want to make sure a kid knows they're extra special and have lots of people that love them.
Mothers who look more like teachers, youth leaders, or coaches and challenge kids in their day to day life.
Mothers who look more like friends or mentors that seek for others to grow, walk in righteousness, be healthy, and love Jesus like crazy.
Mothers who adopt strays without families nearby.
Mothers who are always available to babysit when full-time moms and dads need some help.
Mothers who commit to be part of raising children and loving children, youth, and adults that aren't their own.

You and your love breathe life and allow people, families, and communities to flourish.

It makes no difference if our first name is "mom" or not.  We have a powerful job in the Church and in your community to be mamas.  To welcome, to teach, to love.  To bring life.
Thank you to those who have brought life into my story and the stories of many.  May we strive to pass on the legacy of life given to us.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

adventure and community: a revelation.

Adventure is such an amazing concept.  My dear friend, Kelsey, and I have spent endless hours discussing the wonders of adventure, dreaming of future adventures, and most definitely having the greatest of adventures.  It’s a topic I’ve frequently written and spoken of.  God beckons me with all that lays waiting within a new adventure.  Adventure is a spirit so evident in people and it draws me to them.  It’s like magnetism.  Those who love adventure bring that spirit out of others.  It’s a spirit that emboldens the timid and only makes the adventurous even more so.  The energy among adventurers is a shaken coke bottle waiting to explode with the potential it holds.

I’ve been a witness to this manifestation of adventure many times without realizing something so obvious, until a new friend pointed it out last week.

Adventure creates community.  It demands connection.  It insists upon a bond and a fellowship.  You have been joined by the experience and even without intention, you will leave being effected by one another.

In a stage and area of life where regular communal adventure doesn’t happen as regular as I’d like, I had overlooked this quality.  I began to think I was losing my taste for adventure.  No.  It’s just meant to be shared.  Life is better together.  Of course, there are wonderful solo adventures; adventures where God shows you something new and you are forever changed by communing with the Divine.  But we were made for community and nothing brings it quite like a wonderful quest, no matter for a several months or only a few hours.

Spur of the moment plans and last minute ideas.  A trip that will take you places you didn’t expect with people you’d never dreamed of knowing.  Adventure is all about exploration and going to a physical scenario that’s new and unknown.  It’s incredible that when we go there physically, our relational, emotional, and spiritual, selves beg for the same.  So we bond with those among us in a unique, real, and new way and we stand in awe as God reveals a new glimpse of Himself to us.  We leave a little more full, a little more known, and a little more aware and loving.

The power of adventure is incredible.  It demands something new of us and leaves us grown, healed, and changed.  I never realized that so much of that power is simply the power of connection with others.  God built us for community.  Who knew that an adventure-craving heart would be a way to get there.

Monday, May 6, 2013

the night before the wedding: reflections on our evening with Emily.

We stood in the kitchen surrounding her.  There’s something so special about the bond of the sisterhood.  It was the night before she would marry her beloved and be called his.  I’ve been in and around weddings for awhile now, but something about this specific night hit me in a new way.

This crazy anticipation filled each of us; not just the bride, but all around her.  It was contagious.  We laid our hands on her and pleaded with our Dad to bless and bring favor, to protect and guide, to spur them on, to love and know love.  We prayed with excitement and joy and we interceded with sincerity.  We entrusted each of them and their marriage into the hands of our loving Father.  And all the while, during that holy moment, I couldn’t help but get overwhelmed with emotion.

A clear thought entered my mind.  This is us.

Desperate and giddy, we wait for our Bridegroom.  The wait has been long.  The preparations and stresses leading up to His arrival have been many.  The trials and joys have taken us on a journey, all leading up to this point.  The night before the wedding.  This is our reality as the Church.  The love I witness between my dear friend and her now husband is huge.  It made the anticipation for the wedding day great.  But standing in that kitchen, witnessing massive love, God opened my eyes to see that this was only a small taste of the love God has for His beloved Church.  All her faults.  All her failures.  And yet, He rejoices over his Bride.  She is not a bride He dreads to take as His own.  He cannot wait to sweep her away into perfect eternity and relationship.  Nothing much matters anymore except that tomorrow, the bride and groom will be united.

As much as my sisters and I dream of being pursued and won by a man who is pursuing God, my heart was so much more overcome by the depth of love by the ultimate Bridegroom; the One who designed us to know what love is and be drawn to it.

More than the excited betrothed, He waits for us.  And we for Him.  No matter what the preceding story entails, a beautiful day will come when Christ comes to take His Beloved home and we will know a love bigger than any other.  Until then, we see glimpses of God rejoicing over us, His Bride, reminding us that the day is drawing near.  The day when all the details fade and we are whole, known, and fully loved into perfection by our God.  Much like the planning of a big day, it’s the perspective of the greater to come that makes everything worth it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


I'm an artist.  I'm learning to just own it.  Not so much the painting, drawing kind.  But I love to create things.  It's not something I ever asked for.  It's just always been there.  I've tried putting it away for more "real" endeavors or let my insecurity convince me that I'm not actually an artist, only to find it coming back again as the most real thing I know.  I can't help myself.

Music.  Words.  Stories.  Designs.  Videos.  Crafty things.  Ideas.  Photos.  Meaningful Experiences.

The creative quality of our God gets to me.  Only recently have I embraced His whispers saying "this is how you're made in my image."  It makes me joyful and content.  Embracing why I exist--to point out the depth and beauty of life through creating and storytelling.  To give people hope and let them know they're loved by bringing something new to life.

Looking at my last hand full of blog posts, my dry spell is evident.  Stress and packed schedules, frustration and questioning, wounds and working have zapped my energy to create.  But today, I can't help myself.  This morning I find my being bursting to bring new things to life.  It begs a question for my morning reflection: "what inspires you?"

- People.  Straight up.  I see others living out boldly who God has created them to be and that makes me want to dive in.  Raw connection where freedom to be is not only allowed, but overflowing.  A deep sense of feeling known and loved frees to me to create.  Even if the product sucks, I'm known and loved all the more.  The destruction of comparison dies in a sea of love.

- Being outside.  When I'm locked up too long, I'm as good as fried.  I see the Master's creative work in His raw art and am inspired.  Being outside gets me moving and when my body feels healthy, my mind and spirit are clear.

- Truth.  Getting in the Word.  Watching the Word shape others.  Hearing what God is teaching those I love.  Watching and seeing redemption and restoration unfold among broken things is the most inspiring creative work of our Father.

- Rest.  The norm has to get broken for my mind to clear and creativity to take over.  One of the enemy's favorite tactics against me is stifling my creativity for the sake of task.  Being creative isn't easily done with a looming to do list.  Creativity arrives on its own schedule and when it's given space to move.  Trying to create under pressure is like spitting on the sparks in kindling in hopes of igniting it.  You must work hard at it, but it can't be forced.

- Straight up Holy Spirit nudging.  Almost as if to say, "seriously...this is what I've made you for.  Knock off the insecurity already.  Ditch the time wasting distractions.  Kick the negativity and create something already."  I think it's a powerful and humbling place to be when God makes it very clear to you that He's not gifted and inspired you just for your sake.  Put your doubts away, remember that you and your gifts belong to God to use for His glory and His purposes, and create in massive freedom.

It's not always easy to be an artist, especially when you're feeling completely unable to create.  We are a people at the mercy of inspiration, but knowing what inspires or what breaks inspiration helps us to be who God has given us to be.  Whether or not you're an artist type, God has created you to be creative in your area of giftedness.  We all need to be inspired.  So what inspires you?

Friday, April 5, 2013

do you or don't you? the question of wanting to be healed.

Relevant Magazine posted an article nearly a year ago by Jordan Davis called, “Do you want to be healed?”  It looked at the story from John 5 where Jesus encounters a man who was lame, lying at the Pool of Bethesda.  As the pool begins to stir, Jesus goes to the man and asks him, “do you want to get well?”

I’ve been thinking about that article a lot lately.  It seems pretty straight forward, right?  As the article asks, who among us who has been sick, doesn’t want to get well?  It seems like a silly question.  Then you begin to think about it…there’s a reason why it was asked.

I saw Beth Moore a couple of weeks ago at the Living Proof Conference in Phoenix.  It was a wonderful experience.  She shared a powerful message with us about being marked.  We are marked by Christ.  We are also marked by our wounds.  One of the talks she gave really focused on our desire to hang on to the wounds.

There are people who have ongoing wounds that won’t heal.  Some people have ports that need to stay open.  Others have wounds that never completely mend.  Those wounds have to be tended to.  Cleaned, freed from infection, and given attention.

This can be us.  We like the attention our wounds take.  We desire the attention that our broken places get us.  We don’t know what life would be like without our wounds.  So here we are; addicted to what's hurting us most.  Tending the same wounds over and over again and never allowing them to breathe and heal, so that we can move elsewhere with our focus.

For the past few years, Easter has been a powerful time of freedom for me.  It’s a time where I reflect with God about how free I actually am.  The Lenten journey is about revealing the places where I’ve enslaved myself and Easter is all about bringing them to the surface and claiming freedom.  With vulnerability, I admit that there were so many areas of unhealthiness that came to mind this year, that I didn’t even allow myself to continue the list.

That’s what happens when we let a sore fester.  Brokenness takes charge and creates problems we never had in the first place.  For me, my addiction to working has hurt my exercise habits, my eating, my social life, my spiritual life, my emotional health, and has broken my attitude toward many things.

We complain about the wounds, the shortcomings or disappointments in our lives, the extra stress, the bad habits, the lack of fulfillment in our relationship with the Lord, the lack of community, the financial struggles, and the goals left unmet.  And yet…the question still lingers.

Is the answer still so obvious?  Do you want to be healed?

If so, how badly?  Badly enough to be totally uncomfortable and in an unfamiliar place?  Badly enough to work hard?  Or stop working?  Or be terribly disciplined?

Badly enough to ask for help and admit you can’t do it alone?  Badly enough to seek counseling or medical care?  Badly enough to confess fault or forgive someone elses or both?

Badly enough to stop eating things you shouldn’t?  Or watching things you shouldn’t?  Or being with people you shouldn’t?

Badly enough to take a risk?  Badly enough to know that failure might be an option, but willing to try anyway?

Do you want to be healed badly enough to be exposed?  Or to swallow your pride and admit that things weren’t working before?

Badly enough to talk to a stranger in hopes of making a new friend?  Badly enough to look past insecurity?  Badly enough to say “no more” to fear and walk boldly?

Do you want to be healed badly enough that you’re willing to give up your right to hold that grudge?  To still be angry?  To still complain?

The man’s response to Jesus was “but Sir, I don’t have anyone to help me get into the pool.”

Yep.  I have often told Jesus how difficult it would be to be healed.  It’s too hard.  It’s not worth it.  I can’t, Jesus.  Telling everyone how much I'd like to get up and walk...but boy, it's just never been the right time.

I love the Lord’s response: “Take up your mat and walk.”

Here it is.  This is how you’re going to see healing.  Will you trust Me and do what will heal you??

It will take work.  It may be difficult.  It will take faith.  Will you step into the healing available for you?

Will you be proactive?  Will you make new and better choices?  Will you get help?

There are some powerful women that I know with amazing gifts of prayer.  They prayed over me a couple weeks ago and among them there was a resounding consensus about my welfare.  “You are overburdened.”  I guess I’d known it, but having it spoken by others hit me.  One of the women looked me in the eye and said, “you don’t have to carry this by yourself…what you need to do is rest in the loving arms of Jesus.”

My wound of overworking was being exposed.  She was right.  I raced into the Word that week.  I needed to be still in rest in my Daddy’s arms.

One step at a time, healing can be found.  You may never see yourself as completely healed in this side of eternity, but always more free than before.  I pray for your freedom and healing.  For God does His best work through us, when we lie free and open for Him to use.

There are always resources for getting healed in many and various ways.  If you don’t know where to start, ask a friend, a teacher, a pastor or church minister, a counselor.  They’ll help you make a plan.

Jesus offers healing.  We see it in the cross and the empty tomb.  He is life.  He desires life for you in the biggest, fullest, least inhibited way.  He showed that He’s all about giving you life when He gave you His.  There is no wound too big for His power.

I have goals for my life.  Goals to achieve, accomplish, and to engage.  But first, before any of that is worth doing or maybe even possible to attain, I have to seek health.  I truly believe that some of the struggles from my last couple of years have been so that I would find the deep healing at this place in my story.

And so I have to ask myself and you have to ask yourself…today and everyday going forward…are you ready?  Do you want to be healed?