Friday, March 30, 2012

Authentic Joy

Lord, don't ever let me grow comfortable.

I've seen what happens when people grow comfortable, and there are really two big categories of behavior.

There are the people who grow so comfortable that they forget the magic. They forget the love they once had for something because the passion becomes the routine. The magic becomes mundane. The joy and the wonder and the awe become the everyday, the have-to, and the plow-through.

Then there are those who grow so comfortable they become sarcastic or cynical about the whole thing. I think this happens a lot in families - you hang around each other so much that you get the fake name-calling, the pretending not to like people, the "say it with a smile and you can be as mean as you want" kind of attitude. It happens in communities, too. In work and in service and in groups and just about everywhere. One eye-rolling answer to one question turns the whole attitude of the place.

"You having fun?"

No, not at all.

That's the answer. It doesn't have to be that question; it doesn't have to be that answer. But it's always something like that. Then, somehow, everyone turns and gets the same sarcasm, the same cynicism. Before you know it, every interaction is defined by this unwillingness to be enthusiastic about anything and it drains the authenticity from the situation. Even when you think you know the heart of the presence in the room.

I have been as good as anyone at this in my life. With projects. With people. After awhile of talking this way, of answering people with the expected surreptitious answer instead of an enthusiastc, honest drains on you. You start to say things like "I have to..." and mean it. The thing you were once so passionate about becomes that dreaded have-to, plow-through, nothing special chore. And in terms of people, you lose the love there, too. You can only call someone a buttwad so many times until it loses all humor and they really are just a buttwad. (Anyone else got brothers?)

Because of the sarcastic answers, the cynic in you grows and you're surrounded by this beige world with nothing really to hold onto.


I have been as good at this as anyone because it was dominant culture growing up. I don't want to say growing up outside of the church, though I certainly think this had some part in the crudeness of the culture. But I have seen the same things in churches, so I know this is a widespread attitude.

It took a lot of years, and it has only been in the past few that I've seen something different. Another way, if you want to go so far. Because on the other side of this authenticity. And the sad part is that even the cynics are secretly excited; they have just lost the way to express it.

There is this profound sense on my heart that the sarcasm has to stop. The building of cynics is tearing us down. How do I know? Because in one quiet moment (and in many quiet moments since), God has been whispering to me about this. He's changed the way I talk, the way I act, the way I respond.

I think it would be awesome if we could all embrace the magic again. If we could get in touch with the mystery and with our passions and with our loves. If we could build each other up instead of tear each other down (even while hoping they know we're "only teasing"). If we could throw ourselves into our work - whether it is work we are paid for or just something we pick up on the side, our hobby or our craft, whatever it is - instead of barreling through. It's like we work just to get the project done so that we dont' have to think about it any more and don't have to hide our excitement, lest we get embarassed by our enthusiasm.

There's something authentic in pushing the biting aside and just living the joy. Holding the holy. Remembering the moment. Doing what we love - and saying so. Sharing our energies. Getting each other pumped up. Getting ourselves pumped up.

God isn't in the sarcasm. He doesn't care of the *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* that our words, our attitude, and our presence isn't what it seems to be; He doesn't want us to live with a world we hope knows we care when we aren't acting a whole lot like we do. He wants us to live by that energy and go full-boar (with the ravenous, headstrong, steadfastness of the wild animal) and not settle for full-bore (the mundane).

Wouldn't it be cool if we could live authentically? If we could call each other out - hey, brother! hey, sister! - instead of calling each other down - hey, buttwad!? If we could look at each other, look at our lives, put our hands to it, and then when someone asks, "Hey, you having fun?" we could answer:

Absolutely! This is incredible!

I just think it would be nice to spread some authentic joy for awhile. To be gentler with ourselves, with our passions, with our friends, family, neighbors, and community. I just think it would be cool....

So I want every moment to be new, and I want to know it as such. I want to thrive, to take each breath with a glimpse to the heavens, and to just live this life unfolding. I want the wonder to stay. I want the magic to take hold of my heart. I want the mystery of the universe to keep me energized and engaged.

So Lord, please don't ever let me grow comfortable.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Say What?

It's a favorite pasttime (or is it passtime) of every generation: debating the actual words of a song, commercial, movie, or colloquial phrases when everyone in the conversation hears something different.

There might be a little dust on the what? The bottle? the Bible? the bottom? Don't let it fool you about what's inside.

And there's that new commercial with Rocket Man booming out the speakers. They show a handful of people tossing in their own last phrase, then the guy with the car with the awesome sound system finally figures out what the real words are. And everyone is like, "ohhhhh!"

Because when you see it, you get it. It makes sense.

Or does it?

Sometimes, we have those phrases that we've heard over and over again and we think we know what they are, how to use them, and how to spell them. I've already used one here: pasttime. But then someone inevitably posts something on FaceBook with an alternate spelling or some little twist that makes you have to stop and think because it looks almost familiar, but you haven't seen it like that.

Then, does that make more sense?

Pasttime. Something we have done for ages and thoroughly enjoyed; a historic or nostalgic concept/activity. Or as one of my friends put it several months it passtime? Something we do to pass the time; leisure; enjoyment; pleasure.

Either makes good sense, and to be honest, I kind of like passtime, too. Though if you'd asked me before I read that friend's status, I would have insisted it was pasttime. Obstinately.

Another one, and this is what kind of sparked this, I quipped on Twitter a week or so ago. I had always considered things to be deep-seated, but another status chose the alternate spelling: deep-seeded.

And I definitely like that.

I've had some things in my life - many I haven't been proud of, a few that I have - that I've considered deep-seated. And that, they were. They sat heavy on my heart like a lead weight. Just sitting there; seated deep. Burdening. Hindering. Oppressive. I wouldn't have thought anything so deep-rooted could be anything else.

But there are great, beautiful, wonderful things that God sets deeply inside of us. It can be easy to let these things be deep-seated, a burden of the life we should be living. Things we should be doing. Waking up in the morning, rolling our eyes, and saying, "Yeah, I know, God. It's still in there. I gotta live it."

What if we thought of these things we'd like to foster, these wonderful gifts, these deepest truths that rest in our hearts not as deep-seated, but as deep-seeded? What if we embraced them as planted within us, primed for growth, ready to sprout? What if we took what is deepest within us and saw it not as a burden, but as a chance for new life?

What a world of difference spelling makes!

I'm fairly certain I will use deep-seeded again, particularly when I encounter someone trapped in the deep-seated. I think it is a powerful tool for introducing someone to the power of Christ and His deep-seeded love.

So the next time you see - or hear - something that seems sort of familiar, but you can't quite make it out, open your eyes and ears a little further. There may be a hidden beauty in a different way of looking at it, reading it, writing it, living it.

Say what?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


There is a certain beauty to this flower, this bromeliad. I've been looking at it in the store forever, and it is a gorgeous plant. You know what? When I got it home and repotted it in that big brown pot, it looked better than ever!

So...large. And so....full.

The truth is, it would be sin to be sad about the pot now. Maybe even heartbreaking. This flower, it was made for this pot; and this pot? It was made for this flower. The two look so absolutely gorgeous together. Even if I missed my empty vessel that bad, there would be something hollow if I repotted the plant yet again. Something dimming in the plant, which wouldn't look as good in any other pot. And something hollow in the pot because now, I would remember this image: when it held this beautiful foliage and looked so vibrant.

It makes a different statement now as a full pot rather than an empty one.

As much as I love the idea of being an empty vessel, poured out before God and waiting for Him to fill me to overflowing, I also love the idea of a flower. I love the idea of the Potter potting in me something so perfect, so beautiful. Something that, when you see it, you say, "That was made for that very spot." When you look at the two of us together, my pot and His flower, you know that neither of us would be better without the other. We are perfect together. I was made for His gift, and His gift - so graciously given - was made just for me.

I love the idea of standing there, potted, enticingly and demonstrably full but with the capacity and promise for growth and the ability to soak in the water. Living water, if you will.

There's something about the empty vessel. But there's something about the full one, too. And if I took out of me what God has put in, if I poured myself out, obstinately demanding to be an empty vessel, you would see the same as you would with the pot: in the absence of the pot, the flower doesn't look as radiant. And in the absence of the flower, the pot has something hauntingly hollow about it.

I am so blessed that the Potter who formed me is also the Potter who fills me, that through Him, I am able to stand full and firm, primed for growth though elegantly beautiful. That through Him, I am matched with my perfect gift, His created blessing just for me, where we are perfect together.

And you know what? All is not lost in the empty vessel world, either. For when He saw fit to pot in me this gift, He leaves behind another empty pot, somewhat smaller, but perfect for a seedling. Something new to grow. Something new to hold. Some kind of promise to develop...a new empty vessel, poured out and ready to be filled.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Empty Vessels

I love bowls. Cups, vases, pottered things. Ceramic things. Glass, plastic, terra cotta things. I have several sitting around my room (which is also my office) and they are mostly empty. Until yesterday, they were all empty. Except, ok...except the one that has some delicious candy in it. But that is a fullness that ebbs and wanes according to my appetite.

It's just that as beautiful as I know these things are, I never know what to put in them. Like a new journal full of empty pages or a new house with barren rooms. I want to stay true to the integrity of the piece, but the integrity of my peace, too. And I just can never decide what goes in something so beautiful, so inpsiring, and so promising as an empty pot.

It is kind of intimidating.

And I really didn't know that I loved them empty. It hadn't occurred to me. Once in awhile, one will hold something transient - candy, for example. Or some beads and a fake carnation. Or my workin'-outside gloves, hat, and glasses. But those things come and go; that pot could be empty again in a second.

Yesterday, I removed said gloves, hat, and glasses and filled one of those pots - a plain brown flowerpot I'd scored at Lowe's for something ridiculous like 50 cents (clearance!) - with a beautiful flower. Now, I love the flower. A pink bromeliad, which should thrive in my low-light room. And I love the pot. Simple, brown, but somehow elegant.

As I was falling asleep last night, though, I couldn't decide if I liked them together.

They are beautiful. I guess "they" are now "it." It is beautiful. And while I'm thrilled at having the flower, I'm kind of sad I lost a pot. It's not like I can go out and buy an identical pot to sit empty again; it wouldn't be the same. That pot is committed now to that flower until the flower dies or outgrows it.

I'm just not sure what it is. But then I realized this: had I not put the flower in that pot, I would have still been anxious to get that flower of its store pot...just to have the beautiful store pot to sit around, too.


(Don't ask me what I would do with the flower without giving up a pot. I haven't a clue. It is a beautiful flower, and I absolutely love it, too, for its own merits. I have wanted one of these for a long time.)

There's just something about an empty pot. And empty vessel. It has so much promise, so much potential. It is elegant sitting there by itself, defined by its own beauty and not by whatever may or may not be in it. The candy looks delicious, but did you notice the dish? It is elegant and enticing. I just want to walk over and hold it, to see what it is, to feel it in my hands.

I want to be that empty vessel. I want to be elegant in who I am, standing apart and confident, not needing to be defined by what is in me. I want to invite the potter Who formed me to be the potter Who fills me (see that play on potter? I've been working on that for awhile.). I want to stand empty before my Lord, to be held in the hands that formed me, to be full of promise and potential, to be ready to be filled to overflowing, to receive whatever is poured into me.

There's just something about an empty a journal full of empty pages or a new house full of empty rooms. I don't want to be laden with something that this world says I should carry around. I want God to look at me and decide what goes in here. I want Him to look at what I am on my own, the beauty and elegance He's created in me, and find a way to grow and honor that as He fills me to overflowing.

Which is not to say there's no room for flowers.... A little more on that tomorrow.

Are you living as an empty vessel? Poured out before God, seeking His wisdom to fill you?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dark Matter

I've been thinking about darkness and light lately. For about a week or so, I suppose. And about the creation of the universe.

I don't know why. Sometimes, these thoughts just happen. It doesn't have to be for any reason in particular.

And I was thinking mostly about darkness, how it's so easy for us to get stuck in our darkness and feel empty. Like darkness and nothingness are two sides of the same coin. Like without the light, there is nothing. It's easy to get into your darkness and believe that even God has abandoned you, that God is in the light and since there's no light - not even at the end of the tunnel because there isn't a tunnel in the first place - there is no God. You get wrapped up in this defeat, this emptiness, and there is....nothing. Despair, maybe, but largely nothing. It is just void.

I have to admit I haven't thought much about darkness in a long time. I've been too busy dancing. But darkness is a place that once you've been there, your heart remembers what it was like. And you have this deep empathy for those still stuck in its vortex.

And I was trying to figure out how we get redemption from darkness. What is there for us, in that place where hope would be everything but there is no hope at all? In that place where a flicker of light would zap the darkness away, but we have no concept of light?

So I went back to the creation story.

In the beginning, light...was the SECOND thing God created. That's right - the second.

The first...was the Heavens and the earth. And the Bible tells us He created them, and they were covered in darkness.

It doesn't strike me as perfect logic. Logic would say that when you have nothing, you first have to have a way to see what that nothing is. You'd have to have light before you could form the nothing into anything. To create anything before light is illogical.

Illogical, but it is love.

Because what God is really saying is: "In the nothing, I am here. In the darkness, I am here. When all light has gone out, I have still placed the foundations of eternity beneath your feet. When you can't see them - and when you can't see me - I am still here with something to hold you."

That's awesome.

It's awesome because when you're in the thick of it, when you're trapped in darkness and the emptiness is sucking what little is left out of you and there is no hope and there is no light and there is no tunnel and there is nothing but void...God says, "I am there already."

He says before the void, He was. And in the void, He is. And next to you, He always will be. He says He stepped into the void and made something, even in the darkness, so that you would never be alone. So that when you couldn't see anything and you felt like the world was falling out from under you, you could still be sure that He was there...because He laid that world under your feet. He crafted it to hold you. He created it in the darkness specifically so you would know that when there seems to be nothing, there still is something.

In the dark, in the nothing, in the void...there is the foundation of all Heaven, the beginning of all Creation, and the indescribable love of the Father. In the void, there is wisdom. And there, there is eternity.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just Stop

As long as we're on the subject of little whispers that make you just. stop., can we talk about another one? Or sort of.

We are a people who need to run to Jesus. And many of us do. When times are tough, we run to Him; we trust that He is the answer, or the peace. We trust that He is there...ready to run with us.

Isn't that how we approach it? It's how I did for a long, long time.

When the going gets tough, we run to Jesus, weary but with a dogged energy that won't let us stop. He renews our fire as we grab hold of His hand and drag Him along with us. We run to Him not for His sake, but for ours - to recruit Him into our battle. 'C'mon, Lord!' we cry out, pulling and tugging on Him. 'We can TOTALLY do this!'

Stop laughing. You know you've been there, too.

Well, I was in full 'C'mon Jesus!' mode one day awhile back, maybe a year or so. Who knows for sure. And as I reached out in my heart to grab His hand, He reached back. He didn't move. He wasn't gung-ho, wasn't hopping on the chariot and riding with me into battle. It was a calm, simple touch that as I thought about it, He'd probably laid on my hand before but I had been too frenzied to feel it. That day, I felt it.

And just. stopped.

I could see myself falling into His arms in that moment, Him catching me and pulling me close. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and tenderness in His touch...and by the sudden realization of how absolutely exhausted I was.

I mean, really. Who knew? I had the sense I was running ragged, but you never know how weary the fight has made you until that first moment when you surrender and don't have to fight any more.

You'd think that one moment would be enough, but it keeps happening again and again. You keep finding yourself falling into the arms of Christ and it is that first breath of rest all over again. Every time.

You just. stop.

Christ says, "Come to me, you who are weary. And I will give you rest."

He's right. He promised, and He delivers. But there's something else about the rest of Christ, something you wouldn't normally think of.

The rest we find in Christ is not an idle rest. It's not like the rest we find when we crawl into bed, when we just slow down and then quit as the last thoughts drain out of our minds until we slip away into the physical rest of sleep and can't do anything else because doing even one other thing negates the rest, it cancels our sleep.

The rest of Christ is an energizing rest. It is a contentment and a confidence that slows us down but spurs us on. It invites us to stop fighting but invigorates us to love. That love gives us the energy to live. And to serve. And to be. And ironically, to rest.

It's like this, and if you know me, you know I'm a "project" girl. When I'm getting into a project, I can get really energized and get into that 'C'mon Jesus!' mode where I'm just trying to drag Him into it. Like I volunteered us for this and together, we're gonna rock it! Let's go! And then it is trudgery. It becomes this muddled mess of pushing through and somewhere, I lost my passion. And I just turn to Him and say, "What happened?"

Then that touch. That gentle, calming touch of invitation. Just. Stop. And in that touch, He answers whatever frenzied question I wasn't aware I was asking by trying to prove myself and trying to get Him on board after I hadn't asked. But when we stop and talk about it, just the two of us, that calming touch and quiet answer still me. And I get it. Contentment and that ability to let go settle into my heart, but so does this confidence that it's He and I together, that it is going to rock. And that it isn't me; it's Him. And that I am not mine; I'm His. I am at peace. I am resting. And yet...I am fully energized to serve. To love. To live.

To be.

Where are you begging Him to 'C'mon!'? And what would happen if He stilled you there and you just. stopped.? What new energy would you find in the rest of Christ that your frenzied trudgery is sapping out of you today?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Sometimes, I pray like an idiot.

I pray like someone who doesn't know God, who can't see Him working in her life, who doesn't have her best interests at heart, who isn't hopelessly in love with her Creator and Father.

I pray like an idiot and it never used to bother me. It never occurred to me that in my insistent, panicked, desperate, completely focused on getting me through, obsessed on the dark times was the prayer of the faithless. Even when I started to get that inkling in my heart that what I was focused on had little to do with anything...even when I started noticing that though the words were in my head, they weren't in my heart...even when I saw God answering the deepest questions of my heart and begging me to let go of the demanding to be answered by the world's standard...even when I understood that the nagging, faithless, pained prayer was overridden by the presence of His peace in my heart...I continued to pray that way.

I continued forcing myself to pray that way. It was the only way I knew how to pray, approaching God with this begging attitude. Approaching like a toddler who has just seen the toy on the shelf, thinking I have had to throw a fit to get my way, to be loud and create a scene and refuse to turn my attention to anything else. I have just put my head down, ignored the nudging of my heart, and TRIED to keep the agonizing prayer going...even though I didn't really want what I was praying for any more and fully recognized that I no longer (and perhaps never) needed it.

And it would have been easy to think God wasn't listening to me, but He kept after my heart until I realized I wasn't listening to Him. And I wasn't even listening to myself.

My prayer is different these days. Now, I let Him stop me. I let Him get a word in, even if I've spiraled down into my faithless, emotion-driven, fear-based prayer of illegitimate concern (in the grand scheme of thing; it seems significant when you let your mind dwell on it and the lie tell you that it matters). I let that little inkling in my heart silence me. For a full moment. In the middle of a sentence sometimes. Whether I am writing or speaking or whispering or walking and mumbling, when that little nip in my heart hits me, I let Him stop me dead now. Mid-sentence. Just stop.

Usually, I find that I've already been answered on a deeper level than I was asking for. A different question, maybe, but the right question that makes all of the other answers (and lack of answers, periods of waiting, turns in the road of life) fall into place. When I listen to His whisper in my heart, I find two things: contentment and energy. And life is...ahhhhhhhhh. Life is good. God is good.

It changes the dynamic of my prayer instantly. Instead of latching onto my panic, my fear, my self-driven prayer in the definitions of the world, I find that permission to let go of it. I have stopped mid sentence, entered a "..." and continued with, "You know what, God? Forget about all that. This is perfect. This is wonderful. Give me more of this. Draw me closer to You. Be. Just Be. Be for me. Be for You. Be for this neighborhood, this community, this world. These seeking hearts. Be. And let ME be for You."

Somewhere, I think we lose sight of that part of prayer. I think we forget that it's a conversation. We get so caught up in the idea that if we pray, He hears us and answers, if we're looking for it. We craft our words and bow our heads and carefully pray where we think we need it, then open our eyes and look around and watch - bated - for His answer.

Maybe His answer comes with our eyes still closed. Maybe it's something we shouldn't be watching for, but something we should be listening for. And maybe when we hear it, we should let it stop us. Just stop us. For a full moment.

Because prayer is not our begging of God. It is not our demanding of God. It is not our petition of God. It is not even our praise of God.

Prayer is our conversation with God. And nobody walks away stronger from a conversation where they do all the talking.

Is God asking you for a moment? Is He asking you to stop the discipline of "prayer" and join a conversation? Is He whispering to your heart, though you might be talking too loudly to hear it? What if you stopped? What if you stopped and listened...for a full moment?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting Into the Story then I looked at her and said, "That's Tebow, not TiVo. Tivo is...well, never mind. It's just Tebow."

I guess you had to be there.

As a writer, one of the sticking points with any new project - or any new phase of any old project, for that matter - is figuring out how to get into the story. Most of the time, I know what I want to say. I know where I'm going, and I might have a vague idea how I'm going to get there. The problem is getting going, getting into the story with a lead or a catch that lets you, the reader, follow along and actually understand anything I'm about to say.

Because most inspiration, if not all, doesn't start where the story needs to start. The inspiration for any project - a chapter in a book, a devotional for a newsletter, a post on a blog, a speech, whatever it is - the inspiration is the meat. It is the hard-hitting point. It is the take-home lesson. It is the middle of the matter, the heart of the story. The story to be told isn't "now." We know that story; we are living it. It would be gone before we could even start the words. Any good story to be told pulls us toward something more. Any good story is an invitation into the story.

To get to the story that is inspired to write, I have to come back and meet you here to lead you there. It's just not always easy to figure out where "here" is or where to jump in.

I can easily spend hours, days, if not weeks, staring at the meat of the story, the part that's been on my heart to write, and agonize over where to go back and pick you up to get you there so it makes sense. Otherwise, it's like walking into the middle of any good story, laughing at the punchline because everyone else seems to laughing but always wondering, "How did we get here?" The story loses something if you don't get into it the right way.

The truth is that most stories aren't written from the first word to the last word. They don't start at the beginning and wrap up at the end. Most stories are written in the middle, to be the stories they were inspired to be, then fleshed out to pick you up and to lead you out. The first sometimes comes last, and the last sometimes comes second. But the meat comes first. It has to.

That's how you remember what story you are telling.

The same is true for the stories we are all invited to tell, not with our words but with our lives. God invites us into His story, to tell something of His love and promise. And you know what, I have the same trouble with His story. Perhaps you do, too.

God didn't write our stories from beginning to end, starting with the first word and ending with eternity. He wrote the last word first; He gets final say. Then, He wrote the middle.

He started with you in mind, but He didn't write you first. He wrote the middle of your story, the meat of the matter, the heart of your purpose. He wrote the part He needed filled, then He went back and created you to fill it. He started with His love, with the story He was telling...then He went back and picked you out - picked you up - to bring you along into the storyline and to tell His story.

Then He puts this story into your heart. You pray and seek, ask and knock, and there it is - this story God wants to tell through you. But even then, He doesn't start where you are. He starts in the middle, showing you where you're going, what you're doing, who you are in His kingdom, according to His plan and the creation of you.

If you're like me, this is where you get stuck. This is where you look at this story, and it is so much in your heart that you could absolutley burst. You're longing to tell it. You're ready to go. You've got the energy in you to move behind and within this story. You are ready to start talking. It's not your words; it is your life, and you're ready to live it.

Just one problem: how do you get THERE....from here?

A lot of us spend so much time trying to write the beginnings of our stories, our journeys from here to there, our pursuit and our adventure to our passion. We spend so much time trying to figure that out that days, weeks, months, even years pass and we realize we're no closer to living our story than when it first sank into our hearts. It's still there, that passionate fire burning; we just aren't living it. Because we never could figure out how to get there.

But I'd like to think that living is a lot like writing. I know it is. I know I could spend a lifetime sitting here, looking at the blank page, and trying to figure out how to start while the heart of the story burns within me and I'm longing to tell it. I know I could waste it.

Or I could - we could - just start telling our stories with what we have. Start in the middle, where the meat and the meaning are. Start with what we know about our story, the heart of the matter, the story we are burning to tell. Just start telling it, whether you know how you're getting into it or how you're getting out of it, start talking. Start living.

That story is on your heart for a reason. It is there as an invitation...

And when you start writing it, God promises: you will wake up one day and just know you're living it, and you will wonder how you got HERE from there...and He will show you. He will show you how, when you dove into the thick of it, He was able to go back and pick it up from where you were, leading you to here, and taking you on the road to eternity.

So start with what you've got. Start with what you know. Start living it and don't worry about the details, whether it makes perfect sense right now or not. Don't worry about getting there from here.

There is wisdom in your story. Whether you see it yet or not, your role as a bit actor in God's creation is just to play it out. Dive right in and start talking. Let your life speak.

Monday, March 19, 2012


I was having this thought late last week, but with no time to write, I put it on the back burner until today. This was a blessed, relaxing, energizing weekend with the Flower and Patio show on Friday and the Ethos art show on Saturday. A girl certainly needed that.

Now back to this....

I have been thinking a lot about humbledness lately. And I'm aware that isn't "the" word for it; we use "humility." But I think humbledness has a better definitive quality to it and less of a downer stigma. Humility gets us too close to humiliated. Humbledness gets us closer to God.

It is impossible to describe yourself as humble. Just think about it - have you ever heard someone say, "Well, I'm just a humble guy." Either you don't mean humble in the honest sense of the word - because your even mentioning it negates its worth - or you are using it as an imprecise word meaning something closer to modest or simple.

That is perhaps my problem. It's this idea that we're using a verb as an adjective. It just grates against me.

You are not what you do. And among other reasons, that is why you can never describe yourself as humble.

Yet, God reminds me every day of the beauty of being humbled. Humbled - the verb. Humbled - doing. Humbled is something that can either happen to you or that you can do for yourself (not to yourself, but for yourself, for there is a benefit in humbledness).

When God humbles you, you learn a little more about your foolishness and a great deal about His wisdom. (If we really paid attention, we might learn a lot about our foolishness, but we get in this rut of thinking God is right this time, but that's not necessarily a reflection on our own wisdom. We just missed something; we'll get it better next time.)

When you humble yourself, you learn a lot about your weakness and tremendously more about His strength.

Humbledness is countercultural. It is a willingness to step down (or a knock down when you don't take it yourself) and say, "I'm NOT all that." If anything ever was all that, it's not me. And I just don't know. I don't know.

Humbledness is also faith-full. It is an acknowledgment of fallenness, of vulnerability, and of limitation in light of the eternal and infinite uprightness, power, strength, and capability of God. It is the surrender to say, "You are." Which is what He told us in the first place, isn't it? "I Am." Humbledness looks right back at Him, shakes it head, and says, "Yup. You Are."

Humbledness is not humiliation; it is grace. It is not defeat; it is mercy. It is not weakness or foolishness; it is wisdom and strength. It is not something less; it is unspeakably more. It is not modest or simple; it is sacrifice. It is not insignificance; it is love.

Humble is not something you are; it is something you do.

It is not an adjective; it is a verb. Live humbled.

Embrace humbledness.

(And make up words when the standard colloquialism just doesn't cut it.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I've been writing this week about identity, and I hope it has been a blessing to you. This is stuff it has taken me so long to figure out. Sometimes, I look back and wonder what I would have been had I know who I was a long time ago. Not that it matters now; today is all we have.

But in all this talk about identity and discovering who you are in God, who He had in mind when He created you, I would feel remiss if I didn't mention the trap of the greener grass.

That is, it is easy for us to get so involved in coming to know ourselves that we lose track of all else until suddenly...we are wrapped up in only ourselves. Still God, too, if we're lucky, but even when we feel Him powerfully in what we're doing, we're still stuck in ourselves.

God created in us some beautiful, wonderful things but the greatest of these is love. He created you not for your sake, but for His. He created you not to plow through your own life and make it to the end but to stop along the way, get to know your fellow man, encourage someone, and be encouraged. If we allow ourselves in getting caught up in who we might be, we lose who we are in relationship, and that is such a big part of what God has for us.

The way you can tell when you're getting comfortable with God's invitation in you and ready to move beyond yourself to look outward is when you find yourself getting to it, living life, and perfectly, wonderfully, happily content until that little second thought creeps into your head: "Ok, but why?"

Because for all the prayer, the introspection, the discipline, the courage, the journey of finding yourself, answering the "who" about you leaves that nagging "why" in your heart. It leaves you energized, knowing what you are, but there's something missing. It's beautiful that God created you this way, but just what was His master plan? You kind of cock an eyebrow to the Heavens and look around. The question changes:

Just what is God up to? Not IN me, but THROUGH me?

To discover that takes an earnest prayer and a sacrifice of self. (But I just spent all that time finding out who I was!) Yes, but give it all up. Take whatever you are, whatever He's put in you, whatever you've come to know, and give it back to Him. Be less self and more His.

You can be the greatest you within yourself, but it counts for little. You can be all you are in God, but you still come up short. You need to look to be fully you in Love (not in loving who you are in you, for that is just ego; but in the love that reaches out). That is where wholeness resides.

It sounds counterintuitive, but He promises this: the more you give of yourself, the more of yourself you come to know, the more of your heart you have, the more of your life you purpose to live. The more of your world you venture to touch. The more of His love you both have to give and have to hold.

You cannot lose yourself until you find yourself. Otherwise, you're idly - and lazily - passing off your nothingness into God's hands and praying He'll make it make sense. But once you find yourself, submit yourself in nothingness into God's hand, and He will bless your life and your world. You will touch others when they see that you know who you are, that you are confident in being you...and that at the same time, you have committed yourself to being less of self and wholly God's, confident all the more in being His.

Have you thought this week about who you are? And if so, have you thought about why? What can you do this week to take yourself and give it all back to God, to find out why He has you - His precious child - right here where you are? How is He calling you to touch your world?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Against or Beyond

It hit me last night as I was falling asleep: these have been a rough few days.

I didn't really notice it at the time. I was just living, pushing through, doing what needed to be done. I feel like I've been really disciplined, focused, and productive in the past several days, though to acknowledge, a few of them have indeed been rough.

I've had tremendous energy. There's been nothing that could stand in the way of me and what I was doing; I really felt like I've been tapping into the way God's wanted me to live. So I didn't have time to consider any of the piddly little stuff. Maybe that's why it took me by surprise last night when I just felt wiped...and when I realized how little mind I'd paid to those things that would have slowed me down this week.

Wiped..and oddly, content.

See, I don't subscribe to the belief that wiped has to be a bad thing. I think there's a tremendous difference between the wonderful exhaustion of gettin' it done and the burnout of going too far. One is blessed; the other, burdensome. One keeps you going; the other, tears you down.

I like to stay in the "wonderful exhaustion," "gettin' it done" zone.

But as I was contemplating all of this last night, I remembered a few words I had written in my idea journal. It's the place I keep my quips and one-liners, thoughts that God randomly inserts into my mundane moments. I write them so that I can go back when I need inspiration or when I'm looking for a way to inspire.

A few weeks ago, I had written something about grace. Something about the difference between the grace that stands in the face of adversity and the grace that doesn't even notice the adversity that is there.

I think there's a huge difference. And it's about what comes first.

In the grace that stands against adversity, what comes first is the trouble. We might phrase it like this: In spite of my (cancer, poverty, loneliness, despair), I choose to live a graceful life.

In the grace that stands beyond adversity, what comes first is grace. We might phrase it like this: I'm living a graceful life, though (cancer, poverty, loneliness, despair) would like to have its shot at me.

See the difference? In the first, we define ourselves by our trouble; in the second, by our grace. Which is God's grace. Because in our own power, we have little grace at all and certainly not the measure of grace that would stand beyond adversity.

We are always told to put God first in our lives, and this is why: whatever comes first defines you. Whatever comes first is the foundation of who you are, of how you live, of how you love. It is primary. It is what you believe is most true about yourself.

When anything but God comes first in our lives, what we are saying is that He's standing against what we are, what is most true about us. We are saying we are defined by something else. We might say: I am (an author, an aunt, a minister, a jobseeker) with (hopes, fears, dreams) about (life, love, happiness, security), but I am God's, and He will take care of me.

If you really believe He would take care of you, you would put Him first. And instead, you would say:

I am God's, and He will take care of me. So I embrace my role as (author, aunt, minister, jobseeker) with (hopes, fears, dreams) about (life, love, happiness, security) because I am confident in His love.

Is God first in your life or are you letting some other standard define you? How might life look different if you stood in God beyond any other measure and not against it?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mistaken Identity 2: What You're Not

Yesterday, I talked about mistaken identity. I'm continuing to sort out the whole timeshare issue, but I wanted to keep this conversation going for a bit, if I may.

I mentioned that knowing what you are not is at least a step in the right direction, even when you aren't sure what you are. And while I praise those of you who have taken that step, do not fall into the trap of thinking you can live that way.

You cannot live based on what you're not.

It just doesn't work. If you live your life thinking, consciously, at each turn, "I am not _____," then what your mind actually hears is: _______. If you say, "I am not a scaredy cat," then your mind fixates on "scaredy cat" and thus makes you MORE likely to give in to that very thing which you know you are not. And if you look at a situation with all that you aren't in the forefront of your mind, you will know very well what you shouldn't do (or can't do or won't do), but you'll have little idea what to actually do next.

Still, there is a tremendous blessing in knowing what you aren't when you are able to move past those thoughts. Knowing what you are not is an invitation to living.

It is an invitation to take in every moment, to take it captive to the Truth, to hold it up before God and pray, in every second, "Lord, is what I am about to do a true part of me or is it nothing more than habit?" And if you know and can catch the conscious thought that you are about to respond in habit rather than wholeness, you can stop yourself and take a second to consider the situation. If you are not your habit, then what are you?

For example: if you run into a long-lost friend who knows you only as you used to be - say, you were kind of a braggart, always rubbing your victories in her face - and she baits you into spinning off about your latest accomplishments, but you catch that voice in your head that says you don't need to do that, that in Truth, you are more than a loud exhibition of yourself...then you have the chance to pause, to think about it, and to respond more authentically, more honestly, and more honorable. "Oh, things are great. But I want to know all about what you're up to!" You can get excited about your friend and without a second thought to yourself. Then, when things get quiet again, you suddenly realize that you didn't answer out of habit; you answered to something greater.

And you know what? You didn't for one instant miss being that which you aren't. There wasn't this sadness in you that you passed on that chance. Instead, there is peace and a strange energy that spurs you forward, that makes that little voice in your head stronger the next time it tells you that you're responding as you thought you were and not as you truly are.

You'll never look back in life and regret honest moments. And honest moments often begin in knowing who you are not. As long as you take the invitation to move a step closer in those moments to knowing who you really are. And living as such.

Who are you? Do you know? Do you know who you are not? Can you think of a situation in which you have heard that voice, that Truth, asking you why you're doing that, selling yourself short? What is that voice inviting you to discover about yourself?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mistaken Identity

This weekend, a set of very formal-looking papers arrived in the mail with my name on them. I didn't recognize the sender, but opened the mail anyway to see what kind of surprise I might have earned. (Don't you just love getting mail? I do.)

As it turns out, this was not a good surprise. This was a case of mistaken identity.

The enclosed papers informed me that a timeshare I apparently own with a woman named Shauna (same last name) is heading into foreclosure through the title company's trustee because we are $2600 past due on membership association fees. Or something crazy like that.

I took the information and spent some time online researching to see whether this was legitimate or a scam; it seems legitimate. So I spent this morning crafting a letter, copying the papers (for my records, in case I ever need the company's contact information again), and preparing to mail this all back to them with my note, which says, "I am Aidan, but not that Aidan. I don't own a timeshare, have never been in one, and don't know Shauna. I am hoping you will resolve this quickly. Sorry about your luck." (Maybe not that last line.)

If it's not me, then why bother? Because I have outstanding credit, and I don't know fully how credit reporting works, but if they try to take a foreclosure onto my credit report based solely on my name and an address I'm sure they found on Google because they can't find the deadbeat, then I want to make sure I take care of this and maintain my reputation. And of course, who knows...maybe the real Aidan wants to know about his timeshare troubles.

I'm assuming it is a 'he' because the name is attached to Shauna, a female name. And because I guess my name (which was uncommon when I obtained it) is male-dominated now. Actually, I know that's true.

To be honest, this mistaken identity is not a first for me. I've spent my life kind of in the middle, where people think they know what they're getting but aren't really sure. I've had my head shaved and worn baggy guy clothes in that awkward teenage phase and been mistaken for a guy. I've spent some time alone and with a bunch of male friends and been mistaken for a lesbian. I've been called in on job interviews then told when I arrived that "we were expecting a guy," and then - surprise! - I never get the job offer, though I was fully qualified based on my skills and name alone. My own bank always asks me to verify my identity when cashing a check or depositing money because the name on my account is Aidan, and I guess in this testosterone-laden-Aidan society, I don't fit the part.

It's not a complaint. I mean, it's not fun, but it's not really my call. I suppose I will battle it my whole life. Though I am glad that since growing out my hair and adopting a new wardrobe (Rock These Curves!), little kids no longer call me "he" or put me in the "boy" category when counting the number of boys and girls in the room. (My niece loves to do this.) It's nice to be a woman.

But I'll tell you this about identity - it doesn't matter anyway. What I mean is: if you know who you are, then that is enough. And if you know who God says you are, then even better. A few weeks ago, I commented on my Facebook and Twitter pages that I think God is waiting for us to ask Him the same question that He asked Peter: Who do YOU say I am?

Who, Lord, am I?

I spent a lot of years trying to figure that out, and I think I'm finally on the right track. I know who I am, who God created in me, who He intends me to be, and what He blesses in me. I'm only very saddened that I spent so much time trying to figure all that out through a world that can't figure out who I am by their own standards.

That said, the doorbell just rang: a certified letter regarding my timeshare. I told the mailman - that's me, but that's not me. So he's sending it back refused, and I'm still sending the letter I prepared. Hopefully, they can sort this all out and figure out who I really am. Or at the very least, who I'm not.

In the meantime, I'm content in knowing.

Who are you? Who does God say you are and how does that contrast with what the world is trying to tell you? If you don't yet know who you are, then do you at least have a sense of who you're not? That is one step in the right direction.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Yesterday, I wrote about what it is to not have to shout any more, to be able to accept (and live in) the quiet contentment with which God has blessed me and the powerful energy in that. There is freedom.

Were it to stop at shouting, that would be gift enough. But there is more to quiet contentment that further humbles me. It is this - that just as I do not have to shout any longer, neither do I have to fight.

That's revolutionary. We grow up thinking, being taught, that if we want something in this world, we have to go out and grab it. We have to take it by force. We have to be more powerful, more fierce, stronger than anything that would come to oppose us. We believe that we have to prove ourselves, to come out on top, to dominate in order to achieve or to succeed.

That's just not the case.

God's Word tells us - as He promises - that the Lord will fight for us. That's half a sentence, but it's the half we hold onto hardest. We look around our battlefields, bloodied and dripping with sweat, to find our Savior. Is He not there fighting alongside us? Oh...we get it. He's going to make a dramatic entrance; come riding in on a white horse and slaughter them all. Yes, that must be it. Because in the heat of the battle, we're looking around, our sword in our hand, and thinking of these words: God promised to fight for us. So where are You, Lord?

It's easy to neglect the second half of that promise, the contingency, if you will. The Lord will fight for us...if only we are still.

We're rarely still. We don't like to feel that vulnerable. There's something about stillness that makes us feel weak. We aren't really thinking about it; it's just the assumption. If we were weak in the middle of the bloodshed, then God would have to swoop down and rescue us like a damsel in distress. And nobody wants to be a damsel. (Ok, there are a few who might. I've met some of them. I'm not impressed.)

We want to have some power. We want to have some place. We want to have some skin in our own fight, and we mistakenly believe that to be still is to be oblivious or worse. We think to be still means to just stop. Stand there. Wait. Do nothing. Say nothing. Be nothing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Stillness, by God's definition, is not idleness. Stillness is a confident surrender. It is the willingness to stand in the battle and to take an honest inventory of what is at stake. Is it Kingdom-worthy? Or is it world glory? Is it the voice of God that has called us to fight? Or the voices of our culture, our worry, our insecurities? Stillness says that in this moment, even while it seems there ought to be a fight, I choose to listen to the battlecry that matters. The only voice shouting that deserves to be heard. That we give up selfish pursuit and commit ourselves fully to the work, the passion, the battle God has put in us.

I've spent a great deal of time fighting battles that I thought I had to win. Battles of reputation, of justification, of presence, of identity. The list goes on. I'd elaborate, but I'm sure you've fought them to. What I've found in stillness, when I take in that whisper that frees me from shouting and frees me from fighting, is that it is there - just as He promised - that God fights for me.

Yesterday, I was reading David's song of victory and deliverance in 2 Samuel. How the God of the Universe fought for Him when He could not (or refrained from) fighting for himself. How the lightning and the thunder and the winds and the power of creation stood behind him, fighting for him, and answering him. He had surrendered himself to God, confidently knowing that he hadn't the power to change one thing. It wasn't within him.

But it is within God. And when we stand and surrender, knowing God will fight for us, we find that we have nothing to fight for. He answers our heart, all the questions we were asking. He justifies us in our doubts - about ourselves, about our world. He shows us how His power is able to reconcile what we're standing for with a world that seemingly seeks to destroy it.

The truth is - God will fight for us; we don't have to fight any more when we embrace holy stillness. Not idleness, but stillness. But the deeper truth is this - in that stillness, we realize there's nothing really to fight for. We have already been heard. We have already been justified. We have been defended, honored, proven, and accepted. We have been gifted, blessed, and absolutely cherished.

What is there to fight for? What can this battle possibly give us that God has not already shed His own blood for?

What battles are you fighting? Where do you feel like giving up would be a mistake...and what if it wasn't? What if your surrender is an invitation to grace, to the very answer you've been looking for? And what if your power is not in your force but in your confident surrender to a God who will fight for you...if only you are still?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


We all have those people in our lives that we think are loud talkers. You're probably thinking of one right now, since I just said that. Maybe you're thinking of me.

I never would have considered myself such, but then, I hadn't given it much thought. I had always lived the way I guess we all live - trying to be heard in our world.

I always lived a life longing to be heard, hoping someone was paying attention and taking note. Of what, I didn't know. For what reason, I hadn't a clue. It just seemed like if I was ever going to be anything, someone had to notice. Someone had to hear.

As God has come into my life in increasingly powerful ways, I have come to understand it is simply He who has to hear. It is He who needs to notice. And He does; and He has. And He continues to do so. And it is He who speaks back, who longs to be heard in my life.

But He has a different way. He shouts in a whisper. In stillness, in silence, in peace. In those quiet moments, His voice rises above all. In those still ticks of the clock, you can hear Him. I can hear Him.

It is in this whisper that there is justification. Sanctification. Strength. Meaning. Purpose. Love. It is in this whisper that you find out who you are - for real, not by some stanard of the world whose measure is always changing but by the perfect measure to which your Creator created you.

I have had this moment. And I hestitate to say that because in truth, I have had this moment a lot. Frequently. Increasingly so as I continue to grow in Him. It is a moment that butts up against the sometmes crushing weight of the world that immediately jumps back in to redefine the standard, that will strip away this Truth if you don't let Him rest in your heart. And it is a moment quickly lost when you're like me.

Because I find that right after one of these beautiful moments, these powerful encounters with God where I finally understand, where everything makes sense...I irritate the heck out of myself. (And probably others. Sorry.)

I get full of this quiet strength, this disciplined energy, this humbled confidence. Like a golf ball settling into its hole, I circle around in these blessings as I try to find that place of rest in the middle of them. But I just don't know what to do with all that. With that energy, with that confidence. With that peace.

I want to talk about it, but no words do justice. I want to take hold of it, but the harder you try to grab onto it, the more quickly it seems to run away. It is something that has to just soak into your heart and you have to embrace it and live it. Just simply live it.

So last night, amidst one of these moments, I found this: the annoyance I find with myself is that I'm still shouting in a quiet world. God has stilled me. He has heard and answered me, in the most perfect and unimaginable way possible. I know Him in my heart, see Him in my mirror, and am just breathless - I get THIS? I ask Him. This is awesome! And in that peace, that strength, that confidence, even that energy, there is this quiet contentment.

That's the secret: quiet contentment. A life that doesn't have to shout to be heard. A life that has already been justified and sanctified by the only hearer that matters. A life that doesn't have a demand or a want or a wish in the world...because it is a life in perfect peace. (That is not to say I have no desire to continue to grow, to push forward, to develop. Contentment with today and a dream for tomorrow are not mutually exclusive.)

So I'm annoying living a shouting life against the quiet He has graced me with. By thinking there must still be some strife when my heart is screaming contentment. In the stillness, I can hear myself only louder. And it's thoroughly irritating. It's tough - because I want to share this moment. But the gift of the moment is that it is best shared by soaking it in, taking it to heart, embracing its stillness, and living it.

Jesus walked this earth for 33 years. I imagine He had some temptation to shout, to feel like what He was saying or doing or being here demanded to be heard. I know His world told Him that if He wanted to be something, He had to live loud. As a political leader. As an official leader in His Jewish tribe. Yet what I see in Him is beyond the noise.

What I see in Jesus - and what I hope we all see in Him - is a life that embraced this quiet strength. This disciplined energy. This humbled confidence. This stilled contentment. You wouldn't have considered Jesus a loud talker, and the way He lived His life was in perfect alignment with this presence within Him. But His life, the life of our Christ, spoke volumes beyond the world's loudest voice. It continues to speak today.

I'm committing myself to speaking the way my Lord spoke - through the way I live my life in the humbled embrace of my Father. It is His gift....that among other things, I don't have to shout any more. My story is here; and it is heard.

What are you shouting about? What message are you trying to make sure is heard? And what if you gave that question to God? What if you let Him hear you and took His answer at His word? Would you be able to live a quieter life, outside of the tumult and the noise? Would you make a bigger impact in your world - maybe even tell the story you were trying to tell all along?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Holy Hot Glue

You've heard it said that it wasn't the nails that held Christ to the cross - it was His love for us. But...what about the hot glue?

I did not grow up in a Christian home, but there were a few token "icons" around the house. My brother had an illustrated Bible and I had...well...this:

Ask me what it is. I can't tell you. It's Jesus on the cross surrounded by cheap plaster and real seashells. Ask me when and were it came from. I don't know. Mom says I must have gotten it at the beach, and I vaguely remember a trip to Myrtle Beach when I was barely old enough to remember, but I don't remember picking this out or bringing it home or even seeing it anywhere. For as long as I can remember, though, this little sea Jesus has been in my room. On my dresser as a child, now gracing the top of my bookshelf.

And for as long as I can remember, we have never figured out how to fix Jesus.

For the better part of 27 years, Jesus inexplicably keeps...falling over. I would wake up in the morning, and there would be this statue on my dresser. Completely intact, but Jesus toppled into the clamshell. His cross came disattached at the feet, and He fell. We tried krazy glue, but it didn't hold. We tried it again, and nothing. For months, then years, it was a constant guessing game as to when He was going to fall again. Every so often, I would look at my dad, statue in hand, and say, "Dad, I need you to fix Jesus again."

He always tried. It never worked.

After awhile, we took to placing large globs of hot glue at His feet. It's still there. You can kind of even make it out in the picture. A new fall, a new glob of hot glue until there was no way at all Jesus was falling off His pedestal again. And then...

He fell off the cross. Or the cross fell off of Him. Jesus would still be standing, but I'd wander over for a clean shirt and find the cross lying behind Him. Between Him and the seashell. Away from His hands. And just...down. Several more years of fixing, more krazy glue, more hot glue, more vain attempts. And then...

The cross broke. In two. Tall-ways. So Jesus, through the hot glue at His feet, and the bottom half of His cross, through additional hot glue, remained standing. The top half of the cross...I guess He let go because it snapped off and keeps falling off. Just this week (at age 27), I found the top half of the cross fallen sideways between Jesus and the seashell. His hands still outstretched, but no cross there to hold Him. I put it back, but who knows how long it will last?

I say that to say this: I don't know why Jesus keeps falling. I don't know why His cross keeps breaking. If you asked my rational mind which part of this treasure would break, I would tell you the plaster or the seashells. There's not so much as a chip out of either. But the cross...

It's just a mess.

But wasn't it always? Wasn't the cross a mess? Wasn't the perfect, sinless Son of God hanging there like a common criminal for the sake of the guilty a terrible, horrible, beautiful mess? It shouldn't have had to happen that way. Yet, I am thankful that it did. I am thankful that I have a God who will come down here and get into this mess, made what seemed like a bigger mess, and came out with grace, mercy, and an eternal, reconciling love.

Maybe this broken statue is my Lord falling for me (the object of His affection) over and over again. I know I have fallen for Him.

I'm not ashamed to keep a broken Jesus on display. I have my own brokenness, and He's been broken for me. If you ever visit and look at this little token, you might find before I do that His cross has fallen again. It's ok; I'll just laugh and tell you this story. But I wouldn't get rid of it for all the world. It means something, and even on the days when I'm not sure why my heart is so attached to this display, it's got something deeper in me and I cherish its continued presence.

Hot glue and all.

Perhaps all that glue is a sign of the way He's melted my heart as I willingly submit to being at His feet.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hope Amid Disaster

Yesterday, tornadoes wreaked havoc on areas of my state, my region, and my nation. The images of what is from what used to be are heart-wrenching. Some of them make me sick to my stomach. So I spent the night alternately thanking God for protecting me and my loved ones from mother nature's dangerous fury...and asking Him to pour out His blessings, His mercy, His presence on those affected. With that second prayer, there was also this: that God would show me, us, those of us left standing, a way to put flesh to His presence for these communities (which are our communities).

For those of you fortunate enough to not know disaster first-hand, let me lay out sort of how this all works. Disaster strikes, and your neighbors are the first to show up. (If you don't know your neighbors, get to know them. Really. They can be your strength in the moment.) Then, miraculously, the media arrives. Usually in droves. More in the way than helpful, they root through the rubble for that emotional touch (See this teddy bear? It belonged to a child that used to live here. *toss teddy bear carelessly back on top of rubble pile*) and shove a microphone in your face so that you can tell the rest of the world what it's like to be devastated. Sometime after that, search and rescue crews arrive and start sifting through what they can, pulling and herding people to safer territory. The Red Cross and other relief organizations move in, setting up emergency centers where you can sleep, shower, and shelter yourself. They offer food and clothing, the basic necessities, to get you through the coming hours. Gawkers, volunteers, and a handful of well-meaning individuals show up to help you (or get in the way) through recovery and cleanup, digging through to salvage what they can and assisting in moving the damage so the rebuilding can begin. Through all of this, power is out. Gas lines are cut. Sewer and water lines, likely damaged, are useless. Sewage contaminates a great deal. Landlines are down; cell phones are jammed. You are alone, except for those who have shown up to do something, anything. You spend your nights in shelters, in friends' guest rooms, in hotels..and you spend your days in the ruins of what used to be your life. Goverment officials show up to tell you what the damage really means and how they will help you when the red tape clears up. Your insurance agent has great news - he's found a loophole so that they don't have to pay for any of this. And then the trash crews start coming through with heavy machinery to push debris to the curb, then a special trash truck (oversized, with a giant claw much like the stuffed animal carnival games in the grocery store) devours the remnants of all you have ever known. It's hauled away and then...there is nothing.

There are some groups who have come up with neat ways to help. Tide (the laundry detergent) sends mobile laundromats to wash your clothes. Because it's a taste of normal and a small gesture that makes an impact. Grief counselors - from community organizations and government agencies - come in to talk with the victims, to assist on the emotional side as best they can. First responders come with donated stuffed animals to give to the children, something to hold and squeeze and hug. Something to be...just a kid again. And of course, there are groups that mobilize by the thousands to assist in the cleanup and rebuild.

Then what is left?

As I prayed to God for some way to put skin on Him in these communities, I was immediately flooded with the images of the loneliness. Because while it's great to have the shelter, the food, and the clothing, the help during the day and the place to lay your head at night, the truth is that whenever there's a moment of silence, of darkness, of stillness - when you can't do anything else because the lights have gone out or the volunteers have gone home or you're just completley wiped of energy - the weight of the situation is crushing.


So I wondered - what can we do to meet these people in that place? In that extremely lonely, dark, quiet, tumultuous place where the words of a grief counselor, the outreach of the community, the one salvaged treasure is nice...but just doesn't cut it?

And what I thought about was this:

How can we get Bibles into the hands of those in disaster areas?

This isn't some hyper-evangelism effort, moving in on disaster to introduce God. These people are already looking for Him - some who have known Him before and others looking for Him to make sense of everything. And in the moment of truth, we're mostly too busy saving our children, our pets, our treasures, to think of something like grabbing our Bible.

But those of us who read His word every day know how He uses it to speak to us. We know what a comfort it is in our darkest moments. We know even when we don't feel like reading, we open those pages anyway because something calls to us. And there, we find hope. We find grace. We find mercy. We find promise. We find something to hang onto, something meaningful, something real.

Those things, above all, are what these survivors need. They need something for the lonely moments, something to hang their hearts on, a promise revealed, a constant Friend. They need the encouraging words, the hope, the grace, the power and wisdom of the God who sees them in their shelters, in their streets, in their dirty hair and donated outfits and distress and disorientation.

And you know - you KNOW - there are churches sitting on piles of old pew Bibles, long since replaced by newer versions or fresher binding. You know there are publishing houses who would make a donation to give this hope to these people. You know that you and I are sitting on our own cache of Bibles - different translations, old favorites, versions we used to read every day but haven't touched in years, ones we bought or received as gifts that didn't really speak to us the same way a differently-worded one did. We have the Word; and there are people who have lost everything who need that Word.

Can we find a Good Word for them? Can we get it into their hands? So that even when there's nothing left around them...they know they are never alone.

Friday, March 2, 2012



Our passion is that which God has put into our hearts, that niche where He has both gifted and energized us. As someone who loves to read what others are saying, I have noticed a significant uptick in the mention of passion throughout books, blogs, and other media in the past several months. It seems everyone has a way to help you capture your passion, to make it part of your life, to live off it and even thrive through it.

In many ways, I find this excellent. Life without passion is painful. We all understand that, right? You live in this competing reality in which your heart is crying out for something and for whatever reason, it's simple to ignore that burning ache in favor of what you "should" be doing or what "makes sense" or what is "profitable" or "secure." It is agonizing to turn out backs on our passion.

Yet, I submit that much of the advice out there is equally damaging. The tips and tricks to harnessing your passion, to bringing it into alignment with your life goals and present situation, to mold it to fit your living, are noble, but dangerous. With this mentality, it is easy to fly right by your passion on your way to obsession only to find yourself, months or years or decades later, doing something you used to love, something that used to energize you, and finding it dreadful. Finding it tedious. Finding yourself doing your passion but not living it.

Because when we take control of our passion, we inevitably corrupt it. We put it in a timetable. Or a schedule. Or a deadline. We quantify it in whatever terms we can - days it took, efforts expended, income generated, compliments and criticisms, and beyond. It's as if our society says we have to justify our passion to make them worthwhile. To give them meaning. To even...make our passion legitimate. Without quantification, overscheduling, obsession, complete control, and the discipline to make our passion relevant, we are all teenage girls with flowery journals full of "poetry" or schoolchildren with sketchbooks of refrigerator art.

I find this to be true in my own journey of passion, as God continues to touch that place that sets me alive. I'm oscillating between these phases of getting stoked about this or that project and diving into it with energies, then as it wears on and nears completion, already quantifying it, getting ready to show it off, thinking about potential feedback, noting the effort and work put in, and setting arbitrary standards for whether I will count this "worth it" or not. Because I know there are people who are looking for those details, people who will look at me and say it's nice, but it's not meaningful. It's not a real contribution to anything. It just...well, it's nice.

Then the project ends, and I look at it with half-hearted satisfaction. So what happened? What happened was that I tried to turn passion into productivity. I tried to twist it to meet standards or arbitrary definitions. And as such, I lost my love for the work. My heart sinks because I look at my project and realize I missed the journey. I missed the love. I missed my chance to thrive through something God has put in me because all I could think about was harnessing that passion and making it...something.

There are too many projects like this in my life, and I'm betting in yours. Projects that began with such energy, that gave us the chance to touch something blessed inside of us. That drew us closer to understanding God and ourselves, to living out love in a radical way. To living passion.

How do we go about changing that?

The answer is simple. Instead of trying to harness our passions and draw them into our lives, we need to let our passions take control of us.

We need to let our passions define for us the moment. When our passion defines us, we live in an authenticity that needs no further explanation. And we find the following to be true:

1. We are making a real contribution, whether it fits some standard or not. Because we are working out of the fullness of who we are. Because we have tapped into what God intended for us. And God intends us for Him and for His community, so whatever we do matters. On an eternal plane.

2. We are more content with life in general. Our whole system of measurement has changed, and we have a keen eye for what really matters when we refuse to submit to some random standard.

3. Our energies are restored. When our passion fuels our work, instead of our work trying to fuel our passion, we find endless reserves of the strength, the fire, and the pleasure of simply doing what we do.

4. We have a better understanding of ourselves...and our God. We are able to live without contradiction. Without one reality competing against another. Without one idea of meaningful conflicting with a deeper appreciation for meaning.

5. We have fewer regrets. We aren't surrounded by projects, moments, or memories of where we lost touch with what we were doing. We aren't looking at things that remind us that somewhere...we lost it because we changed what matters. Living out of our passion lets us live fully and not look back wondering 'what if.'

We need to let our passion fuel us instead of looking for ways to fuel our passion. When we do, we will find our passion to be more than a noun (more than that which we do). It will be an adjective (that which defines us) and also a verb (that which we live). Yes, we can rediscover a passion for passion....if we let go and let passion lead the way.

What are you passionate about? Have you lessened your passion by trying too hard to take control of it? Where would it take you if you let it take the lead?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

God is With You

I'm reading my way through the Bible, as I do from time to time. And mired in the Old Testament, I'm stuck on this concept of the Israelites in battle. When they have humbled themselves and "the Lord [is] with them," one Hebrew can slay an entire civilization. When they rebel and have not sought God's will going in, the tables turn and God's people die by the thousands.

I think that's incredibly cool, and I find myself 5000+-year quarterbacking, rooting for them as God is with them and practically screaming their foolishness when He is not. "Look in Achan's crawlspace!" I'm screaming when I know they are headed into slaughter. "He's hiding something sinful!"

I know. It's kind of a weird thing to get into. That's just how He made me.

The thing is this, though. As I'm reading these stories and over and over again, those particular words, "The Lord was with them," I am also crying out for my Lord to be with me. Then realizing my unfaithfulness (insert any number of shortcomings here) and admitting to myself that...I've spent my life not really thinking about that.

Not really thinking about whether God is with me or not. Just assuming that He is because He said He will be, ignoring the caveat that just like His people, I have to seek Him out and submit to Him.

Did you know when God told them not to go....they didn't? When God tells me not to go somewhere, I look at Him a little cock-eyed and then get out my pom-poms. "But I'm fired up, Lord! C'mon! WE can DO THIS!" No, we can't. Because God has already said this is not what He wants to do. I'm not going to rah-rah Him into doing it with me and, to be honest and with the benefit of hindsight, I'd be better off listening to Him about this sort of thing.

It takes a significant paradigm shift to start thinking of the journey in a new way. There are so many voices competing for a say - the world says we should do it one way; family and friends yet another; the Lord a third; and somewhere in the middle of all of them, the voices of our own questions, worries, confidences, energies, and passions...which are a jumbled mess of both righteous and unrighteous understandings. Yet the only voice that promises Promise is God's.

My life makes a lot more sense when I not only hear Him above the din but choose to listen to His wisdom. It's tough. It grates against a lot of the things we have always had in our lives, at least for me.

And it's tempting to give in. To give up. You know...I'll admit it. I have not always lived a pure heart. I didn't grow up knowing this was an option, and I used the tools of my former life and worldview to their fullest. Now that I've chosen (and choose every moment) to listen to a Voice that isn't simply true but is Truth, I butt up against my former self every second. And there are a lot of places in this world slow to believe a girl can live something different. There are people and places that think this God-act is just another game, that my motives remain unpure, that I will never be more than I ever was.

It stings, but I get it. It hurts, but God is with me. And still, I cannot help but choose His Truth. It is beyond all that I could have imagined, and there's something absolutely wonderful about just living as it is. Just living Truth. Listening to the only One who truly gets a say in all of this, whose words rock my heart and comfort my troubles and cover me in peace. I'll give anything for that.

So back to this: I want to go where God is going with me. I want to live in accordance with His plan for me. I want to walk His path, His footsteps, and live in His mercy. I've lived so often in fear, wondering if God is with me and thinking He must be though I never asked. It's time to start asking, then taking those bold steps that say: Where You go, Lord, I will go. And where You say to back off, I will stay away.

Because as tempting as the greener grasses may look, anywhere that God is not with me is nowhere at all. And I'm not really into getting slaughtered.