Sunday, September 28, 2014

sour insides: dealing with what I can't fix.

I’m a “fixer.”  I consider it one of my strengths and also among my greatest down falls.  When I see things hurt, broken, or could just use improving, I want to jump in.  God has gifted me to be an encourager and to walk along side of people and I am so overwhelmed to say that he’s allowed me to watch how he’s healed and shaped people as I’ve joined them on journeys.  StrengthsFinders says I have the “restorative” strength.

But I have to confess something to you this morning.  Part of my motivation to fix or restore comes out of my desire for control, as well as often thinking I know what is best.  When I see gaps or conflicts in the lives of students I work with, friends, organizations, churches, governments, etc, I see the potential there is to be healthier, to grow, to take a risk.  There are times when I am able to have a conversation or give insight that encourages a person to consider what they might do to grow in wholeness.  

But the times where there’s really nothing I can do, when I'm completely out of control, I struggle so greatly with sour insides.  You know that feeling when your gut turns because something is broken beyond fixing, or so it seems.  A physical reaction to things not being the way they ought.  That’s sour insides.  The grief in your gut, the sad in your stomach.

  • There’s nothing I can do about health issues that rattle my family and my friends’ families.  There’s no way I can fix it.  I try to offer up articles I’ve read for new food choices or exercise options (yeah, guys…I’m a fixer).  I have to come to admit that I don’t have healing powers or a cure for cancer, but a spot in my insides began to turn sour.
  • Wars raging in our world and global conflicts are heartbreaking, terrifying, and seemingly endless.  People offer simplistic, flippant solutions from their safe American living rooms not seeing the layers of political narratives, instilled beliefs, and utter terror that reign in people that look just like us and just like the ones we see as the enemy.  Abuse and hurt continues year after year, even within the places and people that have claimed to be the presence of Christ on earth.  I get overwhelmed and angry.  I get sour insides.
  • I grieve in helplessness about the day burned in my mind and heart when we visited people who lived in a dump in Managua, Nicaragua.  We handed out snacks and juice to children through our van windows, as it wasn’t safe to even get out of our vehicle.  In minutes, our van was swarmed with desperately hungry people who lived among garbage that even contained visible bio-hazard boxes and sharps containers.  Our time was short there, as police insisted we leave the area to limit the exposure the Americans had to such an incredible blind spot in the poorest country in Latin America.  A van full of energetic and playful students was silenced for the afternoon, as the weight of an issue crushed them.  Handing out juice did little to contribute.  The issue is so huge and multi-layered.  We are powerless to save.  And a part of my insides has never unsoured from that day because that’s not the way life is supposed to be.
  • I grieve broken places in my story and the stories of those I love.  I grieve sometimes that life isn’t what I thought it would be.  Finances, struggles with children, broken relationships, lack of career direction, unfulfilled dreams, tragedy, thinking we'd be "ahead" of where we are in life by now (whatever that even means).  Circumstances that persist despite proactivity.  People that decide they don't respect, value, or even like you just because.  I find myself and others utterly out of control and at the mercy of so many factors.  And my insides sour for a moment more.
  • I don’t have any ability to change the minds or soften the words of people that vehemently and brutally disagree in hurtful ugliness within politics, race issues, community issues, and even in my very own church body.  And this morning I ached from sour insides and gut grief.

Like so many other days, I’m forced to see my inability to be the savior and stop to plead with the One who is.  There’s some days where I’m so overwhelmed by what I can’t control.  Jesus speaks gently:

“Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

”Come to me, weary one.  You’re carrying such heavy burdens.  I’ll give you rest.”

“Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Gut healing words.  Everything isn’t magically better, but in that time, to remember once again that Christ is King and he is the hope that will never disappoint, is enough (Rom. 5:5).  As songwriter, JJ Heller, put so eloquently, "sometimes I don't know what you're doing, but I know who you are."  (Check out the amazing song here.)

The truth is, if we could fix the world, if we could even fix ourselves, we wouldn’t need Jesus'--his saving death and resurrection--and we would quickly forget him.  I know I would be in great danger of doing so.  But we desperately see the need.  Our sour insides plead for a Savior and his “shalom” – that everything would be as it ought, whole and full of peace.  I was reminded once again this week of the power of praying “shalom” over people, situations, and seemingly hopeless conflicts.  Because I believe that there will be a day when the shalom of Christ will reign in fullness and all will be as it ought.  We pray for glimpses of it now.

So I pray once again.  Turning over my sour insides to my Savior.  Confessing my need for control and my inability to save.  Pleading for shalom where my efforts fall short.  And resting in the love of the One who overcame the world.

Christ, grant us your shalom and give us good bellies.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I recently did a mental inventory of the people I most look up to, respect, and want to be like when I grow up.  Among the qualities of being great encouragers, faithful missionaries, loving parents and spouses, truth speakers, adventurers, secure in their own skin, self-aware, and super funny, the common trait I noticed was “intentional.”

What does that mean? 

I have a couple of friends who spent the last several months organizing a trip for a bunch of us to camp at a weekend music festival outside of Seattle.  They went to great lengths to create space for friends to connect, have an adventure, and listen to some great music.  Another couple of friends who live out of state sent me flowers and cookies on my birthday to let me know I was remembered and loved, even from afar.  For another birthday, a friend planned an entire day of thoughtful adventures and activities that we could enjoy together.  A couple of weeks ago, people traveled from near and far and changed around work schedules to attend my installation service.  Nothing could’ve been more affirming to me than people intentionally choosing to be part of my life, and even better, inviting me into theirs.  I think especially for a single person, who doesn’t yet have a spouse that has chosen her or him every day for life, it can be among the most valuable gifts in the world to know that someone has gone out of their way to choose you.

Intentional people do things—do life—with a purpose, on purpose.  The relationships I have with people who are intentional about choosing me are the most encouraging and flourishing and I am so grateful.

I think of Jesus.  He was so incredibly intentional.  He knew why he was on earth.  To speak good news, to set captives free, to heal the sick, to be one with the Father, to live perfectly, and to redeem the world.  He did it all so beautifully.  He made time for people.  He also made time for rest and prayer.  He kept the point, the point.  He spoke truth and showed great love.  Intentional didn’t seem calculated or with ulterior motive, but simply purposeful in being grace and truth.

In my not so distant past, I found myself in a less than thriving season where I was in survival mode.  The only goal I had was getting through the day.  Even though insight and encouragement from a counselor gave me new tools and perspective, I couldn’t shake the funk.  I couldn’t see beyond the dark cloud I was under.  Complaints ruled my thoughts and conversations.  I replayed days and conversations in my head and knew I didn’t like who I had become or how I felt, but wasn’t sure I knew how to do anything else.  Through some encouragement of Shauna Niequist’s book, “Bittersweet,” I was challenged to find gratitude.  So I made a choice.  One small decision to find one thing at the end of each day that I was grateful for, write it down, and put it in a jar on my nightstand.  It was a very small thing.  To be honest, those first few days, I resented the exercise and told myself I didn’t have the energy for it, but I did it anyway.  After awhile, I found myself writing a whole list each night.  I’ve watched this one small decision I made one day turn into a progression that has altered my attitude and heart.  One small choice to be intentional added some sense of stability to my world and set me on a path of increased health and joy.

When we live without some sort of intention, we can easily wind up in a place we never wanted to be without even realizing we were heading there.  Even if it’s making one choice per day to be intentional, that can be the choice that takes life in a new direction.  And not just any direction, but one that you have decided is beneficial and where you want to go.

There can’t be too many intentions at once, otherwise we set ourselves up to fail and be overwhelmed, but I’ve come up with a few for this season of my journey of living life to the full as a Jesus follower.

1.)    To be an awesome friend and family member.
I am an auntie, a godmama, a sister, a daughter, and a friend to folks in a variety of ages and stages.  More than most anything in life, I want to kick butt at being those.  I want to be present for important days and times.  Because many are far away, I want to make a point to reach out from a distance when I can’t be present.  I want to follow up on what loved ones share with me.  I want to remember them in prayer and celebrate the gift of those God has placed in my story.  I want to be intentional about making it a priority to have time with them.  I want to be intentional in how I affirm our relationships and who God made them to be with my words and actions.  I want to risk my cool points and relational control to ensure that my family and friends know I love them, see Jesus at work through them, and that I have their back.  The relationships that I feel most validated by are the ones who have been intentional in valuing me.  I love being chosen, especially by a perfect, loving Heavenly Father.  I want to give my people a glimpse of that promise of God’s choosing, by letting them know I choose them.

2.)    To be an encourager.
I have high expectations.  I can be a critic and even cynical at times.  I believe, though, that God has called me in my roles with work, church, family, and friends, to be an intentional encourager.  Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  Paul talks multiple times in his letters about the importance of encouragement.  We, simply by speaking life and truth to each other, give each other courage to face whatever it is coming our way.  We have the power to strengthen and empower others with choosing to speak words that build up and not tear down.  In a world where sarcasm is celebrated all too often, I want to be an encourager who is intentional about her words and that they be used to affirm and encourage.

3.)    To write.
It’s been set aside for far too long.  I’ve wanted to write, but haven’t made it a priority.  It’s one of my “hobby activities” that has taken a back seat to a summer of transition, travel, and "too much going on".  But it’s time to be intentional.  Writing allows me to discover how God has placed blessings and love throughout my story, much like a child finds Easter eggs that have been carefully placed for their finding.  Hobbies are important—they add health and balance to life that can easily be consumed by career and activity.  More and more, I believe that some of our greatest vocation points are found in our hobbies—they space we have to do what we love with freedom and allow for our God-given gifts to produce something free from pressure or for compensation.  I think some of the most powerful movements, beautiful works of art, and dynamic communities have begun that way.  It’s time to be intentional – acknowledge this is something I want to be good at, a gift I want to steward well, and do it.  That and I have a “before I’m 30” bucket list item to achieve. ;-)

I always hated goals because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t reach them.  The pressure that accompanied them would weigh me down and sometimes even leave me paralyzed.  Now I’ve realized being intentional isn’t about arriving.  It’s simply taking one step in the right direction and celebrating the progress found in the journey.  I’m not yet where I want to be, but I’m not where I was before.  Or as Paul said in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  One thing is for sure, when you’re intentional about something, even if you miss the mark, you’re going to be much closer to the bulls eye than if you didn’t aim to hit it.

For the sake of your vocations and obligations, those you interact with, and your own wellbeing, I challenge you to make one intentional choice today.  Choose where you want to go and do it on purpose.