Monday, April 30, 2012

Inappropriate Communion Thoughts: #1

Earlier this year, I was honored to step into a new role in my congregation - communion thought deliverer.  In my tribe, we partake of the communion offering every week as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.  And it's the role of this thought-deliverer to help the congregation think about the sacrifice and the gift and the meaning of the little bit of cracker and little bit of juice we share.  It is a role I take with great honor because I have tremendous respect for the sacrament of communion.

This does not, however, keep me from having bad ideas about what to say.  Not necessarily bad, but a wide range of inappropriateness - from mildly to wildly inappropriate.  Things that make me smile because, yes, that's how God made me, but that I would never actually say in front of my congregation in that moment, in that role, because communion is more beautiful, more respectful, more meaningful than that.

At the same time, why let these mildly- to wildly-inappropriate ideas go to waste?  I shared a few with my sisters last night at a women's get-together and got enough laughs that I think it's ok to go ahead and post them here, just to share.  So this will be an ongoing series as bad ideas continue to flow through my brain and get caught in the filter that separates the holy from the wholly inappropriate.

May they amuse you, but really - don't use these.  It would be...awkward.

Bad Communion Thought #1:

Christ took the bread and after blessing it, he broke it and handed it to his disciples, saying "Eat me."

See?  You couldn't say that.  One sister lovingly told me she would cut my microphone if I dared try.  (I wouldn't dare try.)

But it's not about eating Him anyway.  It's about learning the way that we let His sacrifice, His body and His blood, do more than pass by our presence.  We take it.  We ingest it.  And our bodies - our souls - draw the nourishment out of it.  The way our bodies know what to do with a little bit of cracker and a sip of juice, to pull the nutrients out of it and turn them into something that fuels us, that is what our hearts do with this reminder of His sacrifice.  Our spirit knows how to pull out of it what fuels us; He feeds us through this sacrament, and not just in our stomachs.

Pray with me...or maybe pray for me because my mind just does this on its own.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guru, Who're You?

A week or so ago, I wrote about wanting to be the hero.  Well, there is something else I have always wanted to be, too: the guru.

(Hint: It doesn't really work out, either.)

I've wanted to be the one with all the answers.  The endless well of knowledge, the go-to for all of life's questions from "What aisle are the matchsticks on?" to "Why does God allow pain?" to "What creates a black hole?"

And I came pretty close to having all the answers.  What I didn't know, I could make up and still sound convincing.  (As demonstrated in a group dynamics class in college, when the professor had us debating an issue then threw a curveball and told us to take the other position; to this day, nobody knows where I really stand.)  Rather than making me a guru, though, I found that having all the answers made me arrogant, insecure, and downright annoying.  Not to mention the pain it caused because yes, I would take it personally and be horribly offended if you didn't ask my opinion or follow my advice.

The curse of the genius.

I thought the answers mattered.  I thought knowing it all was important.  I thought this was not just a way to define myself, but to build a connection with everyone (because who wouldn't want a piece of this?) and also a way to control a world we have such little control over.

The truth, though is this, and this is the defining moment: You can think you have all the answers, talk a good game, answer every nagging why, and be a super genius but even in all of that, there is one question that will thwart you:

"What's missing?"

It thwarts you because it is the nagging question, the one that refuses to go away.  It is this constant gnawing in your heart that knows that for all your effort and all your study and all your poetic wax, there is something viciously hollow that is just draining you.  And that question - what's missing - taunts you also in this: you cannot answer it.

It is a question deeper in spirit than this world has an answer for.  We know because we have tried to answer it, and we have watched others try to answer it - this is where we get our addictions, our attitudes, our bitterness, and our brokenness.  From trying to answer a question that is beyond our answer.  It is a question beyond logic, beyond research, beyond study, beyond the tangible or the words or the theories or the ideas.

When you realize you can't answer the gnawing and you finally give up trying (which won't be right away; it's a painful road), what you find is that Someone else can absolutely answer it.  He starts chipping away at that question and even though you can't get the words around it, even though you'll never stand in front of an audience and declare your brilliance by expounding on this answer, even though you'll never even fully wrap your heart around it, you sense it's being answered.  You know He's answering it.

In that answer, you find something else: you were never as smart as you thought you were.  In fact, for all you have ever claimed to know, you actually know very little.

Back in my guru days, I had an hours-long interview with a man who was looking at my story, looking at my life, looking at me.  And I longed to impress him.  When he wrote me with his impressions, I was absolutely horrified - he appreciated my story and the honesty with which I could speak of things, but he also noted that I was a person of "limited insight."

He was right.  (He wasn't right until a few years ago when I found that gnawing question and began finding the answer to it.  Before that, He was absolutely wrong and a total moron, obviously.  Today, he's right.)

I didn't have the insight.  Maybe I still don't.  Back then, I would have boasted that I was living a wise life, a smart life, an intelligent life because I knew it all....but I think that life today is wiser because I haven't a clue.

The answer to that nagging question, the answer to what's missing...the answer that He's longing to put on our that the power of living is in our questions.  It is in asking the right questions, the deep questions, the honest questions that get at the heart of something.  That matter.  And that somehow, all circle back to the thirsty question - the deep desire, the insatiable hunger, the absolute thirst for something more.  Something missing.  Something holy.  Something Eden.

Jesus was a guy who very rarely answered a question straight-up.  You know that had to frustrate people.  And I would venture to bet that if you asked Christ what was the answer to two + two, He would have had some long drawn-out story ending with a question like, 'But what you know is the two, and what is that for?'  He'd never just say 4.  Because that's the answer, but that's not the answer.

The answer is in our asking.  It is in our learning to look beyond the concrete, the tangible, and even the seemingly obvious or simple and dive into the deepest of desire to look for that something more.  To ask the questions and let the answers be in our heart instead of our ego.  To learn to stand by someone else asking the question and not feel like we have to answer it.

We don't.  We don't have to answer.  All we have to do is learn to ask the question and be thirsty enough to drink in the answer, which will come plainly into our hearts in His presence...and we'll smile, though we'll never know the words.  Our joy will have to share His answer; our lives will have to speak.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Orchestral Timpanist

Ever have one of those dreams where you wake up smiling?

That happened to me a couple of nights ago.  And for some people, maybe it's a lost love.  Or a crazy adventure.  Or something they would never risk daring in their waking life but they harbor in their heart as a "man, that'd be cool."  For me, I usually wake up smiling when I've encountered my God in my dreams.

He amuses me even there.

The thing is this: I don't have not one wish, not one secret desire, not one hunger that this world has any chance of satisfying for me.  And I know that.  But what I hunger for is so beyond all of this; it's cool when God sees fit to just pop in and encourage me.

(And no, I am not one of those people who thinks every dream means something or that dreams are magical or any of that nonsense.  If I ever need proof of that, I just have to look at 99.9% of what I'm dreaming, then wake up thanking God that wasn't happening.  There are just those times, though, that I can't help but wake up smiling with a renewed peace and confidence and encouragement.)

Two nights ago, I had one of those drawn-out, cinematic dreams in which I was interviewing for the open position of orchestral timpanist.  I know - you've totally had that dream!

It was an outstanding interview in which every potentially terrifying detail was taken care of - cute guy conducting the interview, primo location, invitation to share some of my work and show some of my skills, beautiful set-up of the equipment.  I even had the attitude down and remember saying this phrase with an incredible bravado, "But who cares?  I'd be union."  Because musicians are union.  (Insert laughter.)

Then it happened.  Walking around the orchestral pit with the interviewer, we passed the timpani.  They were just sitting there, and as we walked by, I couldn't help but reach out and tap them.  Then bust out a little rhythm with a little groove thrown in for good measure.  Eyeing the other drums just a few feet away, then tapping out a little beat on them, too.

And suddenly remembering everyone was watching.  Everyone.

It was no longer just me and him; the whole orchestral percussion section had shown up.  They were just watching me jam like no one was watching, get into a little groove and then a longer one, and then suddenly remember and look up.  In that second, I chose something other than embarrassment.  I chose a sheepish, knowing grin.

That's a good go-to, right?

The dream continued from there, encouraging and peaceful and pleasant.  Lots of laughter, smiles.  This indescribable freedom.  This unspeakable Truth resonating in the sound of the drum.  Me refusing to give up the rhythm, fired up and ready to continue showing my beat.

So I woke up smiling.  Remembering what it was to shoot that sheepish grin, the one that can't hide just how much joy it's holding.  The one that goes beyond words and rejects shame and embraces the rhythm because that's how I was made.

It's easy sometimes not to play.  It's easy to think there's something wrong with what beats inside of you.  It's easy to get caught in this mindset that someone has to approve of not only what you're doing but how you're doing it because we feel like we don't get much of a say in how our world turns.

It's bunk.

I don't think we have to apologize for what - or who - we are.  I don't think we need to be ashamed that we each march to a different drummer.  I don't think it's wrong to stop and groove when something so irresistibly calls to us.

I think the real shame is when we walk right past and miss the moment.

By the way - if you want to know the difference between a show and a sincerity, it is in the grooving.  Because it's one thing to play a new beat as God leads you, but it is another thing entirely to commit to dancing to it.  It's the difference between talking a holy game and living a holy life.  We have to be willing to dance.

It's unlikely that I'm going to become an orchestral timpanist (though I am still looking for one of those "real job" things and I wouldn't be averse to such a position if it was open...and yes, I'm aware that many wouldn't consider even orchestral timpanist to be a real job.  But who cares?  I'd be union.).  But I find myself strengthened for the journey, confident in what God has created in me, energized to take hold of Him in me, content to play my part in His story, and ready to groove.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Be a Bug

I have a general rule, and that general rule is this: If you want to be a bug, then be a bug.  Outside.

And I will actually firmly state this rule, out loud, while squishing a spider in the bathroom with the empty toilet paper roll I just pulled out of the trashcan because it was handy to do so for the sole purpose of killing said spider.

Bugs are actually pretty neat.  They are diligent and clever.  They are interesting to watch, to see how they are made, to see how they move and work and weave into the world.  And they do some spectacular things.  In their element.


Inside, they're just icky.  They are creepy.  There's something completely unnatural about an indoor bug; I can't imagine it would be good for them, either.

They might get comfortable and become couch potato bugs.  (See what I did there?)

So I try not to kill them in their natural element and indeed, while working my way through the rock pile a few weeks ago, I came across more spiders, worms, and millipedes than I care for a lifetime.  But they were outside; they were as they were supposed to be.  Thus, I scooted them gingerly, ickily away from my work area with the little garden claw, then transplanted them with the rockless dirt to the yarded area where they could go about their bug business.

Inside, though?  Inside, they are fair game.

You can almost see the sadness in the bug who is trapped inside.  Sure, the temperature is a little steadier, but there isn't the life supply they were built for.  The spider builds a web that catches dog dander and dust mites, but he was made for flies and other insects.  You can see it when he's climbing the wall next to the toilet and you spot him looking at you like "I don't get it.  What are you doing?"  Then the answer is, of course, "putting you out of your misery.  *squish*"

Or the cricket that pops up and likes the nice wet residue of the shower but is missing the dark and the dirt he was created for.  *squish*

Or the fly that has plenty to eat near the trash can but is missing the feast of decomposing life matter that he was created for, just on the other side of the screen.  *squish*

I'm pretty sure they don't know the squish is coming.  I'm fairly certain that in their adventures, they don't think indoors poses a threat of a squish.  They have no consciousness of it; it's not a "risk they are willing to take."  It's just how it is.  They get outside of their element, away from what they were created for, and being a bug turns from this marvelous, miraculous, intricate piece of a delicate ecosystem into an eek, ick, ook moment that ends tragically.

You've heard of waiting for the other shoe to drop?  I'm pretty sure that's what a lot of us are doing.  (*squish*)  We're living outside of our element, afraid or unable to be as God created us to be, living something less than we were created for and missing the fullness of all God has to offer.  Many of us are not consciously aware of the risk we're taking; it's just how it is.

We're just doing what we've found ourselves winding up doing.  We took a little journey and weren't really sure where we were going or what we were doing, but somehow we ended up here, and we're doing what we can, as best we can, to make something happen from it.  It's just not working out for us.

So instead of being part of this marvelous, miraculous, intricate tapestry that God is weaving in His world, in our hearts, in our communities, in our lives...we're just kind of caught in the ick.  We're caught in this place where people look at us and don't see something wonderful, something purposed, something playing its part in this living...they just look at us like an accident on the highway, with a pained expression wanting simultaneously to turn away but also gawk a little longer.  Eek.  Ick.

More often than not, this ends tragically.  It's all a waste.  The world scrapes us off the bottom of its shoe, another pest that fell short of thriving and settled for less only to be crushed by the other shoe dropping.  All a consequence of living outside of its element.

Life doesn't have to be a tragedy.  Even if you don't know what your element is, you can recognize when you're not in it.  Though many of us are not aware of the risk we're taking living as we are, there are many also who are achingly aware of how much less this life is.  There are many clinging to the screen, seeing another world out there and knowing they belong there but unsure how to open the door.

That's why God says to knock.  He's not just waiting to let you in; He's waiting to let you out.

Which brings me back to my general rule, lest you think I must be heartless: If you want to be a bug, be a bug.  Outside.  But if you're clinging to the window trying to find your way back out, I'm likely just to open that door for you and let you fly free.

Because I recognize, and I know: There's no better place for you to be (even to be a bee) than in your element.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Be Still, but Still Be

Be Still and know that I am God.

That's what He says.  And of course!  Because when I'm just sitting here and it's just me and there's not much going on and I'm just kind of reflecting on life, enjoying the beautiful butterfly that seems to have made the backyard home and the little nuthatch I've named Red that lives in my rickety birdhouse and a Bible within sight and a smathering of empty vessels...all is still and I absolutely know.

It's when I have to get up and actually do something that it's a bit harder.

Almost as if when my feet start moving, my heart shuts off and there's this disconnect until everything is over and everything is still and I suck in that one deep breath of everything and nothing all at once and go "Whoa.  God was here and I totally missed it."

I was busy.  Sorry.

It's when you're trying to live in the moment but the moments go by so fast and if you linger on one too long, you miss them all entirely.  It's easy to lose God in there.  It's easy, even if you're thinking about Him, even if you remember Him...when life doesn't seem still, it's all-too-easy to forget to KNOW.  To remember, to think about, even to know, but not really to KNOW in the way that is confident and trusting.

Because when you look down and you see your hands doing something, it's easy to put everything in those hands you see instead of the ones that in the stillness, you know hold you.

Then what's the answer?  Should we stop everything to be still, just so that we can know?

Absolutely not.  Or as Romans would say, 'By no means!'

We just have to change the way we think of 'still.'

God doesn't want us to be idle. That's not at all what He created us for, and it's not even how He created us.  He created us to...honestly?  create.  He created us to do and to be and to breathe and to live.  None of that is done in front of the television, resting in the bed, or even under the holy guise of sitting around with a Bible and a prayer book and looking for all the world like that's what's really important.  (You know when you try this, your mind wanders, too.  Don't pretend it doesn't; we aren't noble creatures.)

Yet we have turned this word still into a synonym of idle, and that's the only way we can seem to fathom it.  By that definition, how do we reconcile God's command to be still with the wisdom of His creation that it is in us to work, even to create?

We can't.

Because to God, 'still' means something different.  It means...something steadier.  Still is not something you do; it is something you are.  Still is not something you stop everything and enter into; it is a state of being in the heart that you take with you.  Still is...I guess we could say it is steady.  And it is deliberate.  It is a heart that refuses to get swept away in the moment, to get drawn up into something that is lesser than the presence of God.  It is able to block out the other voices and to continue to KNOW despite what your hands may be doing.

It's this beautiful symbiotic (mutually feeding) relationship where when you are still, you know, but when you continue to know, you are also still.

That, then, is the discipline.  That is what we need to take with us when we walk out the door, when we take on a task, when we set our hands to work.  We need to have that quiet time, that still time that sets our hearts on God, that draws near Him and knows, but we need to take with us that confidence of knowing.  We need to walk out and be as God has created us to be without forgetting to know, to really know...and then we'll find that even in the midst of our hardest 'doing,' our hearts will be steady.  They will be unshakable.  They will stand.  And we will be still.

Because we know.  That He is God.

How can you work stillness into your busyness?  How would that change the way you interact with your world?  Or yourself?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Worry

It's fairly easy to get caught in worry.  Especially when you don't seem to have enough of what the world says it's selling.

Secret?  It's selling you.  It's selling you short.  It's selling you at a price.  It's giving you no more worth than what it can cheapishly write on your tag.  And it's easy to buy into all that.

For me, right now, it's the money pit.  It's easy to feel trapped in the, well, the lack of money pit.  Needing things.  Wanting things.  And as we all know these things go, it seems to hit all at once.  Just when I look at my bank statement and find a way to swallow (albeit HARD some months) and start to get my bearings that it will be ok, something else hits.  This week?  Chipped tooth.

Not terribly bad, but enough that if I took care of it now, I could do it without the anesthetic that my body is so allergic to and fairly simply.  But as all things, these things cost money, and this tug of war between the obvious necessity of fixing my tooth and the pain of writing the check began.

I was worried!

Worried because I have always worried about money.  My money.  Other people's money.  Strangers on the street's money.  And with no money flowing in these days, it's easy to get caught in that worry.

The other thing, though, is this: I don't really have a need to worry about money.  No, there is no one to take care of me if I run out.  But I'm smart with my money.  Disciplined.  Maybe a little too stingy.  Let's say frugal - I like the sound of that better.  I know how to live on what I have and I'm satisfied.

Then what's the problem?

I never really know until I turn what isn't the problem over to God.  Then, He takes care of that and starts chipping away at the real problem.  He takes care of the worry.  He takes care of the bank statements (in this case).  I'm always amazed at how that happens.

Then He just looks at me and kind of cocks His head to the side like my puppy when she's confused.  "Why would you think tomorrow would be any different?"

"Why would you think that TODAY, even, I wouldn't be enough when I was enough for all of your yesterdays.  Which, may I remind you, you worried about too much, too."

He's right.  It's true.

All it takes is one second where He slips in and reminds me not to worry, one second where I stop worrying and really consider the situation.  Then, man...worry is so dumb!

The truth is, it's hard to get me worried.  There's just not a lot of reason to be as long as there's still good in the world.  And since I don't anticipate God leaving us any time soon (or ever), there's always going to be good here.  It doesn't mean the path is smooth; it also doesn't mean life has to take the drastic ups and downs.  It's just a ride.  It's just a journey.  We do what we can to live Love and to know what (or Who) we're living for, and that's the way it's gotta be.  The little crappy stuff?  It's gonna pop up.  But it gives us a chance to just kind of look at things.

And things right now say this: I know my worry is a poorly-worded vulnerability and a continued questioning of my faith.  I know it is the battle of a heart that longs to just trust and know (and DOES know, when it isn't blinded by the not trusting) and the heart that still knows brokenness.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It's the brokenness - the torn up, thirsty, seeking places inside us - that keep us driving toward God.  Would I prefer no worry?  Probably.  But it does drive me toward an honest heart.  Toward an honest prayer that meets an honest God.

That's pretty cool.

All that said, my tooth is fixed.  And the dentist (another sign of continued goodness in the world) cut me a nice deal on the payment.  And the truth?  Once I called this morning and actually made the appointment, after a weekend of having nothing but time to think about it since nobody works on weekends any more, I had peace.  God took over my worry and answered the deeper unspoken of my heart.  He said, "Know what?  I got this.  Just like yesterday and the day before.  I got today."

"Oh yeah, and before you get ahead of yourself, I got tomorrow, too."

I believe it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Between Good and God

Who would have thought good intentions could actually stand between you and God?  Ask me two days ago, and I would have told you no way.  God is good, so good is God, especially if it's coming out of your heart and your earnest desire to be a blessing to someone else.

Or maybe.

Yesterday, in one incredible moment, my whole perspective changed.  He humbled me.

I'm the kind of person that works hard.  I believe in doing the work yourself as much as you can, helping others, getting things done, and doing them right.  I didn't realize my desire to do good had gone so far overboard into this hero complex.  Then last night, it hit me: I have wanted to be the hero.

Not just the do-gooder.  Not the blessing.  Not the sign from Heaven.  I have wanted to be the hero, to make life stop hurting, to make worry go away, to make stress disappear.  I have wanted people to know that when I'm on board - don't worry about it.  Cuz I'm all about getting things done, and you can count on that.  I have wanted people to find a sense of peace when they are around me, which my mind tried to pass off as the peace of God, but let's be honest - I'm not sure how much God was going to break through my shining personality in those moments.  I could mention Him, but if I wasn't living it, then you'd see right through me.  And you wouldn't be looking at Him.

The thing is...something happened last night that was so far beyond me.  I couldn't fix it.  I'm all about fixing, but for this one, I had nothing.  I've found this, particularly over the past few years, in my personal life, my own journey, and I've gotten better about turning those things over to God.  He does wonders with them; never ceases to render me speechless.  I like when He works like that in my life.  But for some reason, I have wanted to hold onto this hero role in other people's lives.  I have theories, but that's a little too teen-journalish for these purposes.

The point is: I'm lying in bed last night, and I'm frustrated.  I can't fix this.  I can't make it better.  I can't take away the stress, alleviate the worry, minimize the pain.  It's just there; and it's beyond me.  And I'm praying to God - not "God, take this and be awesome" but "God, help me break through and figure out what to do to make this better."  (I know; nobody ever said I was righteous.  Maybe self-righteous.)

In that moment, He answered.  "You don't."  You don't make this better.  You can't.  It is what it is.

Then just before helplessness and despair settled in, He continued:

You do what I've put in you to do.  What I have created in you to do.  You work.  You serve.  Most of all, you love.  With a gentle spirit and a tenderness of heart, without words, without the painstaking labor of trying to be the hero.  You just do you.  Because it's in doing you that you're doing Me.  It's in being the fullness of YOU that people get to see ME.

I was instantly energized...and relieved.  I hadn't been aware of my hero blocking God.  I hadn't been aware of how my goodness had actually been standing between me and the One who IS Goodness.  In that painful, humbling, and beautiful moment when I had to admit I couldn't fix it, what I found was the freedom to not hold myself to that standard.  To not have to be the hero, but to be something greater.  Something "good"-er.  Something God-er.

This tremendous weight came off of me, and I instantly felt the purpose and the presence of God in me.  I thought about some of the work I have been doing lately and how in the midst of it, I had contrived myself into goodness-driven labor and completely forgotten the serve and love aspect of what I was doing.  The love, in particular, had been lost - for me, for the one I'm working for, for the One who created me to work, and even for the work I am doing.  It was duty.  It was deadline.  It was driven.  It was not discipleship.

I spent the night praying for peace.  For peace in the situation that is greater than I am.  For peace in the hearts of those involved.  For stress to fade and anxiety to lessen and peace to settle in.  I know that peace; I have lived it against some of the most tumultuous times of my life.  Why did I ever let myself think it was up to me to take the peace God has put in my life and bestow it on others?  That's His job.  Sorry, Lord.

The truth is, as I laid in bed and prayed, peace came.  It came to the places where I had only moments before been so frustrated that I couldn't touch.  It came to me, in my moment of surrender.  It came to the whole atmosphere.  It was this tangible grace.  All because I had to give up good for the sake of God.

Surrender is never easy.  Not for any of us.  Not even when we know what it means to live in the mercy of surrender and to be fully under God's hand.  I don't know why we're like this; we just are.  I am glad, though, to have a God who is willing to take it out from under us and do something with it.  I'm thankful for the goodness of God that is beyond goodness.

I'm ready to go back to work, working on the project I have undertaken - as a gift.  As a service.  As an act of love.  I don't imagine anyone will throw a parade or award me the medal of honor for my good works and my heroic acts.  There will probably be a "that's nice" and a soft "thank you."  And you know what?

In the shadow of God's grace, that's more than enough.  It really, honestly is.

I have wanted so badly for the world to taste the God who has rescued me.  Who has redeemed me.  Who has ransomed me.  So badly that I've been trying to BE Him for them.  It doesn't work.  I'm done trying to show the world God by acting like Him.  I can only ever fall oh so ungraciously short.  Instead, I think it's better that I just live and love and point you to the One who's guiding me in how it's done.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Yesterday on my afternoon walk, I saw that the city came through and cut down all the trees along Main Street that I had only noticed two days ago were "marked." They'd already chipped most of the wood, but lying by a stump was a little piece they'd missed - flat on two sides where it was cut, beautiful bark left intact on the third side that sort of slants up toward the top.  The face is an elongated half-circle with these beautiful tree rings, orange accents, and a slightly uneven surface where the saw left little lines of varying depths.

It's an artist's dream to find such a piece of wood, so yes.  I picked it up.  Unsure what to do with it, but picked it up nonetheless.  Two weeks ago, I watched the trash truck in front of me put an old rocking chair in its back end that I KNEW I could have done something with if I'd only been in FRONT of the truck instead of behind it.  I wasn't going to let that happen with this piece of wood.

So I'm walking home holding this, and my mother looks at it and says, "What are you gonna do?"  I don't know, I told her.  For now, just hold it.  "It would make a really cool clock."

She's right.  It would.  And I might.

But later that evening...

She changed her mind.  "You know what would look really awesome?  Just do a simple wood cross and attach it to the front there.  You know, just a basic cross.  It would look really sharp."


Ok.  Now, I am the only church-going Christian in my family, though other members have dabbled at times or another and consider themselves at varying levels of the faith ladder.  But for the most part, they also try to be supportive of me in my endeavors.  Christ is good in me; I think they see that.  However, this doesn't mean that they really understand Christ or my faith or anything that goes along with it.  If they were more interested in hearing, I'd try to talk it out, but they are supportive of this idea they think I have of this idea of God, and that's a victory.  Trust me.

(Do I need to tell the story of my late father getting me kicked out of the only two church services I convinced him to take me to as a child?)

They just don't get it.  So they think that everything I have and everything I do and everything I buy should be a cross.  Last fall, I looked at my mother and told her I was heading to the mall to shop for a necklace.  I had an idea of my God in my head and the precious jewels of a Father, and He was putting it on my heart to hang a necklace around me.  A special something between me and Him.  But I wanted to make sure I got the right one, that it fit what God was putting in me.  Mom, on the other hand, spent weeks pointing out only the cross necklaces. This one's pretty.  Oooh, look at this one.  That is a beautiful cross.  I kept telling her, yes it is, but I do not want a cross.  She was dumbfounded.  Flabbergasted.  Completely lost.  And then proceeded to hound me with questions about why I wouldn't want a cross (I hadn't told her why I wanted a necklace in this first place; the jewelry in itself was a development.  I'm kind of a simple girl.).  She just kept looking at me like I was losing my faith.

Christ in me, though...He goes beyond the cross.  It's easy to get caught in the crosshairs.  To get cross fever, if you will.  I went through that phase.  The cross, though - it's just an icon.  The love is what's got hold of me.  The thing is...if you surround yourself with icons, even in the most noble or most devout religious sense, those icons can become your idol.  Then you're worshiping the cross and forgetting to live for and with the Man who died on it.

A cross here or there; it reminds me.  It points me toward my Father, not toward the cross.  And there are times, yes, it means indescribably more to me than I could ever come close to explaining.  But I will not use the cross to define me as a Christian, to show the world that I'm a believer, to wear my Christian-ness.  It doesn't have to be everything I do.

Because let's not forget this: the cross doesn't tell you one thing about me or my faith or my relationship with my God.  It tells you entirely about God's sacrifice, which is so far beyond me.  What I can do that shows you Christ is to live Him.  So I'm doing that.

And I may turn that hunk of wood into a clock after all.  I've been wanting a shelf clock for awhile...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lemon Drop

We're nearing the end of Secret Sisters at church. It's kind of like secret Santa, but just for the women and just because. We get the name of one of our sisters, and we spend two months gifting her in secret before the final reveal party where we all get to laugh and just fellowship and be together.

I'm pretty sure the lady who's got my name this time is someone who already loved me. Haha. She's blowing me out of the water.

This past Sunday, I found a plain brown bag with my name on it on the gift table. Inside, a Lemon Pound Cake candle and a bag of Lemon Drops.

I was...shall we say....excited. I loooove lemon stuff. And with allergies in full swing, I was looking forward to some hard candies to soothe my congested everything and even stoked about the initial sour bite of a lemon drop.

I'm sorry. That's Lemonheads. Until Sunday, I didn't know the difference. I guess I had...never? had a lemon drop?

Upon the first taste, I declared the sugary treat 'refreshingly mild' and spent the night in wonder of how that could happen.

I think we're not trained for mild any more. Everything in the grocery store comes in new "Bold" flavor. There are some products you can only buy in "hot," "hotter" or "fire." Cheetos, a classic, has gone Flamin' Hot. They also have one with a kick of jalapeno. Gummy chewy fruit snacks boast a "new" boldness of fruit flavor. When we cook in our homes, we up the ratio of spices to food for an extra wow factor. We are inundated with these things that overwhelm our palates and taught to believe that anything else is bland.

It is true beyond food, as well. We're thirsty for adventure. For thrill-seeking. For setting a new standard, reaching a new mark, living a wild dream. Having a story to tell with as much umph as is possible. Wanting our lives to sound exciting, overwhelmingly. To have people taste just a piece of our lives and say "Wow! That is the life-iest life I have ever seen!" in the same way we take a fire-roasted tomato cracker and pass it to a friend and say, "Isn't that just an incredible flavor? That's fantastic!"

While that is thrilling and such, I suppose, we're missing out on the simple pleasures because they don't seem grand enough for us any more. The most beautiful butterfly has been hanging around the backyard in the past few weeks. No, it hasn't tried to bite me and give me superpowers. It hasn't attacked me. It hasn't fallen victim to some awkward situation or made me laugh or made me cry. It didn't carry me away on its wings to see the world in a new way. It's simply beautiful; but we live in a world that would in someway need us to justify the beauty of the butterfly to say it matters. The world needs a fantasy, not a simple beauty.

In the last week or so, I took my new bike (finally!) out for a short trip to the bank. A leisurely ride on a simple day, breeze in my hair, relearning the balance of riding a bike. No, I'm not training for anything. My car is in perfect working order. It's just the joy of it; but we live in a world that wants to know why I would ride a bike when I could just as easily hop in the car. The world needs a reason, not simple joy.

The simple stuff exists beyond reasons and justifications. It exists beyond culture and this ever-narrowing box we paint ourselves into. The simple stuff allows us simple answers and simple pleasures. It frees us from having to define everything; we can just simply live.

There's an energy behind the extreme. Something that defies words. You try the newest super-sour, extra-bold flavor, face-puckering Lemonhead and someone asks you how it is, and you say, "Man! It's awesome. It's like if you took like a ..... Man, you just have to try it! It's awesome!" And you go on and on with your sort-of descriptions of how it kind of is, but you can't even find the right words for it because you're overwhelmed by its extreme nature and you end up getting someone else to try it, then laughing when their face puckers in on itself. But you both kind of liked it and now you share something.

But there's a quiet energy behind the simple, too. Something that also defies words. You taste a lemon drop when you've expected the extreme and find it understated. Simple. Pleasing. And someone asks you how it is, and you say, "It is nice. Just lovely." And it's a quiet reaction and in a quiet invitation, you offer them one, too. Just by holding out your hand. And they take it and find that it's "nice." And that's ok. It's not a big story to tell (though, did I just make it one?) but it's a joy. It's a pleasure. It's simple.

You know, I think the same can be said for our relationship with God a lot of times, too. We need to be able to live in the simple without falling victim to the world's need for justification or reason or even fantasy. We've all met them - the on-fire all-the-time for Jesus types who bound into a room with a loud presence and declare that God is awesome for no particular reason at all. (He is, but that's beside the point.) But man, that attitude can be a turn-off. The simple pleasure of living in Him, of living as His, of knowing Him and walking with Him and being in quiets us and we can extend a simpler invitation just by simply living. It doesn't have to be a profound story we tell. Just something quiet about us, some inner reality, some simple joy that we share with one another that draws us into both saying, "Yeah. That's really nice." Even though it's more than that. Because it's beyond words.

It's just...simple.

And God can be extreme when He needs to be. But for the most part, He's something quieter. He's something simpler.

His invitation to quiet, to stillness, to simple joy and simple peace and simple pleasure is....well, it's refreshingly mild. I like that about Him.

What would happen if you dialed back your quest for the extreme and partook in something simple, without justifying it? Without trying to work it into the narrative of your culture? With simply just having it and enjoying it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012



That is, I am guilty. Of a terrible, horrible, shallow practice that I would like to take this opportunity to commit to both condemning...and changing. And that practice is this:

Internet searching.

I'm in the middle of this chapter in Prayse. And let's be honest - I've been there for a week or so now. Staring at the same spot. The chapter is built; there's this note to myself somewhere in the middle about going through and finding the examples in the Bible to back me up. Not because I need it, but because that's how God's story works - it weaves itself through time, and there is something powerful about seeing these things happen in the lives woven in His word even as we connect them to what we're staring at in the mirror. The examples I've been looking for - I kind of know them. Kind of. They are in my heart in a shorthand, cliff's notes kind of way. The key pieces, what I've taken, what means something to me, a way to remember, a story to tell. They are in there. But in writing, I want to make sure I get it just right. Get the right background. Set the right stage. Use the right words - their words.

But research is research, and when I'm in the flow of writing, it's hard to break and go look such things up. I might lose where I'm going for sake of the details of getting there. And as in life, that's not a good tradeoff. So I make a note to go back later and grab what I need, then work it in to tie part A to part C through the invitation of Part B (or Part Be). It's how I work.

Sometimes, though, the drudgery of pulling out that Bible and scavenger hunting isn't really energizing. I look at my note to myself, and I know what I want and where to find it...generally. But getting into those pages and digging it out..I'd rather be writing. Yet I know it's crucial to the story. So I get where I have been - staring at it for a few days, a week, trying to craft that section out of what's in my memory already, confident then not too confident that I'm pretty close to maybe accurate and that most people might figure out what I'm talking about.

Then caving in and hitting the internet to "look it up."

There is a lot, a LOT to lose when you try to Google something you're looking for in the Bible.

Google doesn't have the context. It might have 400 translations of the Bible. It might show you the whole chapter if you can get close to where you think you're going. It might have the words. But holding God's story in your hands, flipping those pages, scanning and skimming and letting your eyes roll over HIS words instead of key words - that's where the context is. That's where you have at least a chance of a happenstance encounter with God. Something new He might want to show you. A piece of the story you've missed. A story completely unrelated but you find it anyway and can't put it down.

While staring at a note to myself to look it up later is boring, yawn, holding the actual Book in my actual hands and searching for the story and finding...finding GOD in those pages...that is energizing. That is where it happens. That is where I see not only what I kinda sorta knew that I was going to use anyway, but I see new ways to look at it, new words to use in talking about it, new ways to connect it. And that's where I see beyond - to this incredible love story God is weaving not just in those pages but in my life. In my work, I hope. In the things I'm doing and all I'm living and all I'm loving and all He is.

Google doesn't have that. Google makes it fact. It makes it footnote. It makes it this quotable resource to make a point.

God makes it foremost. He makes it front page. He makes it this beautiful storyline that transcends time. He makes it this unforgettable narrative, an invitation to living.

He makes it this new problem....which is, I can't get out of my Bible to get back to writing. But I suppose that might be a good problem to have.

(For the record, I hit the pages in the Good Book this morning and finally broke a week's worth of writer's block while also invigorating myself and finding the energy to continue to press into His work for me and beyond. He comforts, strengthens, guides, and encourages me through those words. Thank you, Lord.)

Monday, April 16, 2012


Yesterday, I was honored again to provide the communion devotional during morning service. It's cool to be able to do this; I know it's something God's put in me.

But it again raises the question of: how do we pray?

I try to get my thoughts generally in order, but I've never been a "rehearsed" speaker. I prefer to let things flow, as long as I have the basic ideas down. So I spent some time on Friday and Saturday rolling my prepared thoughts through my head, making sure it was going to be applicable and make some sense (I'm terrible about speaking in half-thoughts if I haven't prepared enough). Then, I started thinking about the prayer.

As comfortable as I am speaking in front of a crowd, public praying is not something I would consider myself as comfortable with. Mostly because as of yesterday, I have a whopping two whole experiences with it in 27 years of life (only 12 have been church years, but still). I was always a hand-squeezer, and those of you in religious circles may understand what I mean by that. And what I mean is: when we would all join hands in a circle and pray, squeezing the hand of the person next to us to popcorn it over before the all-encompassing amen, I couldn't pass that squeeze on fast enough. So now that I'm in a position to pray, it's a skill I definitely have to work on.

Friday night, I found myself ruminating over possible prayers in my head as I fell asleep. Thinking what I might say, how I might phrase it. Going over and over the words again and again until I hit on something I thought I might keep....then busting up laughing, pausing, and asking God: am I praying right now?

I was going over these words in my head to make sure I had them "right" (shudder), and each run-through began with a dear Lord and ended with an amen and somewhere in between, there was a prayer. But is it a real prayer if you're just practicing what might one day be a prayer? Can you tell God not to listen, that you're just working on something here?

I was literally laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.

Because I'm hitting prayer hard; it is a habit, a discipline, a conversational style, and a relationship I believe strongly in cultivating. And I believe that as one who stands before my community and leads in prayer, I ought to be setting an example of at least one thing prayer ought to be. And in all my preparations and rehearsals, the conclusion I came to is this: prayer should not be recited.

It shouldn't be memorized and practiced and written and re-written and so focused on being "right" that it becomes rote.

Because let's be honest: who prays like that? Seriously. Anybody? I don't fold my hands at night and bow my head and begin a liturgy of practiced prayer. Prayer is a crying out. It is a conversation. It is intimate and personal and authentic. It is spur of the moment; it is a dialogue of friends. It is a piece of the heart, put into words as closely as our language can match it but always missing something that the Spirit has to fill in for us with grunting and unspoken space.

As a leader, as someone standing before my brothers and sisters - I don't care if they like my words or not. I don't want anyone to walk up to me after service, shake my hand and say, "Sister, I loved it when you prayed __________." Don't get me wrong - it's nice, but it isn't the point. What I want is to be someone standing there authentically, someone putting out an honest prayer, a sincere supplication, an intimate invitation, a posture of praise. If anyone is to learn anything from the way I pray in public, I want them to learn the attitude of an honest prayer.

That means I have to bring it. I have to bring that attitude, that posture, to the microphone and throw out the script.

There's not really a script. Once I caught myself laughing and was able to take a minute and think about it, I changed my approach. I will still focus on the words I will say to prepare our hearts for the Lord's offering in communion. I will still work to make sure what I'm going to say is applicable, relevant, and more than half a thought. But when I get to the "Dear Lord," I stop. Instead, what I focus on is the story I'm telling. Let THAT get into my heart. Let God use my own words, which are really His words that He's graciously lent me for a moment or two, to influence the way I pray.

Then respond authentically and just let it flow. Let my heart pour out the unscripted words, the matter of the story, all the way to a soft Amen.

How do you approach prayer? Is is awkward for you to pray in public? Could it be that you're too focused on your words and not enough on your heart? What would it mean to abandon "right" words for a new posture - publicly or privately?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Change in Prayer

Yesterday, I talked about the challenge of praying when writing about prayer - in general, the challenge of living what you can talk about. Not losing sight of God in the process of doing His work, if you will.

Because it's easy to do.

But I also hinted at what I'd talk about today, which is this: how writing this book on prayer is changing the way I pray.

When I say changing the way I pray, I mean both in the discipline of prayer and right in the thick of it. Writing about honest prayer, searching the Bible for authenticity of prayer, looking at the way God's people have done it and how what we're doing today is lacking and how He longs to answer us and what He's looking for - it is no more clear in my mind than when I'm stuck in the middle of a shallow prayer.

I start out praying for what I'm thinking I want to pray for, the things I'm asking God to be doing in my life. The tangible things, usually, for these are most measurably lacking and when I'm longing for them, that emptiness just haunts me. What am I praying for? Things like a job. Things like a mate. Things like strength. Continued health. Prayers of thanks for what He has done in me because yes, friends, I see it. I look in the mirror and am speechless at where I am from where I've come from.

Then I hit that point. That point where this prayer is poised to take a turn down the long and whiny road. Where I could easily slip into that practice of thinking the more words, the better, and the more insistent I can be, the more desperate I can sound, the more seriously He's going to take me.

Thankfully, and only because He makes His wisdom work this way, this is now the point my writing hits me. My study, my words, His words, history, His story. And I suddenly realize two things: my about-to-turn-obnoxious prayer is only tending that direction because I have some unmet need that I think will forever go unfulfilled if this prayer isn't answered exactly to my specification and soon. And two: whatever I'm praying so angstily for - ain't my unmet need.

It's something shallower. Much.

What I'm really praying for when I'm praying for a job is...ok, a job. But beyond that, purpose. Purpose is the greeter need, the longing that God can fulfill much better than a job ever could (and a realization that if I got a job, it might not fill my need for purpose, and then where would I be?) and with purpose also, stability. The income and routine and basic building block of a predictable life that is a job is stability. But how much greater than a job would be the cornerstone of eternity as I know it? And when I'm praying for a mate, what I'm really praying for is companionship or relationship. Someone to stand by me. But who greater to stand by me than the One to whom I am already praying?

So right there, in the middle of my shallow prayer, which is getting right on the border of selfish and disastrous, my study and my work and the words I am praying so hard to get right for the purpose of Prayse, stop me. Just before I take that turn, I am able to pull back and think about what would be a more honest prayer. A more authentic prayer. A more honorable and honoring prayer. And I can usually get there.

It's simple really - the answer to all of the above - is that I'm just thirsty. Thirsty for more of God, for all of God, for all He would have of me, and all He would have for me. I don't think that makes me weak. I don't think that makes me anything but a journeyer; a seeker. And I said on my Twitter earlier this week that I'm not a seeker because I don't know God; I'm a seeker because I can never know enough of Him. That's the truth. That's just how it is.

As I'm able to pray a different prayer, to detour from the long and whiny road I have known so well (I know; I hate to use the same catchy phrase more than once, but I just came up with that a few paragraphs ago and really like it. It's accurate.), what I find is two things: I approach God more honestly, more openly, more authentically, and more vulnerably. And two: He answers my heart, often unexpectedly, but with greatest gentleness and tender blessings. Sometimes, He answers with a softness and peace. Other times, He answers with a tough question, a revelation of something I didn't know I was asking or didn't know was standing between He and I.

I'm getting to where I understand the prayers of David and our other fathers of the faith. I'm getting to where I'm finding the God of the Bible with the same heart for prayer today that He had thousands of years ago and even yesterday.

Do you let your work change you? Can you break your habit to hear a new voice and be something new?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Challenge of Prayer

One of the challenges I have as a writer is remembering to live the stories I'm telling.

I guess you could call it practicing what I preach, but it's not really about being an example. It's not about what other people look at me and see; not at its core, anyway. (I believe that mattters, to an extent. I believe consistency is credibility for anyone trying to put God's word out there in a new way. And yes, I want you to see me living a godly life as best I know how, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not the priority.)

It's about remembering to stay in touch with my life source. Remembering to open myself for Him to fill me. Remembering to seek the divine when it's easy to get lost in the pen of what I believe are inspired words.

Case in point: my work in progress.

I'm writing Prayse - the act of honoring God with our prayer. Cuz prayer is one of those things...well, you know. And I'm diving into all this deep theology (have you read Recess? Think completely radically different from that; Prayse is really heavy into theology, Bible, and familiar stories). What I'm discovering is this beautiful, incredible, powerful prayer that I think we've completely lost touch with. I mean, have you seen the prayers these people - these fathers of our faith - have prayed? What happened to prayer like that?

I feel like too often, we pray just to say we've been praying. It's become almost trite. And completely powerless. Most of us pray and hesitate; we don't believe God is actually going to do anything but maybe pat us on the head and applaud us for trying, then go about doing what He planned to do in the first place.

I've been focused on this phrase: Pray and expect something to happen because yes, God works like that.

Have we lost that faith? I fear too many of us have.

I know for a long time, I did.

But it's challenging because in the midst of the study, the writing, the re-writing, the drafting, the editing, the precision of getting the words just right to write a powerful message with God's pen, it's easy to forget to stop and actually pray. It's easy to get to the end of a day and think, "I know I've had prayer on my mind a lot, so I must have actually prayed" then get to the end of the week and realize how thirsty I am.

So I have to stop and pray. I have to carve out that time just for me and Him. That space to open up and be honest with my God, to talk with Him, to hear from Him, to be fed and nourished and energized.

And then fight the urge to share those prayers. Many of them, I write. It helps me to focus. And as a writer, the temptation is always to put everything out there. Some of them are good. Man, they're good! But like Mary, I need those things of God that I hold secretly in my heart, that are Him just for me.

That's where I'm at these days - searching for the balance between what I do for God and getting in the discipline of just Him and me. Learning to speak about communion without forgetting to remember what it means when I take it. Learning to write without forgetting to let my own words sink in. Learning to study and expose the power of prayer without neglecting to pray.

I'm glad to say that it seems as days go by, it's getting easier. It's more routine to pray than to write, to study than to speak, to worship than to analyze. But I still have my days.

And let me just add this: the Prayse project, the study, working through the chapters - it is already changing the way I pray. That's pretty cool, too. More on that tomorrow.

How about you? Are there things you do that God has put so heavily on your heart that you get so busy doing them that you forget to stop and live them? How would life be different if you were living it?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Things Change

The world has changed a lot in 27 years. People say that - no matter the time frame (50 years, 80 years) - and it is always true.

I could list a million little ways the world has changed since I've known it, and you'd probably nod your head. Growing up, we were constantly connected, but not through our technology; we were connected because we were out and about. We knew each other because we saw each other. We knew our world because we journeyed in it. We rode our bikes without Michelin Man-padding, we climbed trees, we played in the snow, but only after we'd shoveled not only our driveway but that of our older neighbors. And we were glad to do it. I took typing class...on a typewriter. We didn't even own a computer until the mid-90s and then, it was a few years still until we had the internet. When we finally got a cellular phone, it wasn't called cellular. It was called "mobile," and it came with a bag about the size of a lunchbox, and you still had to plug it in. We listened to the radio because the music was good. Life was just simpler back then, and I'm not saying all of today is bad; it's just different. It sure has changed a lot.

I think about these things from time to time, how much the world as I know it has changed. I know I've changed, too, but I don't think that negates the way our world is morphing. I was thinking about it this past weekend, over the Easter holiday. For some reason, the thought popped in my head that the world has changed a lot in 2000 years. I tried to put myself back there, in the world Jesus walked. What must it have been like? How unfathomably different would it be from all I know today? And what would surprisingly be the same? I've thought of this from time to time satirically, as I look at one of the writing projects I want to undertake ("Holy Bajeebus" - Jesus' commentary on walking among us today, riding in cars, attending our church, shopping in Lowes (He would totally shop in Lowes; He was a carpenter).) Anyway, I think about this stuff, and the answer I came up with over the weekend was this: the world had to be different and yet, it would have struck familiar on some level, too. It would be a tremendous cultural shift to be there, but what is that? We live that everyday.

It all boiled down to this, as I was thinking. I was thinking how much the world has changed in 27 years. And I was thinking how much it must have changed in 2000 years.

And then I was thinking how much it radically changed in three days.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chip Off the Ol' Rock

What follows is the story of the second-coolest rock I know. At least today.

I wrote yesterday about the painstaking process of working through the dirt and rock pile, picking out the rocks to put back into the...uhm...rock garden (drainage necessity). And while the work is tedious, it is not without its benefits.

Hence, this rock.

I guess you could say I've always been a rock hound. Not crazily; but I did hide "interesting" rocks in the storage compartment under the seat in my tricycle. And I come by it honest because one day as kids, we walked downtown to the barber shop and my brother started fidgeting in his seat. The barber asked him what the problem was, and he said this thing in his pocket was uncomfortable. He pulled out this monstrosity of a rock almost as big as his forearm and set it on the countertop, then settled in for the rest of his haircut. (Mom made him throw it in the creek on the walk back, but we all remember that rock.)

I thought maybe at 27, I was beyond the fascination of rocks, but there's just something about them.

A couple of days ago, working through the rock pile, a little piece of red rock was sticking out of a clump of dirt. I rolled it around in my fingers (because I am NOT putting dirt back into the garden, if I can help it. It just breeds weeds) and cleaned it off. As the dirt chipped away, then chipped away some more, I uttered an audible "Nuh uh."

There in my hand it was: a chip off the ol' Rock.

More specifically, an orange-red colored heart-shaped piece of sandstone. Check this out:

Isn't it lovely? And what more perfect thing to find in the middle of such tedious work. I have to tell you - it renewed my energies and kept me smiling. Ok. I'm still smiling. It's just that cool.

I look at this rock, and I wonder what it used to be like. was probably a lot larger, then chipped away into smaller pieces to make the haul of river rock for landscaping. I don't figure it was chipped into a heart, though; I think nature made it that way. I think the time, the pressures, and the elements of nature whittled away at it until a few days ago, when I found it as it is now.

It's breathtaking to think of all it took to get it to look like that. And it makes me think about my Rock - both as He stands and as He lives in me.

When God's people were looking for the Messiah, in their minds, He was much bigger. He was to be an immovable force - a large mass of sandstone. But before He got down here, God chipped away to make it possible for Him to be here among us. Can you imagine if He had come as fully God - all of the immeasurable power of the universe, indescribable wisdom, pure holy? I'm not saying He wasn't those things, but flesh toned Him down a little. It made His presence manageable. I think the Israelites could have appreciated this; they knew that no one had seen God and lived. In the fullness of His form, He would have been too much. Like putting the whole sandstone formation in the backyard. It wouldn't work.

But it doesn't take away the glory one bit. It doesn't lessen the beauty of the sandstone; instead, this little rock makes me long for something bigger. It reminds me of my desire to one day go west and see the red rock formations standing tall and wide. The same way looking at Jesus makes me thirst for God. Insatiably. It may be a little piece, but it is full in majesty, and it sets my heart to ache for more.

And like the little rock I hold in my hand, I think of the way that time, pressure, and the elements have whittled away at Jesus, at what we think of Him, know of Him, believe of Him. This world kind of gets to us, doesn't it? It tries to eat away at all we call "Jesus" until we aren't sure. And for all that whittling, what do we get? We break Him down to love. Simply love. That's where we find Him, and that's what we hold. Love.

I hope the same is true of me, that for those who see the Rock in this clod of dirt, that for all their whittling, they can only break me down as far as love. When the world is done with me, when the time and pressure and elements have had their go, I pray that Love is left.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dirt and Rocks

Two Fridays ago (10 days), I tore out my mom's rock garden. It's not really a garden so much as an aesthetically pleasing drainage alternative. We put it in about 10 years ago because the back yard floods (still does, but not as bad), and it was so much of a swamp in that area that it was constantly mud. The rocks helped tremendously.

But it was also one of those projects that we gave up on doing right in favor of just doing. So we never buried the timber that was supposed to be a block between the rocks and the yard. Ten years later, after one major overhaul in which I did not know she had even wanted the timber buried, it was overrun with grass, weeds, and...dirt. All of the dirt from the backyard, which had, over the years, washed down the grade in the lawn and landed in this rock garden, trapped by the rocks.

Now, I tried to get the kids to help last week when they were here for Spring Break. I even saved the project, thinking they'd help me tear it out by using their little hands and endless energy to pick up the river rock and put it in the bucket for reuse. Twenty minutes and six rocks later, my niece looked at me and said, "Nuh uh. This is NOT fun." and began ordering around her invisible army of workers: "One rock at a time, guys. One. Rock. At a time!" Between her and her younger brother, they had a total of six rocks in my bucket.

It was up to me.

I tried for awhile, but picking up rocks out of a pile of never seems like you're getting anywhere. So I pulled up the nine paving stones and the rotted-through weed paper, and used a snow shovel to start leveling the ground. I put the dirt and rocks I scooped out into a pile on the nearby sidewalk, intent on going through that pile later to put the good rocks back.

That's where I am today. I have worked a little bit every day - an hour to two hours because really, how long can you just sit there fishing rocks out of dirt? (I HATE that a simple project would take this long, but I'm doing it right this time. I even buried the timber. The paving stones and fresh weed paper are already in place; it's just mini-river rock time.)

There was one day of rain, and that was nice. When I went outside to check the pile at the next work session, I found a whole bucketful of freshly rinsed rocks lying right on top with the mud washing down the driveway. Sweet.

But it hasn't rained since, and the dirt has dried out, and now I'm sitting out there a little bit every day picking up rocks, clumps of dirt, and a lot of miscellaneous snail shells, small twigs, dead leaves, and dandelion buds.

You know, after awhile, you get pretty good at figuring out which little clumps of dried dirt have a rock in them...and which don't. You get a feel for it, just by looking at this mass pile of mess that by now is all one color. It makes the work go a little quicker to know, "If I break this mass apart, it's just going to be all dirt. But this one...THIS one...has a rock."

What's the point? You don't care about rocks. But maybe you care about dirt.

See, I know I'm basically dirt. We all are. From the dirt we came, and to dirt we will return. There's not a whole lot about me that's much more than that. And I'm ok with that; it keeps me grounded to know what I'm made of.

But I hope that when someone looks at me, they see that I'm the kind of clod of dirt (and I am oh, so a clod sometimes!) that has a Rock in it. I hope they see that when they start breaking me apart, I may chip away, but they're about to hit Rock. He is the Rock on which I build my life, the Rock of my salvation, the Rock of Promise, and the Rock of Love. He is the Rock of Ages, cleft for me - but as I hide myself in Him, He nests Himself in me.

How about you? From dirt you came and to dirt you will return, but are you lurking in this world as a clump of dirt with a Rock in it? When life chips away and rubs away and tries to break you down, do you disintegrate to dust or does all the pressure and all the nature of the world run right into Rock?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Death: Defeated...or Redeemed?

Tomorrow, He rises. Have you known Him in the grave? (see last post)

When He rises, we celebrate. We dance. We rejoice. And we say that He has defeated death.

I don't buy it. I don't believe that death is defeated; and I don't think that's a bad thing.

I'm looking at His last few minutes in the tomb. I'm looking at what we can assume was His final act before walking out and heading toward the upper room. I'm looking at folded grave clothes.

How excited would you be at victory? How thrilled would you be to wake up and walk again? How uncontrollably ecstatic would it make you to feel your heart beat after three long days in darkness? had some time to kill while waiting on that angel to roll away the stone, you might test the echo of the chamber. Or pick up a sharp rock and carve "I was here" in the wall. But you would not fold your grave clothes.

You'd tear them to shreds. To Hell with those grave clothes. Who needs 'em?

But Jesus folded them. Why?

Because in that tomb, He had come to know death. He knew its power. He knew its hold. He knew the crushing weight of its burden. He came to understand something about death that our hearts are able to comprehend, in light of the light, but words are hard to come by. In those final moments before turning His back on the grave, with tenderness and grace, He gave death the dignity of folding His clothes.

That doesn't speak defeat to me. God defeated the Amalekites; He tore their towns to rubble, slayed their men and women and children, sacrificed their livestock. He didn't leave anything for them to come back to. They weren't coming back. They were standing between God and His children; they were wholehandedly defeated. Crushed. Wiped out. Eliminated. Exterminated. Toast.

The grave clothes, He left behind. He didn't tear down the grave. He left it standing. Why? Because rather than defeat it, Christ entered death to redeem it.

Think about your life. Think about your tough times, your trials, your troubles. Think about your darkness, your grave. Think about being shut off, shut up, wrapped tight, locked in your flesh, hopeless. Think of the time (all the time) you spent praying that God would crush your darkness, defeat your despair, give you a life to walk back to, a grave to leave behind.

Oh, I know those prayers. And as someone who has seen the freedom, mercy, and grace of Christ work indescribably in her life, let me tell you - He wouldn't crush it. He refused to defeat my darkness; it was meant to be redeemed.

You've heard it said that the place where we are most able to help others is the place of our own woundedness. That is redemption. That is God taking the broken places in each of us and using them to grow our love, compassion, and touch for the broken places we find in others. Had He defeated our darkness, He would not be molding us to be better. To be healers. To be friends, brothers, sisters, strength for one another. He would just be making life more pleasurable, and He's not that kind of God. He's a God who wants to use you.

So we need the darkness. I need mine; it makes me less biting. Less grumpy. Less entitled. And less arrogant. How about you? But we (and He) need our darkness redeemed, too. We need to treat it with the tenderness, mercy, and dignity of folded grave clothes. We need to acknowledge what it has grown in us even as we walk out of the open tomb. When I've had the chance to use my brokenness to touch the brokenness in someone else, I am always grateful that God led me out gently, with that quiet respect for the hollow place. If I had come out screaming, dancing for joy, and cursing what laid behind me with a tone of disdain, scorn, or supremacy, I would not be able to see it graciously as God's petri dish, in which He cultured gentleness, tenderness, and mercy in me. I would not be able to respect, in this full way, the way God has grown me through even those times. If I can't respect it, how can I respond to it? Respect and perspective matters.

Had God defeated death, we would never die. But He asks us to die. He uses death to hallow us, both the living death of our living sacrifice and the mortal death of a body to be transformed. If we do not die to self, we cannot live. And if we do not die in flesh, we can never inherit our earthly bodies.

It is death that lets Him most speak to our heart, in the hollow place of darkness and defeat, under the crushing weight of despair, amid hopelessness and heartache and impossible odds - this is where He sanctifies us.

And in the case of His Son, He used death, too. He used death to show His loving compassion, His eternal tenderness, His absolute truth, His presence, and His promise. He used death to inspire in us hope. Not comfort - that we never need worry about dying. But hope - that we, too, walk out of the grave. Because when death as we know it comes knocking, He will use that, too, to show His compassion, His tenderness, His truth, His presence, and His promise. He will use that to say, "This one's mine. I told you so; and now it is."

Death isn't defeated; it is redeemed. I think it's better that way; God is about to use it. In me. In you. For Him.

Tomorrow, as He rises, come out of the darkness with Him. Let Him lead you from the grave. Open your eyes to what lies before you.

Just remember to fold your grave clothes. Grant some dignity to the hollow tomb where He has hallowed you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Grave Clothes

Have you looked for the Lord tonight?

You will find Him in the grave.

It's easy to lose yourself in Easter week. Somewhere between the bunnies and the chocolate and the shifting dates on the calendar, you look up and it's Easter and you wonder where you've been. Because you realize that a man, a Lord, is walking out the grave and you're just like whoa! Already?

A handful of us will take some time this Good Friday to think of the crucifixion. To think of our Lord hanging on the cross, the life slowly draining out of Him. Drips of blood, the sacrifice of the Lamb with no defects, an aroma pleasing to God. A sin offering. A guilt offering. A burnt offering. A reconciliation. We can put ourselves there. See Him hanging on that cross. See the thorns around His head. His tattered clothes. His nail-piereced hands. It's a vivid image. And as many of us say, it's Friday.

But Sunday's a-comin'.

What about Saturday? And what about Friday night?

I think we miss a powerful moment when we forget to look in the grave. When we forget to see Him lying there, wrapped in grave clothes, prepared for death. Anointed by a sinful woman. Beaten. Open wounds that would not have had time to heal, but would lay festering in the darkness in a body unable to heal itself. No longer bleeding. No longer bloody. But open wounds nonetheless. Decomposition setting in. Odor starting to emanate.

I used to wonder what Jesus did in there for three days. But it's fairly obvious.

He laid there. Trapped in the flesh. Rotting. Dead.

Were we to roll back the stone on a Friday night, we would see love in a new way. And we would see Easter in a new way. Walking into that darkness, the memory of light fading in our eyelids, hands along the wall guiding us toward a man or a mummy or some mixture of the both, our hearts know. If we're lucky, they remember, but for most of us, they know - this is familiar darkness.

We have been there. Trapped in our flesh. Rotting away. Wrapped in clothes that don't seem to be ours. Unable to heal ourselves. No longer bleeding, though our wounds are open.

To walk into that grave and feel your way there, to kneel at the resting place of Jesus in the midst of tremendous darkness, watching His body as you know your body has been, feeling the heaviness of the gain a new appreciation for His sacrfice. For His love.

We're told, and we're taught, that Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully man. He understood our trials and temptations; He knew our agony. There's not a whole lot of that in the pages of the Gospels between the feeding of the four thousand, the feeding of the five thousand, the feasting, the adoration. We don't see Jesus saying, "You know, I'm really struggling with ___ today." But we get a little of it in His journey to the cross. We get it in the betrayal. In the persecution. In the accusation. In the condemnation. In the beating, the abuse, the bruises, the blood. We get some of it in the nails and the mockery and the gawking. In the cross, we get some of that.

In the grave, we get more. In the grave, we finally see Him in our darkness, in our flesh, bound by the world. Victimized. Brutalized. Hopeless. Dead. When we look for Him in the grave, we find Him there - and we get it. He gets us. We know that darkness; He does, too. He was there for three. long. days.

His body pierced, the earth went dark. The thunder rolled. The rocks shattered. The curtains tore. And then, there was death.

Doesn't that just speak love to you? Doesn't that speak mercy? Doesn't that speak sacrifice?

Have you met Jesus in the grave? If not, take some time this weekend to roll away the stone and find Him in the darkness. He is there; He gets it. May you walk out together with a tenderness for death, the gentleness to deal with the brokenness that binds us in darkness, and the joy of new life, new light, and an upper room...a sanctuary...a promise.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Order Matters

Faith. Hope. Love.

The greatest of these is love. So why isn't it first?

Because order matters.

On one of my doors (there are three in my bedroom, and would you believe not one of them is a closet?), I have three decorative cards. They are the covers to store-bought photo albums my mother has put photos of her grandchildren in; I have redesigned covers for her, but these were so beautiful, I couldn't just toss them. They inspire me. On a background of pink clouds, the simple word "journey." On waves of blue water, "believe." And on kind of a pink/peach/orange flowery design, "hope."

I wasn't looking for any order; I hung them as I got them. Slowly, over the course of more than a year. Because really, who prints many photos any more? (Ok, my mom does, but that's a story for another day.)

The other day, though, I was looking at this. It's just to the left of my desk. And I was thinking about what it means. I read the words over and over again, left to right like reading a book. Left to right. Left to right. Journey. Believe. Hope.

Journey. Believe. Hope.

That's the way many of us live, isn't it? We journey first, stepping out and going full-bore toward whatever we're after in whatever way we think we'll get there. Then we believe we must be onto something. And lastly, we hope that when we get there, it will be all we dreamed of. Or if we're really religious...we hope God will bless us when we arrive.

That's how I lived for a long time. I know I'm not alone. You see - we're told that we need to "make something" of ourselves. We need to throw all our energies behind getting there. Then, if we believe in ourselves, we can make it happen. And with any hope, once we get there, it will matter. That's how we're told that life works. That's how we're told we succeed. That's how we're told we are something.

It's bunk.

I've been looking at these cards, and it's clear: God calls us to live the opposite. He calls us to put our hope in Him. First. All hope that He is who He says He is, that He keeps His promise, that He created us with a specific purpose in mind and the matter of love at heart. Then, we believe. Second. We believe the words of Jeremiah 29, that He has a plan for us, and the words of Romans, that He's working it out. We believe that He loves us, that He's working in us, and that He's working through us. Finally, we journey. Last. We step out. We take a risk. We go.

It has to be that way. If it's not, the peace of God gets all messed up, and it's hard to know what's right any more. What's up and why we're down. But in the right order, we can live deliberately and disciplined. We can take a comfortable pace. We hold the answers that those who journey first are still looking for; and Truth guides our journey. Because our hope sets the foundation. Our faith (what we believe) builds our confidence. And our journey takes us into purpose.

It's beautiful that way. He's cool like that.

So back to this: Faith. Hope. And Love. With the greatest of these being love. Then why isn't it first? Because order matters.

Because our faith is the foundation for knowing our place in the cosmic scheme of things. It keeps us from thinking too much of ourselves. Our hope builds our confidence, because we sense there is something out there we are doing. Something we are a part of. Something we are contributing to. We see it in us, through Him and through eyes of faith, and we hope we're touching it in some meaningful way to bring honor to Him. And then love. Then love...because we have the answers that others might try to manipulate through hollow love. Because we don't have the questions lingering and because we have long lost sight of ourselves in the sense of any pride or ego. We are free to love. Because our hope and our faith sets the stage for honest love. Agape love. God's love.

It's beautiful that way.

Is something in your life out of order? Would switching things around free you to live more confidently, more faithfully, and more simply in God's presence? If so, play with it. Move some things around. See if it doesn't stir you to something greater.

And no, I haven't moved my cards. I just read them backward now. I start with what's right...and move on to what's left. It seems to work just fine that way.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Do The Work

Don't misunderstand me. (Read last post; do not misunderstand.) I believe firmly in hard work, in pushing yourself, in constantly growing and seeking and learning. There are things within each of us that we can do, even if we've never tried, and we should never be afraid to pick up something new or to tackle some big project.

Need something done? I am all for giving it a go yourself. See if you can. See if you can figure it out or partner with a friend in making it happen. Maybe I'm saying all of this because it is in me to be so, but God created us to tinker. He created us to play around, to toss an idea in our heads, to hold a prototype in our hands. He created us to look at something and say, "You know, I never have...but maybe I could."

It is by this that we come to discover His gift in us and our passions within our hearts. It is by this we come to know ourselves and know Him. It is by this we gain confidence and grow in faith. Because we see that we can - and we see that He is right here with us while we're trying to figure it out. It is also by this that we are humbled. We learn our limitations and our vulnerabilities. We see that we are no invincible because contrary to what our parents, families, teachers, and mentors taught us growing up - there will be some things we just can't do.

And many others that we shouldn't.

I've always been the kind of girl who will tackle anything. I'll do it if it needs done. If I don't know how, I'll figure it out. My brother and I have joked about this because we both have it in us - give us something for five minutes. Let us look at it like a monkey with a math book. And suddenly, out of nowhere, we'll figure it out. I call this God's gift of tinkering, and He has certainly blessed me greatly with it.

But one of the disciplines I have had to learn in my life is that just because I can doesn't mean I should.

Some religious people will spin off on a tangent here. They'll insert a sermon about how when we take on a task that isn't God-ordained for us, we are stepping on the toes of the person He's calling to do it. That we're being selfish and serving no one. That we may do good work, but it is not A good work because we ripped it right out of the hands of someone better qualified, better able, and perfectly gifted to do it.

Sorry, but that's crap. To an extent. Because if we follow that, we wait until we are perfectly suited for something, push every task off to another task force, do nothing, and end up wasting our lives and never growing because there is ALWAYS someone who can do it better.

God doesn't only call us to do and to serve where we are perfect to do so. He calls us to areas where He's hidden our passions, and He invites us to discover them. He invites us to push, to grow, to learn, to develop, and to somewhere along the way touch something we didn't know laid dormant in us but become ever-so-thankful for and absolutely humbled by the more we come in contact with it. It is a discovery process.

So we should never be afraid to try. We should never be afraid to commit ourselves. We should never be afraid to study, to learn, to practice, to fail. It is by this that we grow. It is by this that we find strength. It is by this we build our confidence and faith that makes us all the more willing to take the next risk. It is by this that we learn to love. It is by this that we are able to serve. It is by this we know what we were created for and by Whom.

Trying, failing, learning, growing - this discipline leads to knowing.

When David anointed Solomon to succeed him as king, he offered his son these words: "Be strong and courageous, and do the work." (1 Chronicles 28:20)

God offers us the same words. He tells us to be strong, to be bold, but to do the work. We just have to realize that we don't have to do ALL the work.

The greatest discipline we can develop, then, is discernment. To know where to push ourselves, where to pick up and try, where to commit to learning and growing and finding and serving and loving and building and doing....and to know where to fall back, to surrender, to relinquish, to stop because maybe we could, but we shouldn't, be doing something. Because maybe we could learn the function and the form, but we could never grow the passion; God would never put in us a heart to do that particular something. And we know if we dive into the function and form, then it won't be long before even our passions are rote. We'll forget to live loving. We'll forget to live joy.

Our hearts, our lives, our faith, our productivity, our accomplishments, our purpose, our everything will suffer if we don't do the work. But they will suffer, too, if we do the wrong work.

Pray about it. Seek God's input. Ask Him what He created you for, what you're supposed to be doing. Ask Him what you need to surrender, what you need to quit in order to fuel your heart for the life He meant you to live. Ask, and He will answer. Then, do the work.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Created For

I've been talking a lot lately about what God created me for. And my prayer is that through my conversation, you are finding what God has created you for. It's something different than me.

I'm really glad for that.

Not because I don't think we could contribute in different ways in the same community with our similar gifts. But entirely because I know there are things He certainly did NOT create me for.

Yet, someone has to do them.

One such thing God did not create me for was sales. That may seem odd from someone who is a conversationalist, a quick friend, and just generally outgoing, but it's true. We had fundraisers when I was in school, and I was content not to go after the prizes if it meant I didn't have to knock on one more door, ring one more doorbell, stalk one more neighbor out spraying weedkiller in the cul-de-sac (yes, we had one of those), make one more phone call to a friend/relative/acquaintance in- or out- of state trying to hawk these wares. It's not in my personality to do sales and worse, it grates against what is in me.

I know, I know. We all so desperately need what the world is selling. We need a pint-size candy bar at a king-size price. We need baskets of sausage and cheese - that doesn't even have to be refrigerated! We need T-shirts and bulk frozen foods and knick-knacks and party favors and trash bags. (My niece's entire fundraiser was trash bags this year. Trash bags!)

Uhm, ok. Maybe not.

We don't really need those things, but we buy them because we know the seller. (We're getting a roll of black outdoor trash bags at a hefty markup.) And that's why I don't like selling.

Because I am not for sale. And anything else, I feel like I'm just bothering you.

For the large part of my life, I've steered clear of sales. There were a few mandatory fundraisers in school that I bought myself out of; it was a hefty price, but it spared me the drudgery of tackling something I abhor and have never been good at. But mostly, I leave sales to people who are wired for that kind of thing.

I've been working publicity for my book, though. And this is where it gets tricky.

Starting out, I figured I would have to sell it. If I wanted this book to do any business, I was going to have to sell it. (In the contract I finally settled on, I sacrificed a publicist for more creative control. I didn't want some company to ship my book through their production line, then tell me what it looked like when it was all over. For this first one, I wanted as much hands-on as I could get.)

Within a few weeks of hard selling, I was miserable. Quitting for good, giving up, questioning why God would even do this to me miserable. Because I'm really not wired for this.

So I switched tactics and started working publicity the best I knew how. Communications. Outreach. Just telling a story. That's what God created me for. It's a little different with my own work, but that's pretty much what He's got in me - the creative, the conversation, the community. That, I can kind of almost sort of work.

The truth about my book is this: I have never been more humbled by a project. Looking at the numbers, it could be doing better. As the author, I pray that one day, it will. It is my hope that as I continue to tell this story - this story about this story, even as I'm pressing forward with another story - that people will hear. That when one person picks up this book because I've "sold" them on it (they know me and pity me, so they buy a copy), they find something in those pages that speaks to them. And in turn, maybe they will tell someone else. And maybe somewhere down the line, someone God created with a sales personality will do a little larger work with it.

You know, while I was waiting on that proof copy to show up in the mail - waiting to hold MY book for the first time - I wondered when I would call that project a success. I contemplated what my threshhold was for coming out of "wannabe ramblings" (the equivalent of "refrigerator art") and into "authorship." Would it be at 100 copies? 200? A speaking engagement? That first sale I couldn't track to someone who actually knew me? That first e-mail from the "About the Author" page in the back?

I was putting onto this project something I wasn't created for - a sales agenda. Every attempt I had to define this project as a success or failure was numbers-oriented and would take a hard sale. I was going to work my hind end off and make it happen, no matter how miserable it made me or how much it grated against what's in me.

When sales started coming in, I was excited and watching for that magic number. Then watching and waiting. Then just waiting. Then questioning everything about my passion that went into the book, the painstaking agony of three years' work. Questioning just what God wanted to do with my gift if it wasn't set a sales record in the first month. Two months. Three months.

Then, a lady walked into my church a few Sundays later. She looked me up in the back of the auditorium and said, "Do you know why I'm here today?" I realized I hadn't seen her in several weeks. "Because I was up all night reading Chicken. and I knew I needed to be here."

That...changed my definition of success. And it set me free.

I am a writer. I am an artist. I am His created creative. That is what He has created in me; it is what He created me for. This sales stuff? Forget it. It stands in the way of too much.

Would I like to see my numbers go up? Absolutely. Do I want to see these words in the hands of both the faithful and the seeking? You bet. But it's not about sales. It's not about numbers. And it's not about me.

It's about God working through me, doing what He does in my willingness to join Him. Doing what He's doing through me. When I focus on the gift - on His actual gift in me, I have joy. I have peace. I am content. I am humbled and thrilled all at the same time that He dwells in me. Focused on what He's doing in and through me, I am free to create. That's my part. This is what He created me for.

What I'm saying is this: never let the world define for you what you have to add to what God has created in you. Never believe you have to do something outside your givenness. Do what God created you for. If there are details to work out, ask Him about it. He's got someone pegged for every step of this journey, every iota of His Kingdom work - you don't have to do it all. You will be more humbled, more joyous, more content, more productive, more centered, and more fulfilled by sticking to what He's got in mind for you.

(For those of you interested in the book, Recess with Jesus - an adult-targeted devotional based on our favorite recess games - is available at ( If you haven't read it, take a minute to check it out. If you have read it, take a minute to write a review. If you liked it, take a minute and tell one friend. Or two or three. If you didn't like it, I'm sorry. My next book - Prayse - may be more your style.)