Thursday, May 31, 2012

From Community to Ministry

This community I've been talking about all week, this little street - I've told you what it means to me.  What it answers for me.  And what it invites me to.  And let me tell you, some of these questions, I've been asking for more than twenty years.

Maybe that's why I'm so in love with here.  Because I have been looking for it for so long.

Having it now is not the end of the quest.  It's not the end of my question, either.  This is the beginning of something new.

When you find something like this, something that answers your questions, speaks to your heart - whether it is community or novelty or stability or whatever that is for you - you can't help but remember how it was before you found here.  Before this day, when time was yesterday and yesterday was heart-aching.  Suddenly, you see it.  You remember all the eyes you've ever seen that are asking the same questions you were asking.  The hearts that know some of the pains you have known.  The lives looking for their answer.

Not everybody is this lucky.  Not everyone settles into a great street; not everyone finds a great community.  In a world that pretends to keep us together while keeping us apart, it's hard to connect to something real, something genuine like this.  Something tangible.  You can't ask Facebook to borrow a cup of sugar.  Twitter's never going to sweat it out in the yard with you.  E-mail isn't going to inflect what love is the way a simple conversation on a porch does.  For all our connectedness, our world is still lacking community like this in far too many places.

We live with the world at our fingertips, but we take great care never to touch it.

I'm telling you - we have to touch it.  We have to reach out to our world.  It's moments like this that make that never more powerful.

Knowing that not everyone will find a place like this, not everyone will fall into a community like this, not everyone will know love, what can we do with what we've got?  We can build it.

In the past several months, perhaps even years when I wasn't paying attention, my heart has been drawn to ministry.  And I mean drawn.  Particularly, into women's ministry.  I see in my sisters - at church, at home, in this community, on this street, and beyond - so much of what I've been asking that God is starting to answer.  It's not that our stories are the same, that we all live exactly the same lives.  It's that as daughters of God living in a fallen world, we have the same deepest questions.  The same deepest longings and wonderings and wanderings.  There's something about being a woman in the kingdom of God, a daughter, looking for Daddy whether you have daddy issues or not.  It's in us.  It's the fallenness in us, compounded by a million other little things.

I can't invite all of these women I meet to move onto my street.  I can't drag them over to the neighbor's porch or borrow the couple's labradoodle to love on them.  But what I can do is build this community for them.  That's where I'm headed.

I don't know all the details; I haven't planned this out in 20 steps or 200 stages or even 2 years.  But I'm looking around and seeing a lot of tender women searching for sisterhood.  Ministry is about building that one connected story at a time, so we are weaving ourselves into each other's narrative and being the kind of women who stand together, who pray together, who cry together, who sing together, who fall to our knees together, and maybe even who bowl together.  Hey, not everything is so serious.  It's about fellowship.  It's about being around and loving one another and knowing each other so well that it's like we see each other in our pajamas every day.  It's about creating a place where we're just living, where life is as it is and that's ok, where this community grows better because you're in it but you don't have to hold it together.  It's not dependent upon doing or being doers; it's dependent upon love and authenticity.

So that's been rolling around in my heart and in my head for quite awhile, and I just thought I'd spill it. And maybe encourage you to look around and start thinking the same - that whatever you've found, wherever you are that answers something you've been asking forever...there's still someone looking for that.  There are people out there who need what you've found.  In this case, who need a place.

Since we can't always bring them here, let's take here there.  Let's look around and build something for our world, knowing what it means to us to be here.  Knowing what Love is.

What can you build for someone today?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Show and Tell

I just came in from the back garden, where I was cleaning up remnants of shingles around the little plants that are starting to bud.  There's not much out there yet - a few squash and zucchini seeds, a couple of watermelon plants - but I ventured out anyway.  The hope is to plant more once they finish re-siding the garage, but there's no use making the guys work around a garden that they'd likely trample anyway.  It's just easier to wait.  And summer looms ahead.

It's been many years since I've planted watermelon.  Not since I was a little girl.  This year, my niece helped to plant a few.  She loves the things.  And even though she's not here all the time, it will be fun to check in on them with her when she visits.  But the problem is this: since I haven't tended a watermelon garden in some 20 years, I wasn't sure if what I was looking at was a watermelon bud...or a weed.  You may remember, last year, I was growing some spectacular ragweed in the front flower bed before realizing just what it was.  (They were the biggest few plants in the whole bed; such a shame to rip them out.)

A rather large bee, likely a borer but who takes chances, chased me away so I wandered back inside to check the internet.  I typed "what a watermelon plant looks like" into my search engine and click!  Rather than the standard search result of photos at the top, sites underneath, I got a lengthy list of websites describing the early and later stages of a watermelon plant.  After clicking on a few, I found they were just that - sites describing the identifying features of a watermelon plant.  Light green leaves, a little silvery streak.  Close to the ground.

Thank you, interwebs.  You just put words to just about every weed I've ever seen.  And apparently, a watermelon plant.  Which I'm still not sure if I have or not.

I had to back all the way out and head through Yahoo's image search engine to find a simple picture.  Isn't that a better way to get me to understand what a watermelon plant looks like?  (And for the record, it kind of looks like a weed.  Now, I'm in trouble.)

It's frustrating, to say the least.  But I'm guilty of it.  I think we all are.

We're living in a world that wants to know the Answer.  There are hearts thirsty for God, searching for something more.  And we, who have it and who have seen it and who are familiar with what that looks like, are very eager to start talking.  Talking, writing, telling others about Him.  Telling them what love looks like.  It is patient.  It is kind.  It is generous.

Thank you, Christians.  You just put words to just about every good deed I've ever seen.  And apparently, a God.  Which I'm still not sure if I have or not.

The best way to get a starving world to understand the Bread of Heaven is to show them.  We've done enough talking, and it's not getting anyone anywhere.  We have the words - an endless stream of them - that people are clicking on, searching through, reading through, poring through and coming up empty.  Still not sure if they've seen God.  Still not sure if they'd recognize Him if they saw Him.

But give them a picture of God, and they will know.  Not a photograph of dusty man in a beard.  Not a caricature of a criminal on a cross.  Give them a picture of Love.  Give them a picture of Healer.  Give them a picture of all God is to you by being that for them.

No, we're not going to get it just right.  That's ok.  But if I know God as Healer and do nothing more than talk about it, people are going to think that's nice, but they'll never meet the Healer.  If I take my peace and scars and meet them at their brokenness and refuse to leave them there, they see Healer and start looking harder for Him.  If I know God as Father and talk about how wonderful that is to an orphaned heart, they're never going to understand what that means.  But if I encourage and love and honor them the way my Father encourages, loves, and honors me, they're going to see Father and start looking for Him more.  If I know God as Love and talk about that love to a woman who stands in the mirror and questions her worth, she'll never understand Love.  She won't be able to.  But if I stand next to her and show her something new in the mirror, if I handle her heart tenderly and open her eyes to see something more in herself, she's going to see more.  She's going to see Love.  And she's going to start looking for Him.

We can talk until we're blue in the face, but the world is not going to find God from our descriptors.  He could walk right past them, and they would never know.  He could stop to help them, and they wouldn't see that it is Him.  Or one of the many deceivers that almost looks like God could fool them and lead them further astray.  That's why we have to show them.  That's why we have to live it out and show them, in no uncertain terms, in no vague words, in no dull, boring, description but in a vibrant photograph a portrait of our God.  We have to show them what He looks loving like He loves.

If we can show the world a picture of God, we invite them to see Him.  To foster His growth and presence in their lives.  The only other choice is for the world to wait and see if their life bears fruit, but by then, it may be too late this season to start over.

What can you do to give your world a picture of God?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I love being a part of this little street.  It's not just that I have a neighbor who will beat up a bad guy for me; it's that this kind of community is the antidote to some of our greatest worries, the answer to some of our biggest questions.

A place like this, it's a niche.  It's that little place in the world where I fit for no other reason than that I am here.  Here, I am surrounded by people who know me.  They know when I come and go.  They see me in my pajamas taking out the trash, in my work clothes with the hole almost unrepairably ripped through the hind end, barefoot or booted up, sweating and friendly or hurried and frantic.  They see me and know me in a way that not a lot of other demographics can....and it doesn't matter because I see them the same way.  Picking up the paper in a bathrobe and slippers.  Mowing the grass with an old man gut hanging over some faded out bermuda shorts.  Sitting on the porch smoking a cigar and talking on the phone just loud enough to be overheard.  Walking the labradoodle (who is absolutely adorable and loves to put my whole forearm in his mouth whilst wiggling his whole body).  Talking to the schnauzer by his nickname..until he's really in trouble for not listening, then using his formal name in a more stern tone.  (On a good day, he's "willie."  But ignoring his owners, he's full-blown "wilson."  Hilarious.)

Around here, we just are.  We're just people with just lives and we're just living and that's ok with everybody.  There's no pressure to prove ourselves or to be something different or something more.  It's alright to be just as we are, and we're woven into the fabric of this street that way.  It's what makes this place work.

The other great thing about that is: no one has to be in charge.  We're not an association; we're more ragtag.  Everything doesn't fall apart if I choose to do something else for a day or if the woman across the street spends a couple of days in her house or if the couple next door has friends sleeping over and doesn't visit as much.  There's not one thing that any of us consciously, purposely, scheduled-ly does to make this neighborhood "work."  It runs on its own, so there's nothing to worry about.  We are free to pop in and out, to sit on each other's porches when the mood strikes us or be homebodies if we're looking for some quiet.  There's no attendance sheet. No check-in.  No assigned duties.  This place is beyond structure.  I love that about here.  Especially in a world where we often feel like we have to take charge of anything we want to happen, a neighborhood like this that loves us to be here but doesn't require such is something rare.  It's a chance to kick back, give it all up, and not worry about how things are going.  It's just to be.

At the same time, of course, people are going to notice if I'm gone for a day or two.  They aren't going to hound me or beat down the door, but the next time I'm out in the driveway, at least one or two of them are going to mention they haven't seen me in a few days.  They're going to ask how things are going and open the door to a conversation.  These are people I can talk to if I need such a person and people who won't push me if I don't.  And I get to be the same for them.  Noticing when they're gone for a few days, asking how vacation went, expressing condolences on the loss of the cat (which used my flower bed as a litter box, so I have some mixed feelings).  But not pushing anybody into anything.  It's not group therapy; it's just group life.  Camaraderie.

And if I ever needed a cup of sugar, I have a few doors I could knock on.  And a few cups of milk I could give out, too.

This is the place I live, but it's also the place I love.  It's easy to define our ministry, our work, our service, or even our importance in terms of what we do on the clock.  What our title is.  Where we are 9-5 (or whatever swing shift we might work).  How many reports we run out.  How big our profit margin is.  What people count on us for.  But in a place like this, you can't quantify it like that.  You just live your life and be a little part of this place, and one day you look around and notice that you do make a difference here and this is a great place to love.

I love that this is a place to love.  Where I feel like I'm making a difference and I have something to be here; I have a role that only I can fill, something I can offer from the depths of my heart.  I serve here, but at the same time, there's no pressure to be "on."  The woman I first talked to, the one out trimming her tree, we talk fairly often these days.  She's older and usually alone, except when her bipolar son drops by to wreak havoc.  Her husband is deceased, so it's just her and the cats.  We started talking a few weeks ago while I was weeding in the front garden, and it turns out we have a lot of story in common.  We know some of the same brokenness the world has to offer, but we also know the same Healer.  She goes to church across town.  I've dropped off our women's newsletter at her house for encouragement.  She's the kind of person who says she's praying for you and you know she means it.  But sharing our stories that day, we found our hearts more kindred than we had imagined, and she just looked at me with a strange heart in her eyes and said she knew there was a reason we became neighbors.  And now friends.  She just stood on the sidewalk saying she loves me and do I know that?  When I see her now, I see a different way she looks at me.  Not because I've ministered to her.  Not because I've put on an act and shown something incredible or awesome or holy.  Not because I'm "working" her.  Just because I am and somehow, knowing each other as we do, I sense in her eyes that she sees hope in me.  Hope for something in her heart, something unanswered but I haven't pried.  I'm something for her.  And for me, she is another example of that older generation, that strong woman - like the line of women I come from - my mother to my grandmother to my great-grandmother.  Somehow, she answers something in me, too.

It's just one example, but it's the heart of the thing.  There is something I am here.  Not something I do, but something I am.  That's what this kind of community does.  It draws me into being a part of it and encourages me in all I am and all I could be.  I want to venture out, to serve here, to love here, to offer what I can here even as this little street offers me what it has.

It answers the deepest questions we have.  It strengthens and encourages us.  Because this is the kind of place, the little community, that is an invitation to simply be and you find a new worth and a new purpose in yourself because it's a place that validates your being, validates your very core, based on nothing more than what you are.  Not what you do.  Not what you say.  Not who you know.  But simply what you are.

I think we're all looking for that.  I think we're looking for that place where it's ok for us just to be and to find some validation that not only is it ok to just be, but that it's worth something, too.  It matters that you are who you are.  I think we know that when we look at how and why God made us just this way.  But in a place like this that can't define by any other terms what that looks like...a place that just takes you as means a whole lot more.

Take some initiative and find your community.  Find your place like this - where you're not in charge and you're not putting on a show and you're nothing more than what you'd be on a slow Sunday morning in your PJs with your coffee and your doughnut....and weave yourself into a good story for no other reason than that community matters.  Community is the place that both invites you in and feeds you.  It makes you more, without your even realizing it.  And even though your community might not necessarily be your neighborhood, you'll find it is your home.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

In the past two months or so, I have finally come to know my neighbors.  After almost thirteen years of living here.  (It's worth noting that the characters I'm about to introduce you to have mostly moved in more recently than that.  But I didn't know any of the previous ones, either.)

Growing up across town, I knew all my neighbors.  Maybe it was because I played outside a lot more then.  Or because those were different times.  Or because I was a public school student, and it was mandatory to know them so that I could hit them up for fundraisers roughly a dozen times a year.  But I knew everyone then - not just next door but around the cul-de-sac, down the street, and in the other parts of the housing edition.

These days, I don't live in a housing edition.  Just a simple street we kind of refer to as "the old part of town."  It's quaint and fairly quiet, and I sort of like it that way.  But aside from the elder who lives on the other side of the street directly behind me, I haven't really known anyone here.  Names, maybe, from sitting on the porch and eavesdropping, but not confidently enough to call them by that name.  I had been around here and there, hanging out in the neighborhood, waiting for an opportunity but never really finding one (I guess I wasn't looking that hard. Maybe I was hesitant about me.).  I walked over a couple of Januarys ago when the neighbor's garage was engulfed in flames, talked with the woman of the house for almost ten whole seconds, and backed off into the street without so much as introducing myself.  She recognized me as the neighbor, but that's as far as it went.

Then several months ago, I was trimming the tree in our backyard and hauling large branches around to the curb when I saw my elderly (I guessed 63 later in the conversation and she said I was way off, but she doesn't look it) neighbor out trying to trim her tree.  I knew her son's name but still don't know if he lives there full-time or just comes to torture his mother, and I had a guess at her name, but played it safe and called out, "Hey neighbor!"  You want me to come trim that tree for you?

Because even when I haven't been the most outgoing social neighbor, I've always been helpful.  And it occurred to me even then that this woman I'd never really met in a faded workin' outdoors sundress and big floppy hat and soft shoes should not be trimming her own tree.  These things, I notice.  I was hot and sweaty and exhausted at 9 in the morning and sort of hoping she wouldn't take me up on it but prepared that she would as I walked over and struck up a conversation.  We didn't talk about much that day, but we learned each other's names.  Though I still call her neighbor, and she still calls me kiddo.  (And I still offer to trim her tree, and she still says there's no reason for me to do that.)

Since then, I don't know - a slow friendship has kind of developed.  I rang her doorbell when my book came out.  She walked over to see what I was doing in the flower bed and what all those logs were when I was building my mother's present a few weeks ago.  We wave at each other as we pass by in our cars or wander out to get the mail.  And if we're both just hanging around with seeming nothing to do, you can find me on her porch kicking back, chatting about nothing in particular.  Sometimes, she comes over here.  And she insists she's going to make me some tabbouleh.  (She used to be a chef.)

Now, this neighbor is the neighbor, if you know what I mean.  She's the glue that holds this ragtag group together.  Everyone knows her, and she knows everyone.  She knows what's going on and what's going down.  If you get to know her, you'll get to know the others.  Just give it time.

And so over the past several months, it's developed.  I noticed the next-door neighbor pregnant, then gone for a few days and bam! a new baby well before there should have been one, and I offered my services to help her in any way she needed as her husband went back to work and she was left recovering from a C-section with an infant in tow.  I've had a handful of conversations with the handyman working for my neighbor on the other side, who is a snowbird and just got back for the season, but isn't overly friendly and would probably prefer not to be bothered.  The handyman is a nice guy, though.  Bad handyman.

In March, the man who lives across the street and whose garage burned down rang the doorbell.  Turns out, as suspected by looking at all the machinery in his driveway and watching he and a few buddies rebuild an even better garage in a matter of a few weeks, he's a contractor.  Sitting on his porch, smoking his cigar (which I can smell all the way over here), he'd said the sun hit the house just right and he couldn't believe the hail damage.  If we were interested, he'd give us an estimate on fixing it up for us.  So we checked into it, filed a claim, and now the guy is orchestrating an overhaul of this hail-damaged abode.  The new roof went on last week, and in my sense of connectedness, I even had a few conversations with the roofers.  The neighbor/contractor is headed over to start new siding and gutters as soon as he finishes our common neighbor (the elderly lady)'s house.  She got hit by the hail, too.  (It was big as racquetballs here!)  I'm having multi-weekly conversations with him about just about everything, and he may even hire me on to help with the siding since his new assistant has apparently decided to not show up more days than not without even a phone call, and I'm pretty handy at stuff like that.

There's the guys in the two houses on the other side of him who wave now, now that I seem to be the friendly type.  And the newly-retired one is almost always out in just his shorts, landscaping in his yard and offering to help in this one.  Snowblower, weedeater, you name it - this guy's ready to help.  He's so cute, too.  Whenever he leaves the driveway and his wife is inside, he honks and waves goodbye to her.  He waves to me, too.  They're the old mainstays on the street.  Been here for who knows how long.

Then, of course, a couple of Fridays ago, when my dog decided to have a seizure at 10:30 at night, the young couple with their now several-months-old son didn't hesitate to come running over.  They said at the time, they couldn't make out what was wrong, but the guy had thought someone had broken into the house.  He came ready for whatever he found...and he knelt in the living room with my big girl Kiira, who has never done anything but bark at him across the fence, and just pet her while she was tossing herself around and drooling all over the floor.  That's right - I have a neighbor who would beat up a bad guy for me.  Or pet my dog as the need arises.

So I'm getting a little home here.  A little community that I've watched out my window but never felt connected to until all these little pieces started coming together.  I was going to tell you why it matters, but this is going longer than I anticipated.  So I'll tell you tomorrow what difference it makes and why you need to find your community, too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Is This Anything?

David Letterman amuses me.  Maybe because he seems to have an Indiana sense of humor; I'm not sure. But the man keeps me laughing.

Several years ago (when I was keeping odd enough hours to see Letterman on a regular basis), he was doing a segment called "Is This Anything?"  He may still be doing it from time-to-time.  I'm not sure.  But the premise was this: behind the big curtain was someone doing something.  After a few seconds of the person's demonstration, the curtain closed and left Dave and Paul (his band leader) to discuss whether or not what they saw was anything.

What amused me the most was that whoever stood behind the curtain had the most over-developed, over-stretched attempt at "anything."  It was never just a juggler.  It was a juggler with 17 flaming bowling pins and one chainsaw for good measure.  It wasn't a person balancing fine china on a pole.  It was a person balancing fine china on a pole on their forehead while standing on a ball.  It wasn't a hula-hooper.  It was a hula-hooper times twenty, with two or three hoops around each body part capable of a swivel.

Yes, I'm amused by watching people try so hard.  It was the overdone nature of the acts, the way-out-of-proportion-ness that got me chuckling.

But I get it.

For some reason, we're primed to believe that unless it's extravagant, it isn't anything.  We can see it in the ways we push ourselves - to fit in another meeting, to pull longer hours at the office, to have another kid in another sport or activity or league, to train harder and do more cardio.  We can see it in the way we tell our stories, trying to one-up each other and straining to have an experience to answer any experience anyone else may have had.  If we don't have an extreme, we don't have anything.

Then we're standing there behind a curtain, almost in the open but not quite, spinning as many plates, as many hoops, as many pins as possible and the curtain opens, someone gets a glimpse of what we're doing, and the curtain drops again.  We can only hear them now, asking "Is this anything?"  

And the answer is no.  This isn't anything.

A few times, Dave would have the performer make a second appearance, near the end of the show if they had a bit of time to waste.  Then they'd close the curtain, Dave would look at Paul, and they would agree, "No.  It still isn't anything."

To the woman circled in hoops, drenched in sweat, and standing on ten years of faithful practice, it felt like something.  And it was something but it was...nothing at the same time.  It was just wasn't anything.

We are so needlessly busy.  We are pushing ourselves to the extremes, thinking that the grander the display, the more likely it is that it is anything.  I think a lot of us would be disappointed to find out, when the curtain closes on our lives and we're hidden away, that those left standing on the outside look at what we've done and say, "No.  It isn't anything."

God has blessed us greatly.  I know He has me.  What I fear is that in my attempt to have something that is anything, to do something that is anything, to BE something that is anything...I'm over-developing my business, over-stretching my limits, over-doing my efforts until it kind of looks like it might be something but isn't anything.

What I'm finding is that we have to make the conscious decision to slow down, to contemplate what we're doing.  Not to the extent of not doing anything, but toward the goal of actually doing anything.  Our something becomes anything when we focus on the discipline of doing one little thing right.  It's impressive to stand behind the curtain, poised to make a visual display of it....but there is something captivating about honing your craft to the point that doing one simple thing very well makes a more powerful statement than looking busy.

It's what we enjoy about concerts - watching the band play a set.  We're not waiting for them to also carve a guitar out of a hunk of wood, build a stage, pop the popcorn, and peddle hot dogs.  We enjoy them because their passion bursts through in their music.  It's the same with a stand-up comic.  We expect him to make us laugh.  But we're not holding our breath for magic tricks and we don't expect him to also be taking our ticket at the door.  We want to see him on stage doing what he loves, what fuels him.  Taking in his show fuels us.

The same is true with anything we do.  Whether you're a nurse, a teacher, a fireman, a mother, a father, a burger-flipper, a student, a cashier, a laborer, or something so mundane as a writer - pour your heart into your passion.  Put your energies into doing one thing - that one thing, your one thing - very well.  It will hone you.  It will drive you.  It will fuel and feed you, and in turn, you will fuel and feed the world.  Maybe it won't be as shocking and stimulating to look at as flaming bowling pins or hula hoops with sparklers all over them, but you will know that what you're doing is more than something.

It is anything.

Take an honest look at what you're doing.  Is it anything?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hope and Horror

There are two kinds of hearts: those holding hope and those haunted by horror.  I am a person who has known both, and I've got to tell you - hope is better.

You know the hearts haunted by horror; perhaps you're the owner of one.  These are what we might call "Worst-case-scenario" times.  It's when we get so fixated on the most devastating possibility to the extent of blinding ourselves to anything else.  It's eyes that can see only one outcome and that outcome sucks.  Hearts haunted by horror bring past experiences, past slights, a history of less-than-desired living, and a powerless disposition into every situation and defeat us before we can even assess the battle.  In the terms of this week, it's the heart that only hears "brain tumor" and can't let go of that possibility to entertain the blessing of a differential diagnosis, even if early results look promising in another direction.  At any moment, brain tumor is the story this heart is telling to the exclusion of all other possibilities, bracing for the worst and throwing itself deeper into desperation and despair because it sees this outcome as inevitable.

Or maybe it's a heart trapped in a cycle of victimization and it doesn't know how to accept any other story.  Brain tumor would be the most dramatic, for certain.  So the haunted heart takes that story because it fits the story the heart has always known.

A haunted heart is already defeated.  It is a heart trapped in something lesser.  A haunted heart holds itself back for fear of daring for something more.  It pulls itself away.  Rips itself away.  It prepares itself for disaster without chasing a dream, then feels somehow vindicated when disaster comes.  Like the heart knew it all along.

A haunted heart has no idea what lies on the other side.

Then there are hearts that dare to hope.  These are what we might call "miracle" times.  It's when we choose to believe even the highest probability doesn't have to be the outcome, that there is something on the other side of statistics and that is hope.  It's a heart that is open to multiple outcomes, that is looking for the next break, the next chance, the next blessing, the next good moment.  It's a heart that drinks in the signs that things don't have to be as they seem and sets its sights on something more.  Hearts holding onto hope bring a sense of promise and purpose to life's situations.  They look for the deeper meaning and refuse to feel victimized.  They choose to believe in something better.  And not necessarily because there's any good reason to do so.  Simply because a heart in hope knows life is better that way.

In the terms of this week, it's the heart that hears, "It's likely a brain tumor, but we're hoping for thyroid" and is able to rejoice in a phone call saying there are indications of just that.  At any moment, this heart is telling the story that we just don't know yet, but it could be any number of things.

These hearts are different than hearts in denial.  I am not suggesting anyone cultivate a disposition to denial.  A heart truly holding hope understands that things may not work out for the greatest, but it dares to believe anyway that there's more than one answer.  It is open to the possibilities - all of them - without prejudice and it's telling the story of an open-ended question.

A hopeful heart is fully aware what lies on the other side.

Then what is the benefit?  It is attitude.  It is the way things work out when an answer comes.  It is life as we know it, love as we dream it.  A haunted heart is discouraged, and is thrown into depression by being right yet again that life sucks and these things always happen and there is nothing good and there is never any rest, never any peace.  A heart that dares to hope has left itself open to the possibilities and prepared itself to handle whatever decision comes down.  It doesn't take life as a personal attack and is not defeated by difficulties - because those difficulties aren't justification of anything.  Those difficulties do not confirm anything.  It's just how it is.

That's not saying a hopeful heart doesn't sometimes get crushed.  It doesn't say that the hopeful heart is joyful in whatever outcome.  But a hopeful heart has perspective - an honest assessment of a situation.  And it has something else - it has the time in-between.  It has no regrets over wasted moments waiting on the other shoe to drop.  It has memories of hope, of love, of joy, of agonized waiting but togetherness.  Of prayer.  Of openness.  Of possibility.  And somehow, this gives a hopeful heart the confidence to hope again one day, even in the face of an improbable outcome.

Hope is strength, and strength is love.  Love gives us back the moment and stands in the face of the improbable.  Hope is so much better.

Is yours a heart haunted or hopeful?  What would it look like to choose hope?

(As most things this week, this also comes back to an update on my big ol' fluffy Kiira: the vet called late last night to say that the second thyroid test did not pan out and that he no longer believes that a thyroid medication will be any kind of a solution for us.  For her.  Which leaves us back where we started, which is at the diagnosis of a brain tumor (diagnosed by exclusion).  We are going to talk today about the long-term plan.  We are looking at an anti-seizure medication and if we can find one that works well for her, we just kind of watch and wait to see how long it works and how effective it is.  If she starts to have what they call "break-through seizures," we will have to re-evaluate our course of action.  She has not had a seizure since the second little one on Saturday morning.  And no, I do not regret at all holding a heart of hope for her; I still hold hope.  It keeps me from pulling away from her when what we both need is each other - a little love, which is strength, which is hope.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ears to Hear

     Jesus often spoke with subtle reference to the Scriptures of the day, what we now know as the Old Testament.  In the oral tradition of the people of His time, the words of Moses, David, and the prophets would have been common knowledge for even the commonest Jew.  It was knowing these Scriptures that allowed the crowds to react to the humor, the bold irreverence, and the radical nature in Jesus' teaching.
     Because of their knowledge of our Old Testament, the people listening at Jesus' feet heard many things that don't occur to us as we read His words today.  They heard nuance.  They heard a refusal of the status quo.  They heard the fracture of pride as it came face-to-face with a word not of law but of love.  And they heard what we may consider harsh criticism.  All rooted in the way Jesus turned Torah into Truth.
     The words we need to look at, to find the story beneath the story, are those Jesus uttered again and again - that there are those who have ears but do not hear, eyes but do not see, mouths but do not speak.  (Matthew 13, for example.)  We read these words and take them at face value.  We take them as an explanation of why we find God unfathomable.  He's so far beyond us that we cannot understand His revelation, and we're content to stay a little uneducated because we see these words and think they are written for us.  That in these, Christ is saying, "Hey, not everybody gets Me.  It's cool.  Not everyone understands what I say; they aren't supposed to."
     Then we hide our faith behind this concept of step-by-step revelation and say that when God is beyond us, we simply aren't there yet and He doesn't expect us to be.  We fall into believing that God purposely speaks more than we can understand, knowing we don't get it, and that this is somehow to His glory.
     Like God's just talking to show off His wisdom.  Or speaking over our heads to a select, more "righteous" few.
     That's not God.  If He's speaking, He longs our ears to hear.  If He's showing up, He begs our eyes to see.  He wants us to know and hear and see and speak Him fully.  So what is all this nonsense about?
     These words - of ears that cannot hear, eyes that cannot see, mouths that cannot speak - would have been immediately known by those who heard Christ speak them.  They are words used over and over in the Old Testament (in Psalms and Jeremiah most prevalently) to describe the idols of the unfaithful people of Israel.  These were the words God used to mock their idols as powerless fabrications.
     The crowds around Jesus would have immediately heard that mocking.  They would have known that perhaps Christ was speaking these words not because He was purposely hiding some revelation from them but because He was pointing to something else - their tendancy to believe more in themselves or in the law than in the power and presence of God in front of them.  These people were so confident in their laws and their behavior and their knowledge that they were living as idols - as powerless fabrications of the idea of a god.  A God who was standing right there calling them out, calling them to love, though their ears could not hear Him nor could their eyes see Him.
     I don't know about you, but I don't want to miss out on one thing God is doing because I believe more in some powerless fabrication than in Him.  When He says that our eyes have not seen, let's open them wide and plead, "Show us, Lord!"  When He says our ears have not heard, let's beg Him, "Speak again!  I want to hear You!"  And let's get out of our way and sacrifice our idols - ourselves - for the chance to see, hear, and taste of God.
     Because He's not trying to speak over our heads; He's speaking straight to our hearts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Anger Cannot Do

I think we want to find something to be angry at.  Particularly in times like these when bad things happen and we want to respond.

Watching my dog seize on Friday night, it was the most violent thing I have ever witnessed.  More, it was the most senselessly violent thing I have seen.  Ever.  And my gut instinct was to figure out what did this to her...and kill it.

I wanted to be angry.  I wanted to have something to be mad at.  It's where my energies went first: vindication.  Coming to the rescue of this dog caught in the clutches of pure evil.  It was excruciating...because there is not a more gentle, special friend on the face of the Earth than this big ol' mutt of mine.  To see a creature so calm, loving, strong, and gentle being thrashed about by something I couldn't see and couldn't stop....Lord, how I longed to find whatever was doing it and just rip it out of her.  Then smash it into a million pieces.  Then cut those pieces into smaller pieces.  Then throw them around and disorient them.  Then pull them back together and burn them to ashes.  Then throw those ashes as far away from here as I could.

I was MAD.  Because something was holding my friend hostage, and neither one of us could do anything about it.  But man, I wanted to.

And you know, we get in this mindset that anger and vengeance is going to change things.  It's going to solve a problem, fix the moment.  In a case like this, we want our loved one to see that we are fighting for them.  We want them to know we are on their side and that this kind of injustice cannot stand.  For it really is an injustice....

Kiira knew I couldn't do anything for her; she didn't even really know what was going on.  I knew I couldn't do anything for her, no matter how much I wanted to.  But I wanted her to think I could and I would...that even though this violence was tearing us both up, I was fighting for her.

I'm gonna fix it, I kept telling her, knowing full well I did not know how.  I'm gonna find whatever's doing this, and I'm gonna kill it.  Knowing, of course, that I couldn't.

We let this anger breed inside us until it becomes the very thing we were fighting against.  We think our anger is going to bring us closer to our loved one, that our righteous quest for victory is going to form this inseparable bond between us as we stand together against the enemy.  We think anger is the answer to our fear that we could lose them, that if we're on guard and ready to defend their very life, the power of our sheer emotion will scare any threat away.

But in honesty, our anger pulls us away from them.  We feel like we're doing right; we feel like we're fighting.  But we're so focused on eliminating the threat that we forget the wounded soldier standing beside us.

Kiira laid next to me that night, lying in my floor as I was close, but not too close, to her.  Anger, this thirst for vengeance, this protector mode I was in kept me hypervigilant, watching for anything that might cause this to happen again.  Watching around her, even watching her, but completely ignoring her at the same time.

She just kept looking at me like I was crazy.  She kept raising her tired head and thumping her tail once or twice, begging me to just reach out and pat her on the head.  Grab her extra folds of skin and fur and give her a good tussle.  Shake her paw.  Look her in the eye and tell her I love her.

That's what she wanted.  It wasn't my anger, righteous and useless as it may have been.  She wasn't thrilled that I was poised to fight for her.  She wasn't honored that I would give up everything to defend her.  She just wanted me to love her.

To lie on the floor and growl with her.  To wrap my arms around her and squeeze her, but not too tight.  To let her lick my nose and dig my fingers in behind her ears (her favorite spot).  She just wanted me to be there.  Not for her, but with her.  She just wanted me to love her.

Love did what we think anger will do.  Anger was tearing us apart; we were near each other, but I was focused on everything but her.  Her little grunting noise that she's spoken to me with for 12 years brought me back.  And love brought us together.  So we weren't just beside each other; we were together.  She, with an invitation to love, saved me from losing that moment with her.  

I think about our world, the violence that's in it.  The injustices.  The tough moments and the tender lives touched.  And I know our tendency to think we can fix it with vindication.  We think the world is waiting for us to stand up for it, to right the wrongs, to take justice back.  To be angry with what's going on...and to channel that anger into a fight.

But what if the world's just looking for love?  What if that person who reached out to you in her tough moments didn't want you to fix it?  What if she just wanted you to be there?  What if the world's not looking for you to stand up for it...but looking for you to stand with it?  What if we gave up anger for love?  Love will bring us together; it will give us back this moment.

(Update on Kiira: the vet called last night.  Her lab work showed a low level of thyroid hormone in her blood that he believed was significant enough to cause seizures.  He is running an additional test to check some different things with that thyroid hormone, then he "fully expects" to take her off of the anti-seizure medicine and put her onto a thyroid replacement medication and see how she does.  I am cautiously optimistic, and of course, this is a highly favorable outcome to the alternative (brain tumor), so I am still praying this is the right answer for her.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Worry Cannot Do

We are a people prone to worry.  To letting things roll around in our minds until we're sick to our stomachs and nowhere closer to an answer.  And what are these things that make us worry?

More often than not, they are things we cannot do anything about in the first place.

Late Friday night, my 12-year-old labrador/shepherd mix had a seizure.  In human terms, we would call it a grand mal - twitching and seizing and contorting on the floor for a good three full minutes.  My heart was breaking as I knelt on the floor as near to her as I dared; she has been a special dog for me and my family, and she's such a sweetheart.  I kept trying to say her name, trying to reach out and pet her but a little afraid to touch her.  And when she finally came out of it, she stayed there, paralyzed, a few more minutes before pulling herself up and hobbling straight over to me to nuzzle my shoulder and give me that moment to touch her.

I guess she knew I needed that.  (And I was really honored, because by this point, our neighbors were in the house and you'd think she'd go for the strangers who actually DID come to visit her this time.)

The on-call vet called back a few minutes later, so I'm sitting in my room with one ear to the living room, where my brother and mother are comforting our big hairy girl, who is hopelessly agitated and has no idea what's going on, and one ear to the phone, trying to figure out what we're supposed to do now and what happens if it happens again....and all my energies focused on keeping my gut steady.  And after I hung up, I went in the living room, put my arm around my dog, knelt...and prayed.

Now, I'm a rock in a crisis.  In the moment, there are things to be done and needs to be taken care of and hearts to be steadied and nerves to calm.  And I am steady and solid.  But afterward...

Afterward, there is time to worry.  Because there's nothing to do any more and your mind has all the time in the world to replay those events, to wonder when it's coming again, to think about what it means, to look at your companion, your friend, indeed - your family member, and feel completely helpless.  Worry is our desperate attempt to find control in a situation that is beyond it.

There was nothing I could do for Kiira.  Not in the moment and not a lot afterward.  The vet got us a couple of valium pills and an appointment first thing the next morning, comforting us that about 50% of dogs will have one seizure and never another but the valium would help her calm down for the night.

My immediate thought was the ultra-dramatic, completely defeated, heartbroken response of "I can never sleep again."  I could never leave her alone.  That's worry.  That's our superman complex that says we should be able to do something.  If we're watching close enough, if we're ready, and if we're already planning six steps ahead in our minds what we might possibly do...then yes, we can do something.

Then she wandered into my room and laid down on my rug and just kind of looked at me, tongue hanging out, panting, covered in whatever foam was left coming out of her mouth.  Thumping her tail a couple of times, still not sure what was up.

It's not plausible for me to stay up forever.  Just like it's not plausible that she would never be alone.  Looking at her lying in my floor, waffling between agitated and exhausted, I was evaluating everything in my life to figure out how I could be most available for her, most present, most ready in the event this would happen again, though my mind was turning that 50% over and over and praying she would fall into that group.  I was just looking at her, waiting for the valium to settle in, and in that moment, I knew.

Staying up, worrying, watching over her every move, her every breath, her every twitch was not going to do either of us any good.  At the same time, my heart would not let me just ignore the night and go to bed.  So I looked at her again and instantly knew - I am here, I am up, I am right here on the floor next to this girl until the valium gives her rest.  When she finds rest, I will go and seek my own.

This was the decision of love.  To love.  Love is not delusional; it has no ideas of grandeur.  Simple love is surrender.  It has a realistic understanding of its abilities and knows its limitations.  Love was not going to try to stay up all night and cure canine epilepsy.  Love was committed to giving what it could in that moment and nothing more.

Love says, I know it's tough right now, but here I am.  There's nothing I can do about it.  I can't fix it.  But I am here.  And I'm staying here until you have peace.  I refuse to let you face this alone.  I refuse to abandon you, even though there's nothing I can do.  Because for peace to come, love has to be here.  And for love to be here, there has to be the two of us.

All the worry in the world had nothing to offer that night.  It has nothing to offer today.  Contrary to what all our worry itself might tell us, there is a lot that worry cannot do.  But what worry cannot do, love can.  And does.

Love is, in the moment, the answer our worry is looking for.  And love is able to do that because while worry has already moved on to tomorrow, love remains.  In that moment, love is there.

That night, love brought us both peace.  Love brought us through.  By its mere presence.  And somehow, love changed something - it changed everything, really - though it changed the circumstances nothing at all.

What would happen if we walked away from worry and instead sought love?  What would happen if, instead of obsessing over fixing it all, we surrendered ourselves to just doing what we can?  What love can.

(We are still awaiting the results of testing on our precious friend, Kiira.  The vet said that because of her age, it is likely a brain tumor, but we are holding out hope that it will be a thyroid problem, infection, or other unexpected something that shows up in her blood work.  She had a second seizure the following morning, but a smaller one by far, just before going to the vet and is now on anti-seizure medicine until we figure out what to do for her long-term.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Say Hey

All of our interactions are so short these days, it's easy to walk away with nothing.  It seems that the first person to say, "Hello, how are you?" gets as much of a mouthful of how you are as the brief exchange can accommodate before you're so far out of hearing range that your "how are you?" hits the floor somewhere between the two of you.

It's gotten to the point where when we have the time, we still don't take it.  We're programmed to answer the how are you without a reciprocal invitation.  You can see it on places like Facebook, where someone will post a status, and a friend will comment only to have the original poster comment on the comment as if the whole thing is about them.

Status: "Just saw Lady Antebellum in concert."
Comment: "Man, I'm jealous.  Remember two years ago when we went to that KISS reunion concert together?  That was awesome.  You should have invited me to this one; we would have had good times."
Comment on comment: "This one was so much better than that.  They did a whole extended play of Need You Now and I was in the front row with my lighter.  I lost my voice.  haha."

Do you see what happened there?  The original poster in this made-up scenario completely blew off both the opportunity to remember and the chance to engage someone else because he/she was busy telling her story.

Those around us are players in our story, too.  And if we get so trapped in what we're trying to say that we lose them as sub-characters or worse, scenery or worse, audience, then we're putting at stake our ability - as a community - to tell a vibrant story.

If we're always telling our own story, getting our own words out, focusing on our own experiences, answering the world's how are yous with our autobiographies, we're missing the chance to see where our stories might overlap with the stories of those around us and how we could grow them into a life-changing narrative for our neighborhoods.

This all hit me last week with a Facebook post I wrote.  It was about my latest baking disaster - a family recipe I'd received and tried twice.  And ruined twice.  I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, but during that second batch, my instinct told me the problem.  I followed the recipe anyway, failed, and posted about it on Facebook.  Something about "Always follow your baker's intuition, even when the family recipe you're using came from your grandmother."  A sister from my church responded with her baking mishap, and it was an invitation to write something back.

I composed a reply and sat there thinking about it.  Posted it, then deleted it, and drafted another.  You see, in my first reply, I had started with "I" and gone straight back into my story.  In my second reply, I started with her name.  Acknowledged her story.  It changed the tone of the way I read the conversation, and it said something to me.

We need to be a people who don't start with "I," but who start with "hey."  We need to acknowledge one another, even when it's tempting not to.  And you might think it's easy, but it's harder than you think.  For instance, I can't tell you how many times I've walked through the store and said a hey, how are you to someone only to have them say, "doin' good" and walking off.  And I've done it to a number of people.  Even if it's formality at first, we have to get back to the reciprocal "hey."

Because when we start with "hey" instead of "I," we're starting into a story that's bigger than our own.  Not only that, but we're adding a story to our own narrative, something that helps us get outside ourselves and see.  It's another way of giving up our win for something bigger.

The next time you're tempted to start your sentence with "I," start it with "hey" instead.  Choose to start more than a story; start a conversation.

So that is my challenge: for the next three weeks (as long as it takes to make a habit), turn your "I" into a "hey."  Consciously choose to acknowledge the one who has just acknowledged you.  See what stories you can tell together and how much more connected you will feel with your friend, your family, your community.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One Life to Lose

Are you thirsty for a win?  You're not the only one.

We live our lives like everything is a competition.  Like we have to be the first, the best, the greatest to be anything at all.  We vie for attention, for recognition, for success, for status, even for love.  I spent this past Friday and Saturday teasing my mother, "I know what both of my brothers got you for Mother's Day...and I'm coming in distant third this year.  Distant.  Third."

The first time I said it, I probably meant it.  If you know me at all, you know I can have an uber-competitive streak in me.  I'm working on toning it down - that is, God is chipping it out of me - but it lingers a bit.

Anyway, the first time I said it, there was a tinge of worry in my heart.  That I was about to come in third to my older brothers.  But I was laughing when I said it because something in me was simply teasing, and I looked up to see my mother laughing right back.  Smiling, and joking, "Probably."  It was the kind of awesome tender moment you can have when for a split second, you realize your mother is also your friend.

Her smile, took the competition right out of me.  It was an invitation to joy.  And in an instant, I started hoping that I really did come in third.  That she was about to be blessed beyond her wildest imagination with a Mother's Day she'd never forget.  That we'd never be able to wipe the smile off her face.  That she would some new and special truly loved she is.

This is the delicate balance of self-deprecation.  It wasn't about busting myself down, worrying about how my gift might measure up; I started teasing her that I was coming in third while at the same time talking up the other gifts I knew were coming her way, without revealing any hints as to what they might be.  I wanted to be third.  Not because necessarily my brothers needed a win, but because mom always needs a win.  (Your mom, too, always needs a win.  Remember that.)  You're gonna love it, I just kept telling her.  You're going to be so surprised and excited.  It's going to be fantastic.  Until you get to my gift, then just pat me on the head and pretend you like it.  Then, I'd laugh again and she'd sigh that sigh with a little hint of smile in it.  And I had great fun teasing her leading up to Sunday morning.

I simply wasn't worried any more about coming in third.  Or coming in first with an upset.  I wasn't concerned about whether she would like it or hate it.  Whether it was anything or nothing.  It was my love for her, and that day was being gifted back to me in love.

Because that's what happens when you give up the win.  You get back the love.  You get back the joy.  You get something more out of it than a win could ever give you.  And I loved watching this family loving her back, watching her smile, hearing her talk about the day and her kids, seeing her laugh at how obtrusively large her new snowball bush is going to grow, looking at her lying in bed with one eye out the window and one eye on her new bird identification book, staring at the feeders and the little baby birds coming up from the back yard.  Not feeling pressured.  Not feeling nagged.  Not being asked to judge.  Simply open.  An open moment.

A moment for something more than the win.  And let me tell you - what a blessing it was to see my mother enjoy the win.  Joy...grace...peace...quiet...these are the win.  Love.  That is the win.

At one point in the morning, my mother hugged me in the driveway, standing near the gift I had built for her, and she said simply, "You didn't come in third.  I love it."

While I was celebrating her win and giving her time just to be, wouldn't you know it?  God had to get His gift in.  Three, and then a fourth, beautiful yellow finches showed up at the birdfeeder just outside her bedroom window.  While she was lying there, relaxing, and watching the birds come in and out.  She has long yearned for yellow finches, and here they were.

I was thankful I wasn't concerned about the win any more.  Because you just can't compete with that. There's just no way.

And I picture God knowing what He'd just done and just smiling.  "I get the win," He says.  "But I'm sharing it with you."

So we spent the evening watching for finches.

Are you thirsty for a win?  You're not the only one.  What would happen if you gave up your win for something grander?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Boldly Go...

When you make a firm decision to step into God's promise, the first wall you're going to run up against are all your insecurities.  You can have all of the peace and assurance and courage necessary to make the decision - and even make it! - but once you take the first step and actually act on your heart in some tiny way, you will inevitably come to this conclusion:

Oh My GOD...What have I just done?

Because you will realize all you aren't.

If you're not careful, that haunting feeling that you've just gotten ahead of yourself will suck all the passion out of what just moments ago was the perfect choice.  You will forget how blessed the moment was, how fully God stepped into what you were doing, how completely outside of yourself you were just thinking about the promise, and how wholly you realized it was not about you.

Yesterday, I became the owner of my own domain.  Today, I'm giving it back to God.  In the in-between was the OMG moment where I cried, "Lord, what have I just done?" and followed with "This better not be a huge mistake..."  I wasn't sure how to end that question.

Because what seemed so certain in my heart, what had given me so much joy in knowing it was perfect from Him, what had set my heart aflutter in sheer joy of His creation, what had given me the confidence in moving forward into at least this portion of His revealed promise for me...ran right up against the face in the mirror.  The eyes that knew my own story.  The hands that knew my own work.  The heart that knew my own secrets.  And the ever haunting question: Who am I?

Who am I, as Casting Crowns would say, that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name?  Who am I that He would place this gift in this life?  Who am I that by any earthly standard or definition or expectation, this is even gonna matter?

My "Oh My God, what have I just done?" faded into "Well, it's done.  Deal with it." and then eventually, into sleep where somehow by the morning, my heart found its center again.

What have I done, Lord?  He just smiles and says, "Exactly as I have called you to do.  Deal with it."

Deal with it.  Deal with coming face-to-face with your inadequacies.  Deal with standing in your insecurities.  Deal with having a greater call on your life than mediocrity.  Deal with My Love for you.  My hope for you.  My gift in you.  My promise in you.  Deal with it.

It's not cruel.  It's another one of God's endless search your heart and decide what is real.  Is the echo of your emptiness what's most real...or is the fullness of what He's put in you?  Is it your questions...or your joy in knowing you are right where He wants you?  Is it your broken compass...or the map-less terrain that lies before you?  Is it popular opinion...or wisdom of creation?  Is it anything else...or is it as God says?

When you remember why you took that step, the way you felt just before the leap, you remember what you did it for.  Who you did it for.  Whose story that step speaks loudest of - and hint: it isn't yours.  Whatever adventure you're about to take, whatever paths you're about to blaze, whatever journey you're about to go on, speaks more about God than it does you if you'll let it just be as He intended.  He's about to work through it - through you, no matter how torn, uncertain, inadequate, or insecure you may feel about yourself.  He's created you for this.  If He hadn't, He wouldn't have laid it on your heart.

So take your step forward, but take it back to Him.  If you try to make it about yourself, you will always question; if you make it about Him, He will tell a new story through you in a way you cannot even imagine right now.  In my case, I know that where He's leading me may not "take off" for 20 years.  40 years.  60 years.  But He's taking baby steps in me now, little glimpses here and there that answer my insecurities and take me into Promise.

If only I'll take the step...and boldly go straight into my questions where He's bound to answer my nagging heart.

In the end, it's not about my insecurities, my inadequacies, or even my competencies.  It is about His confidence, His creation, His ability, and His promise.  It is His story; He's just inviting me to tell a part of it.

Wherever He's called you, He has a reason.  And you have an inkling.  What questions are standing in your heart that keep you from taking the next step?  What if it wasn't about you at all?

Monday, May 14, 2012


I want to start a wild rumor about my God.

Why?  Because I think He'd probably appreciate it.

You know how rumors get started.  They are stories based in half-truths and almost-overheards where the details are maybe sorta kinda right but there seems to be something missing, though the overall tone is juicy enough that you can't help but tell it yourself.  It's just gossip, really; you don't know all the facts, but it's an incredible story and if it's even half-true, you want to be one of those who got it right.  And pretty soon, the story has been swirled and spun and shared so much that everyone has some version of it, some more scandalous than others, and there's nowhere safe for the object of the rumor to go to hide from the stories.

He just has to show Himself.

I think that's why God would appreciate a good, juicy rumor going around about Him.  So that when He walks into a room, everything just stops and everyone's mouth hits the floor that He'd have the guts to show up HERE.  To show up NOW.  To show His face around these parts...when everybody's talking about Him.

See, it would have to be a rumor because of the climate of our culture.  We're a people kind of weary of Jesus, even though we're thirsting for Him.  And I say that because you can hear the groan.  You hear the world whining under the weight of the on-fire-for-Jesus crowd who can't wait to tell you how AWESOME He is and how JOYFUL today is and how BEAUTIFUL life is and how God is THE ANSWER.  We look at people like that these days, and we think one of two things: they are crazy or they are hiding something.

Because no one's life is tea and roses.  When you're standing out there pretending it is just because you know a man named Jesus, people start to look at Christ as the leader of the Cult with everyone drinking the happy juice and living in oblivion...and that life doesn't work for people.  One, it doesn't attract them because it's so far a lost concept as to be ridiculous.  And two, for those that try to find your way, what they find is a God that fails them because the world still sucks sometimes.  It just does.  And we should never set God up to fail someone.

There's nothing wrong with the pain here.  There's nothing wrong with having a tough day or wrestling with something in your heart or questioning, yearning and questioning, just what is life.  There's nothing wrong with having an honest view of life east of Eden.  (And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the excitement of an encounter with God; be excited!  Rejoice!  Let that moment carry you.  Just realize you're going to need that joy to fall back on when life starts sucking again.  Because it will.  And that's ok.  We're far from home.)

That's why I think a rumor works so well.  It's soft, in a whisper.  It's a story you share with just a few good friends, instead of trying to shout above the world.  We know the shouting doesn't work; but a juicy story - that is a tale that carries.  A rumor is a story that's not trying to be pretty.  It's not trying to be all-powerful.  It just is...and it's just what you've heard.  You just kind of hint, speak a little here and there.  It's based on a half-truth, what little glimpse of Truth we can understand in these shoes, and the almost-overheards, the promises of a God who is faintly whispering into our hearts so we can see - barely, but still see - the form of where He's taking us.  And we just speak that story.  To one another.  To a friend here, a neighbor there.

It's an incredible story, and when you take the risk to share a few details of your version with a friend, they share a few details of your version and add a few of theirs and share that with another friend, who adds their own details and shares that with another until the whole world is whispering about a God who has taken their hearts captive with little glimpses of His truth in this life and that one and that one over there.

Then, when God shows up, everything just stops and everyone's mouth his the floor.  That He'd show up here.  That He would be.  Here.  That He is just as our rumor might have found Him and infinitely more.  Because our stories have some version of the Truth in them, and His simply standing there is going to answer the hollow places.

And I picture God knowing the rumor, knowing the ways we've whispered about Him, knowing the stories we've shared, knowing we were all just talking about Him...and loving it.  And I picture Him just kind of smiling.

So whaddya say?  Do you want to start a wild rumor about God with me?  I bet we could get the world talking....

Friday, May 11, 2012


You might have already figured this out, watching the things around you over the course of a lifetime....but did you know there's a good way to break?

That's not to say it's good to break things, but everything gets worn down.  When it does, there is a way it is meant to break that is least disastrous.

And yes, this is another post inspired by yet another project around the house to add to my to-do list.  In this case, it's the cinder block foundation.  All of the little pieces of mortar are starting to fall off.  All of them.  While it's kind of an ugly problem, it sounds a lot worse than it is.  Because thankfully, the mortar is only coming out of the vertical cracks.

What's the difference?

The difference is this: vertical mortar coming out is almost expected as a house ages, and it's not really a comment on structural integrity.  What holds the house together and what holds the house up is the horizontal stuff, and if that's starting to chip and crack and break away, it's a sign that the pressures in the house are shifting and you're in for a fall.  The vertical stuff is more...bug-dangerous than structure-dangerous.

I'd kind of rather it be structural.  We all know how I feel about bugs (in the house).

It's not just mortar.  About six years ago, I was talking to my dentist about a small crack developing in one of my molars.  He told me that since the crack went vertical, it wasn't anything to worry about and in fact, was very common.

Working on rehabbing the deck, I found that one of the railing posts was cracked clean through, horizontally.  But this, too, had no effect on the structural integrity of the deck or its railing.

Have you found the common thread yet?  It's not about the mortar, the tooth, or the railing; it's about the stuff around it.  In each of these cases, these materials are breaking in a way that doesn't affect what's holding them there.  It's just auxiliary stuff.  The foundation is laid in layers, not columns; it is the blocks on top of one another that keeps the integrity.  A tooth cracking from gum line to bite surface is held there by the two around it; it's not in danger of falling out because there is something still holding it together even when it looks to be falling apart.  The railing post is firmly attached at both its top and bottom, to a decking floor and a hand rail; the pressure holds it together.  So there is nothing that needs ripped out and replaced; it just needs a little love.

What is true for concrete, enamel, and wood - some pretty tough surfaces - is also true for us - some pretty tough cookies.  There is a good way for us to break.  It doesn't have to be disastrous.

It's all about knowing what holds us together when we seem to be coming apart.

For me, it's about knowing what's under me and what's on me.  That my feet stand on solid ground, holy ground.  That I know the foundation my life is built on, and that keeps me from sinking or slipping off the mold.  And knowing the anointing that is on my life, the call on my heart, the gift in my hands, the blessing in my heart, the burden for honoring all He created in me on my shoulders.

As long as I know what's holding me together, I know I can crack a little and not lose integrity.  I know that it may not be pretty, but it's not going to destroy me.  I know that it stands as an invitation to my God to come and work on me.  Not necessarily because I'm going to fall apart at any moment, but because I still look like I might.  Sometimes, even feel like I might.

But I come back to knowing what holds me together - a firm foundation and a strong anointing.  God's not about to rip me out of His plan if I show a little wear and tear, if I start to crack a little; held together by His grace, He's not about to replace me.

I just need a little love.

Do you need a little love?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Fourth Dimension: Time

Yesterday, I talked about the third dimension (depth) and how critical it is to living a full life.  But there is one other dimension we commonly consider, and that is the Fourth dimension: time.

It's easy to confuse the Fourth dimension of time with the First dimension of length.  Because we are taught to consider our time here limited with a clear start and finish, stretching the expanse of our lifetime and that is all.  It's what we mean when we talk about time drawing to a close, our lives nearing their end, standing at death's doorstep.  That's not at all what is meant by the Fourth dimension.

Think of the Fourth dimension more in terms of eternity.  It is a concept of time that you wouldn't use to define yourself (I am 27 years old; that is a time definition from the First dimension); it is a concept of time that stretches beyond what we can tick off the clock.  It is more about the value of time than the quantity of it.

God uses Fourth dimension time as an invitation to wisdom.  And in a weird (but perfect) way (as God tends to do things), the Fourth dimension concept of time frees us from the First.  It's all in how we consider it.

The Psalmist wrote: "Teach us to number each of our days so that we may grow in wisdom."  (90:12)  This verse smacks at those who live a 1-D or 2-D life; it runs counter to our flesh that says "Your days are numbered so take all you can get."  But for those who embrace the depth of life in 3-D, this step into the Fourth dimension is absolutely freeing.

(And you must, must, live a life in the Third dimension before you can add the fourth.  You cannot simply throw together the dimensions of your choosing and try to build something out of it - for instance, a life that is only the First and Third dimension would omit the Second (width/height) that is the source of struggle, a crucial element for a meaningful Third dimension.  A life of the Second and Third would be reckless, unconcerned with its own mortality and therefore unable to understand the consequences of choice, which would again render the Third meaningless.  And without the Third (depth), the Fourth (eternity) means nothing.)

Returning to the Psalmist and the invitation of the Fourth dimension to enter is not about having our days numbered; it is about numbering our days.  It is a reminder to make today count and the ever-present knowledge that yesterday is tallied and tomorrow isn't promised but today, there is today, and today matters.

It's not fatalist.  It's not the reckless life of someone without a glimpse of the First dimension who isn't looking ahead to when their life is ending; it's not a life that does as it pleases because it wants to drink of all of today as much as it can.

It is purposeful; it is a life that seeks meaning, that seeks love, because it sees today as a blessing to be poured out.  It is a life that knows its time here is short but sees beyond itself.  Because it sees a new dimension of time - eternity.  And it understands that contrary to what we often fall into believing, eternity does not begin when our time here is finished.  Eternity was, and it is, and it is to come.  A Fourth-dimension life feels blessed just to be a small part of it; a Fourth-dimension life is wisdom.

Teach us to number our days, Lord - to make our days count.  To embrace the depth that brings fullness to life, in beautiful and agonizing ways.  And then to embrace life in the Fourth dimension: beyond time as we can number it and fully into eternity, where meaning and purpose and wisdom beckon.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Life in 3-D

As a people, we're thirsting for a life that's coming right at us, one we can reach out and touch.  It is invading our media, with a majority of movies boasting 3-D technology that lets us meld into our escapist fantasies, new worlds that speak to something in us and strike us as 'better than here.'  The heartbreak, I believe, is that as strongly as we long to touch Wonderland or Hogwart's or Pandora, too many of us are far too content with 2-D living.

It would be easy to say those 2 D's are for Day-to-Day living, but I'm speaking of dimension.  It's why we are so dissatisfied when we see our lives on paper.  We fit all too well in a flat world, defined only by our length and width.

It should come as no shock.  Think about it: how many people do you know who think of life in terms of getting to the top or getting to the end?  If we're really ambitious, we hope we make it to the end while being on top.  Length - the measure of our years.  Width (or height) - the measure of our success.  Put them together and you have a growth chart with no definition.  A bland, stale paper-thin existence with not a lot to hope for and not a lot to strive for and not a lot to love for.

Then we're disappointed and our hearts cry out in agony.  Is this all there is?  Shouldn't there be something more?

There is something more.  It is depth, the third dimension.  It is the dimensional aspect of our 3-D technology that makes our fantasy world touchable.  Experiential.  Tangible.

In art, we say the third dimension (depth) adds definition to an image.  It turns a rectangle into a box; a circle into a sphere.  It fully and radically transforms an object.

In the same way, depth adds definition to our lives.  It rounds us out so we're something more than a flake, and it opens in us this great well in which we long to be filled, a space for God to pour into us the fullness of His creation.  It presents another side to us, another way for the world to see us - they can see us in 3-D, someone they can reach out and touch.  Someone real.  Tangible.

It's counter-intuitive to what the world might tell us.  There's nothing about depth that makes us live longer or live grander; depth simply calls us to live fuller.

Choosing depth is not without its pains.  As the artists behind our latest cinematic spectacles will tell you, adding depth is about creating something expecting to be touched.  And it is agonizing work.  To transform James Cameron's Titanic into a 3-D experience took 300 artists more than 750,000 hours.  

To harness this kind of depth in our lives, we have to start by expecting the world to touch us.  With beauty and brokenness, with ecstasy and misery, with tenderness and pain, with light and shadows.  We have to know it's going to be agonizing.  Choosing depth means choosing vulnerability.  It means setting ourselves up to be touched.  Exposing our hearts to the raw experience of the world as it is.

But we have been created with this depth; the Artist made us to be touched.  He created us with the idea that people would see us as something real, something tangible.  That they could look at us and see an escape from 2-dimensional living.  Every little detail, every painstaking pixel of this existence has been measured out for glory, and the end result is absolutely breathtaking.  It's the kind of experience you can't stop telling your friends about, the kind you beg them to come and see with you.  This one not on the screen, but on the skies.  Not in the cinemas but in the expanses.

Where life stands, you'll still need the glasses.  Because the 2-D fiction of making it to the end and making it to the top and somehow hopefully both has dulled our eyes, we need a change of vision.  We need a new way of seeing the world.  But the day is coming when our eyes will see without them.  When we'll look into a life restored and be drawn away into a seeming fantasy that is oh so real.  Into the Garden.  Into Eden.

In the meantime, let us know it is no accident this world is a sphere and not a circle.  God has created and invited us to depth.  Let us embrace 3-D living and defined by our depth - that we've been agonized over, formed, and pixel-perfected for the world to touch us.  That perhaps, just perhaps, we might also touch the world.