Thursday, September 10, 2015

you'll see me tomorrow.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The incredible organization To Write Love on Her Arms encouraged people to fight suicide with a message of "We'll see you tomorrow." They invited people to share why you'll see them tomorrow, to share hope, to spur each other on, to encourage those battling struggles. I gave a short answer this morning, but it didn't seem to do the question justice. Life is full of reasons to keep going. I hope you can find some encouragement in mine.

You'll see me tomorrow because...

Because being auntie to my niece, nephew, godchildren, and other adopted little ones in my life is one of my most important and favorite jobs.

Because cuddles, giggles, stories, tickles, and roars are the love language of toddlers and fill my heart to bursting, and watching little people learn gives me hope that I still can too.
Because texts from my people remind me I am an important piece of their lives and they are pieces in mine that aren’t scared off by my mess.

Because college is awesome and hard and I know it’s my calling to listen, laugh, dance, binge on late night apps, and love students through that season.
Because young people need someone to tell them the truth and set boundaries. And someone who will welcome them when they learn those lessons the hard way.
Because students, and all of us, need someone to be so okay with being embarrassingly silly and unashamedly themselves, and by doing so, gives permission to those around to do the same.
Because my students are awesome and I often find they make incredible teachers.

Because there are always good books that need to be read and songs that need to be written.
Because there are so many amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and adventure spots in the Twin Cities that need to be shared with good company.
Because it's awesome to watch someone else delight in something you love.

Because life is a gift and one that is lost by some too soon. We must live fully while we are able.
Because I told people I’d see them next year in Nicaragua and one of my sweet friends isn’t able to return like we thought he would.
Because I’m cool if I think I’m cool. And there are so many cool people who teach me cool things like that.

Because I am unique and am the only time the world will have this specific glimpse of God’s image put in me.

Because you can always “dance it out.” And because I never want dance parties to end.
Because the world is full of amazing puns and those opportunities should not be missed.
Because there are new funny youtube videos being created every day and I should probably watch them.
Because singing what I’m doing was my thing way before Marshall on HIMYM or Jess from The New Girl and it always gets a giggle when someone catches me and I totally didn't realize I was doing it.

Because I really like food.
Because eating outside makes food taste better and bonfires turn strangers into friends and friends into your people.
Because my kitchen is a place where mouths and souls are fed and my dinner table needs to hear more stories and collect more spills.

Because my parents, teachers, mentors, and friends have lavishly poured themselves into me and that gold is not meant to be thrown out, but used fully.
Because there are moments I am blown away with how well people know me and how exciting it is to discover new layers of people I know well.
Because there are way too many people across the country and around the world that I love and want to share laughter, stories, and how we see Jesus in each other, with one another again and again.

Because my world is full of brilliant people doing incredible things in their stories to love people, create things, and change the world through day to day love and I have a front row seat to watch in awe and applaud when they just keep getting better season after season. 

Because DMB is still making new music and the Gorge beckons me to come away again and bring my friends.
Because antiques and old things are my jam. They teach me that old, rusty things are awesome and to be treasured and restored, and that’s the way God sees us, too.
Because Jesus shows up at Nina’s Café in the fall, and on faces wrapped in hijabs, and in lightning bolts that streak the sky, and in sweet songs sung on street corners, in late night convos over pints, and in his Word day after day and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to rendezvous.

Because I was made in the image of the Creator, made to create and not to destroy.
Because I will never run out of creative projects to capture and reflect life, beauty, and hope.

Because people need to be reminded that they matter and I can do that.
Because God sees me, and you. My way is not hidden from him. He’s not shocked or scared of who or where I am and is going before and at my side.
Because hard days and seasons happen and I am so affected at times, but the love of God is unaffected and constant—a sure and steady anchor for our souls.
Because Jesus is the lifter of heads. That's good news.

Because summer is for beach days and Conny’s Creamy Cone. Fall is for football, apples, bonfires, and leaves. Winter is for sledding, skiing, and being cozy. And spring is for watching living proof of resurrection. And these four remind us that no season, whether excruciating or wonderful, is forever.
Because there’s cool stuff still to be done that matters; stuff to be done with people; stuff that will change the world and how we live in it.

Because it’s never too late to try again, to make a new choice, or to have a new adventure.
Because trails are meant to be hiked. Lakes are meant be swam. And rivers are meant to be rafted.
Because I’ve still not been to Duluth, or to a game in the new Busch stadium, or to Schwalmstadt, Germany to see the Schwalm River.
Because I have dreams. Of conquering the Grand Canyon. Of recording an album. Of caring for the fatherless. Of falling in love. Of choosing the same man every day for the rest of my story and accepting him choosing me. And those are worthy pursuits.
Because I have friends that invite me on adventures and that feels a lot like Jesus.

Because there’s lots of accusing, black and white viewpoints on politics, values, brand names, and salsa preference. Division abounds and I believe God has gifted me for gray areas and has called me to peacemaking.
Because days aren’t perfect, but lots are really good. And the bad ones draw us closer to Jesus and each other.

Because the devil and the world are a loud, constant buzz of lies and discouragement and I am a voice that can speak truth, both for me and you.
Because we both need to be reminded who we are and that we are okay and that we can overcome and thrive. Even when it seems everyone is a critic, I have to be reminded that I have a cheering section and I choose to be a cheerleader in yours.

Because I’ve known how hard ministry can be and want to be a safe, loving place for others who are there. And because I know there’s light on the other side of it and want to be proof for them that God's faithfulness can bring them through.
Because I believe the enemy wants to cripple my gifts and contributions, and yours, with fear and I literally say to hell with that.

Because there are always options; there is always hope. God is bigger. God is deeper.
Because I believe Jesus when he said he has life to the full for us and I look for it expectantly.
Because I have been through hard stuff and I believe getting bitter or better is my choice. And when I’ve walked a hard road, I better know the way to walk with someone else down it.

Because Jesus wasn’t content with dealing with us at a distance, but couldn’t help but come close. Close enough to get messy. And asked us to do likewise.
Because I believe love is worth fighting for. It’s worth the struggle and the mess and the risk.
Because there’s no wound too deep to be healed, no fear too big to be overcome, no heartbreak too large for restoration, no brokenness too intense to be restored, no hardship or hurt too dark not to be used to shine the light of life and redemption through Christ.

Because redeeming stories is God’s jam. And I’m a sucker for a good comeback story.
Because I delight in the creative power of Jesus and the fact that he can make a masterpiece out of my muck every time. That is a sight to behold and a gift to relish in its unfolding.
Because I have no idea what tomorrow, next week, next month, year, or decade holds and that is beginning to excite me again more than it scares me.

Because I know the plans God has for me, plans to prosper and not to harm; plans for hope and a future. And I know there are still lots of people who need to hear about the hope he has for them. I have work to do and so do you.
Because if I am still breathing, God has a purpose for me and he knows better than I do.
Because I could sing a new song every moment for the blessings God has slathered me with, even when there are moments I forget that’s true.

Because I believe Sonny from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” when he says that “everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.” That sounds like something Jesus would say, so I like it.
Because even the meantime is so beautiful. So worth it. The waiting is worthy all on its own.
Because I believe all that’s been dead reblooms in the light of Him.

Because I want to see you tomorrow and that means I’ll be there too. It’ll be fun. We can drink coffee.

But really, you’ll see me tomorrow because there are chats to be had with my mom and, even though they got trampled tonight, the Cardinals play again and my dad and I need to watch it. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

we weren't made for it: why I hate death and so does Jesus.

Words are kind of my thing. Speaking, singing, writing--those make up most of my life. This summer, however, words have come so slowly. It has been difficult to put language to the experience of losing a beloved student, Devin. I struggle to wrap my head and heart around the "new normal." And it hit me today walking across the park, as I became frustrated with my lack of words to share. We weren't made for this. We weren’t made to deal with death.

We just weren’t.

I’ve never really thought about it that way before. I’ve had the realization that we were not made to die. My friend, Jim, said so insightfully once that when God handed out the consequence of death after the fall, it's possible that Adam and Eve had no clue what death even was. It wasn't how they were designed. It wasn't what we were meant for.

We were meant for life; for everlasting perfection, in relationship with God, others, and the world around us. But temptation won the moment. Sin exploded into the world, covering creation with uncontainable death. And ever since, there are times that we just feel like it’s not supposed to be this way. And that’s because it isn’t.

We were not only created as eternal souls, but also to love those who are constant; God and others in the garden. Our hearts were designed for deep love and connection, to be won over by the beauty of others, and feeling more full because they are in our midst. Death is the opposite of the exact thing you were designed for. Deep love and connection is traded for deep separation and loss, the beauty of others is relegated to memories, and emptiness sets in where the fullness of the lost one’s presence used to reside.

We ache. Jesus ached for his friend, Lazarus.

Scripture even says that all the earth aches.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:22

It’s so easy to get stuck in the ache. I get stuck some days. Ticked that things aren’t the way they were meant to be and that the pain of death is more than we were ever made to handle. Refusing to let go to the life that has ended because it shouldn’t have. Overwhelmed by the thought that in our lifetime, that death, this thing we weren't designed to handle, will occur again and again. It’s easy to get stuck. 

In times like those, the stuck times, I go back to the one thing that helps.

God hated death. God hates death. Even more than I do, God hates death. God was so outraged by death twisting, maligning, torturing, slaughtering his beloved workmanship that he did something about it. Love moved him to action. He could let it go no longer. And at just the right time, he sent Jesus to live fully, die completely, and win life back again; only the first work of his restoring all creation back to its original “garden” state. It's a tough meantime we must endure, friends--sharing life with death until Jesus returns to say "no more." There's hope in that promise, though, that brings us to a new day. It motivates us to speak that hope to others, that they, too, may trust the complete life found only in Christ and that death doesn't get the last word.

There are days that I say, “Jesus, I’m not cut out for this.” And I imagine his half smile, saying, “I know you aren’t. Nobody is. But I’ve put life in your heart and soon it will be all you know once again. The life you were made for.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

a story about life points and why it helps that Jesus wouldn’t have many.

I got into a conversation last week about life points.

We were at a conference for ministry leaders – an incredibly encouraging environment, but one that can often foster insecurity.  I heard many passing comments comparing one’s ministry to that of the host congregation.  It’s hard to not think grass is greener or covet someone else’s calling.

That’s not where I found this infrequent, but unkind streak of insecurity bubble up.  I feel unequivocally called to where I am serving.  It’s unique with little opportunity for comparison.  It’s challenging and not where I would like to see it be in the long term, but I’m good with it making steady progress.  God is at work and I’m truly grateful he’s invited me along in what he’s doing at the university.  But there was something else – an unexpected undercurrent that swept out my feet.

The conversation was silly.  A few of us were standing in awe of my friend, Dave, who has a house, a car, and a limo he has for fun.  We joked about how he had racked up some major “life points” with these big ticket items reflecting what it means to be accomplished in the USA.  A few other friends there are in their last year of seminary.  They shared dreams of having a house and steady income with benefits.  I pointed out that their marriages and children carried high value in life points.

And before I could put it in check or even realize it, there it was.  My insecurity on display.

I am not a homeowner, nor do I have a husband.  I am not a mom, nor a master’s degree recipient.  Where many of my friends have already had two children, I have already had two different ministry Calls.  As a girl in her late 20’s, my life points felt so far off par.  Dave offered encouragement.  Places I’ve been and connections made most certainly hold some point value, he suggested.

As much as I know my life is richly blessed, in that moment, it didn’t seem like enough to balance the scale.  For exception of my career, my deficit in “what really matters” seemed so insurmountable.  I wondered if one could ever file for life point bankruptcy and get a pass to start over.  Or perhaps there was a club I could join with others below the curve of life points in the event that my high scoring friends got wise and drew a cut off line.  Insecurity is ugly and unholy--making it difficult to love ourselves and others--and I was wearing it like my favorite sweater.

God’s perfect timing lined up the next conference speaker. He shared his story of a near death experience and how it caused him to ask, “would I be satisfied if this would’ve been it?”  He spoke on value, worth, and perspective.  He challenged us to be part of big, awesome, creative schemes for the Kingdom that bring us joy, but reminding us that we only ever have value because our names are written on the hands of the crucified and risen Christ.  I was taken back as that very verse from Isaiah 49 had made its way onto my dresser mirror months ago.  I’m grateful for God’s powerful reply of truth to my overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

As I drove home that day, I began to think about Jesus.  That’s always a good thing, right?

He wasn’t a home owner.  He didn’t have a spouse or kids or a booming business or the highest accolades.  If Jesus were measured by our American Dream life point standards, he would earn a failing grade.  And that deeply comforted me.  Not that any of the big ticket life point items are bad at all—most are incredibly good and worthy of pursuit.  But Jesus came with one Kingdom job to do.  The value of his life was marked by obedience and love.  He invites us to have our life reflect the same.  In Matthew 22, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”  In John 14, he explained, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”  Whether or not God’s plans for my story include a mortgage or a wedding or another diploma, they include opportunities for obedience and love.

I chided myself for my fixation on life points.  After all, even if I did reach a point goal, that amount would no longer suffice.  Insecurity is a prison made of doubt in our identity as God's children.  It's a prison that keeps us from celebrating others' points, keeps us from freedom and peace, keeps us chained to the approval of others, keeps us from walking confidently in our calling.  I decided instead of judging myself and others based on a ring on the left hand and a set of keys to a door that’s theirs, I needed to start celebrating a new scale.

Nobody could ever earn enough points to be more than filthy rags in God’s sight when it comes to achieving our own way to righteousness.  Sin accompanies every point gained.  However, I think about what holds value in the economy of God’s Kingdom of love and obedience—the moments where the Kingdom comes among us and heaven rejoices.

Thinking of someone else over myself would get some celebration.  Asking someone about their story and choosing to listen with care before launching into my own would get a few points.  A high five for being kind to someone who is rude and without tact.  A fist bump for being humble and asking for help.  A smile for dinner invites that feed bodies and souls.  Applause for not spending money on that unnecessary something I can’t seem to leave behind.  An “atta kid” for not just slopping through things last minute and at minimum, but giving my best to honor God and serve others in my work.  Hands in the air for choosing not to share a word of unhelpful criticism, complaint, or gossip.  Joy for speaking honesty and truthfulness, deep love and encouragement.  Celebration for making thoughts captive to Christ.  Cheers from heaven for releasing a grudge and letting go of anger.  A happy dance for beautifully bold and loving proclamation of the Gospel to one who’s yet to call Jesus “Savior.” 

I think of the sweet moments of redemption throughout Jesus’ life.  The moments of seeing, acknowledging, touching, and healing the lowly – women, Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors.  Great acts of love that heaven rejoiced in.  And the moments of obedience – overcoming temptation, fulfilling prophecy, submitting to the will of the Father in the garden.  Seemingly insignificant happenings – love and obedience – become the most important.  This is exactly how God works.

Each day I am challenged to cast life points aside and cheer on others in the great race of faith and life.  Because by simply being in the race, the runner holds of immeasurable value.  I am challenged to praise God where I see the victory of Jesus overcome in the ordinary of life.  It’s not that I don’t strive for the life points, but I'm learning the importance of looking at life through the eyes of Kingdom economy and celebrating the victories won.  I see Jesus bringing about restoration in me and others, one small moment at a time.  And by that truth, I am overwhelmed by the love and affection of Christ – that he would choose me and give me worth because he said it was so.  Never a number, but my name is written on his scarred hands.  Everything else, even the most incredible, pales in comparison.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

snow, reflection, and a Nicaraguan new year.

I’m not a big New Year’s celebrator, per say, but I appreciate the “new” part of it.  It’s been a built in part of my yearly rhythm to end the year in some reflection.  “What happened this year?” “Where did I grow?”  Where did I struggle?”  “What did I accomplish?”  “What do I need to focus or refocus on?”
I’m a firm believer that only when experience is combined with honest reflection, is it the best teacher.  We can experience much without learning much if the time and space to reflect and learn is forsaken.

I missed that this year.  I was in Nicaragua for the last day of 2014 and celebrated “Año Nuevo” in a whole different culture.  The celebration included lots of fireworks and the burning of 2014 scarecrow dolls that marked the passing of the old year.  However, because the trip went well into 2015, shortly followed by the start of the spring semester, and some work travel mixed in, I only recently realized that I missed my new year reflection and refocus.

I’ve loved being back in Minnesota this winter.  Sometimes the cold literally makes me cry, but the snow is so entrancing and magical.  I walk to work each morning and the journey takes me across a small park.  My adventurous side likes off-roading a little bit through the deeper snow, where a path hasn’t been cleared and tracks have not yet tattled on the recent passers through.

The second day after a good snow, I started out in my walk to work, thinking about my overlooked new year.  I was once again captured by the snow, but this time it wasn’t the sparkle or the purity that grabbed me.  It was the tracks; my footprints from the day before.  The snowy tracks taught me that morning about how a life of health and growth demands reflection.

We can walk the same path day after day, year after year, with little mind to where, why, and how we walk.  We can bid the past “good riddance” and burn last year’s scarecrow, but without intention, how can we be sure that this year’s scarecrow won’t be a carbon copy of the last?  As I walked that morning, seeing yesterday’s steps, I remembered the places where my boot sank a bit too deep and my sock was surprised by a puff of wet flakes.  To my amusement, I observed that my steps didn’t go in the most direct path, but wandered a few feet this way and that.  In the snow, yesterday’s journey was recorded and it presented me with a choice.  “Will you go the same way and simply follow the tracks in front of you?  Or will you read the tracks, learn, and do something different?”

That’s the richness of the new year, new month, new week, or new day to me.  This is the value of reflection and the health of being intentional with the time we’ve been given.  Will I step in deep again?  Will I forge a completely new path?  If I simply keep doing the same things, I cannot expect something different to occur.  If I don’t make intentional changes in my spiritual practices, growth will not be seen.  If I don’t challenge myself relationally and emotionally, 2015 will end up looking regrettably familiar.

This year, for me, it’s about walking generally the same path, but doing so with intention; more than just "getting to work each day."  This year it's continuing to include the best parts of the walk, but cutting out steps that lack purpose, trying a couple of variations in the route, and learning from danger spots.  Life is too short to walk unquestioningly in the tracks of yesterday.  I observe the prints of others and they inspire me to sojourn better.  One different step can begin to alter the whole journey.  It doesn’t take a new year to take a new step.  It does take honesty, courage, and grace, though, to ask “are my steps being transformed as my mind is renewed?”

Today, I wrestle with the fear of failure.  “What if the new steps I take this year are worse than the last?” Oh, well.  At least I tried something and will inevitably learn something new from that experience.  And then I say back to my cautious, skeptical self: “But what if it’s way better?”  Life is too short not to be better if it can be.

So I put on my boots and take a deep breath through the scarf around my face.  And with goals in my hand and heart, I take a new step into the snow.