Friday, June 29, 2012

One Thing

We place a lot of emphasis on finding our gift.  In church circles, our "spiritual" gift; in the world at large, just our gift.  That one thing that we do with an incredible passion and unexplainable skill where others look at what we're doing and say, Yes.  You were made to do that.  Then we work on turning our gift into a purpose.

It sounds a noble enough pursuit, but in a lot of cases, I think this pursuit of our "gift" is holding us back.  And I say that knowing that it is this very concept that left me lost for so many years and knowing I'm not alone in that.

Because we always say it that way, don't we?  Finding our gift.  Singular.  The one thing.  Then leaving everything else to be nothing more than a hobby and always lamenting that the one thing isn't the other...and the other isn't the one thing.

There's so much stuff I love to do!  So much I'm passionate about!  So much that fuels me!  And I spent so much of my life trying to weed out the "one thing" from the many, going through these seasons where I wished it was this, but it just wasn't there.  Or I wished it was that, but that kept getting overshadowed by a different thing entirely.  Then stuck because I couldn't figure out in everything I loved to do what God had created me to do.

The answer?  All of it.

Just as we are each part of a body (of Christ) with many parts, so are we also bodies with many parts.  I think one of the greatest things we can do in finding our "gift" is to put an S on it.  To find a way to incorporate into our day-to-day and into what we're forming into our purpose all of those things God has given us a uniqueness for.  It gives us permission to be whole people and wholly ourselves instead of these dissatisfied bits and pieces lost in limbo looking for just the one thing.

I am a writer.  You see that every day when you graciously come to read these few words.  But that is only one part of me.  I am One Part writer.  I am also One Part artist (and my Art page is just about ready to go; still working out a few kinks for you).  I am One Part musician.  I am One Part create-r.  I am One Part worshiper, One Part mad scientist.  And All Parts God's.  You see where I'm going.

It's why I make up words like "intimicited" - because I'm never just one thing.  I doubt you are, either. And in all of these moments where we realize we are a whole mix of this and that, and sometimes even a contradictory mix of those things, why do we still insist that God must have made us with one gift that we're supposed to spend our years rooting through our lives to discover because it, above all else, is somehow "perfect."

God created us to be one thing - His.  Apart from that, He created each of us to be many things.  And if we are truly committed to finding our unique niche in this world, His world - our purpose - then we have to find a way to weave together all that we are into the one thing we truly are - His.  Then go from there.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Right On Time

Last week, I wrote about how sometimes what we give is our time.  When we're loving, time doesn't seem like a finite venture; it just creeps by and we don't even notice.

The same is true with purpose.  What I'm finding is that honestly?  Only purpose and passion can make you right on time.  Not in the sense of getting there at an appropriate hour but in the sense of having the right view of what time really is.

We kind of lose that with our schedules.  With our to-do lists, our agendas, our activities, our work all pressing in on us and making the days seem shorter than they are, making the hours go by too quickly, making us feel like we've lost this thing called time and we never get it back, then wondering where we're ever going to get more.

This idea of time as it relates to purpose and passion hit me first on my week of vacation at the end of May.  I didn't go anywhere; everyone else did, and I had the house to myself.  For the first time, I decided not to make it a week of "projects" but a week of just whatever seemed to strike me.

Midnight piano.

Two a.m. scribbles in the journal.

Things that time would tell me it's not time for...and then when it is time, I'm busy and so there's never time.  Things that time would tap me on the shoulder and say, you can't play the piano at midnight.  You'll wake up the house, and you have to be awake in six hours anyway.  Except for that week, there wasn't anyone but myself to wake up...and I was up six hours later still and oddly energized from a little midnight keys.  Scribbling thoughts in my journal at two a.m. because the thoughts woke me up and I couldn't think of a reason not to take that moment.

Those two little events changed my concept of time because it finally hit me that the time is now.

I think we get that when we live by the spirit.  And we've all had those moments, those times that seem undefined by anything but the moments that they are.  Not seconds.  Not minutes.  Not hours ticking away, but simply moments.  In a moment, you're not asking when this is going to be over.  It's over when it's over, and you'll know.  It's the front-porch talks with family or neighbors.  The late-night phone calls with long-time friends.  The afternoon living rooms with those we hold dear.  Leisurely dinners around the table.  Weekend coffeehouses with long-lost buddies.  Time in which there is no time because it is just now and you wouldn't trade it for anything.

And that's how you know when you're hitting on your passion and your purpose - when you're able to stop counting time.  Or better, when you don't even think of counting the time.  If you're sitting at work watching the clock, punching a time card, and waiting for the day to end, then your work isn't hitting anything in your heart.  If you're sitting in church checking your watch, then something is inhibiting you from entering worship fully.  Time is nothing but an obstacle to eternity.  And we don't have to wait on eternity; it is here for us today.  Eternity is the moment.

There are some things I could do forever and never blink an eye.  And never know it's been forever.  Because they are my passion.  They are my purpose.  And they don't run on a clock anyway.  Sometimes, I write my greatest chapters in the middle of the night.  Because my heart doesn't really know it's night.  I can throw myself into building something and not realize it's been four days, five days, ten days because every second is pure energy.  Purpose, passion, they get in us and make us forget about time.  Then we realize inevitably what time it is...and do you know we almost never grumble about it?

When we get lost in time, when our passion and purpose are fueling our moment, when we're fully engaged in what this is - in eternity - and then we notice the clock, isn't our reaction always the same?  "Huhm...I didn't even know."  Then we sort of shrug and just get on with whatever.  And we find that we're able to shift things around and somehow able, without even rushing it that we have just enough time?  (Or for those of us who know how to rush it, too, don't we find that we more than catch up and then we have more than enough time..and now time to kill?)

Purpose is letting our moments entice us.  Draw on us.  Pull us in so we get lost in them.  Then the second hand fades away and the minute hand vanishes...and we realize we're right on time.  This is it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


These past few weeks have been some of the most diverse (most closely together) I've lived in a long while.  And that's the right verb: lived.  Because I don't feel like I've stopped.  A week of vacation, this weird kind of renewed energy, a week of a very tough grief, a few good projects (and a few still in the wings), and this week, Vacation Bible School.  Along with, of course, the basic everyday life that simply is - the visits, the chores, the dogs, the kids, the walks and the bike rides, the writing and the worship.  Yeah, you could say it's been an interesting hodgepodge of things.

In an odd way, really hasn't.  There's been this theme kind of running through everything, and I'm not sure I have a good way to describe it.  Or even a bad way....  It's this low unspeakable rumble that's somehow synced with the rhythm of my heart and for all intents and purposes, let's call it the profound yet indefinable suspicion of purpose and indescribable blessing.  (PYISPIB for short?)

That's how it's felt.  Like every moment has somehow been something more than you would think just looking at the surface of it.  And how even in the difference of every day, there is something greater still that is all the same.  I've been energized, encouraged, stronger than my flesh would have told me, focused, and maybe a little intimicited - a mix of intimidated and excited.  Because there's a whisper going on, growing into that kind of knowing that infuses the spirit, and it is those two most intimidating words God can ever speak to us, followed by a Promise:

"Get ready. (the intimidation)  Because this is what I created you for. (Promise)"

Intimidating, because when you hear God speak into your life and you're so ready for Him to move through you, your gut reaction is to want to honor that.  To want to live up to what God has put in you.  Not because you have to deserve it or because it's your job to prove yourself, but because purpose is infused with love - and in that moment God shows you your purpose, you are overwhelmed with love and wanting to live it.

Intimidating, but energizing.  Energizing because...I guess it's the surprise of it.  In these moments, you're not really thinking about the grand scheme of things.  You've not got one ear to the heavens, questioning.  You're not trying to measure up, to be enough; you don't feel like you have to be anything in particular except open.  You're not hoping one way or another because it's just the moment.  I've been sinking myself into moments. And then there's this whisper: "This is it."  And it makes me stop for a second and think about where I'm at, what I'm doing, where my heart is.  And I find that my heart is present, engaged, fully right there and unbeknownst to me - in the most leisurely of times, in the toughest of times, in the heat of the day, under a cool breeze - I unspokenly feel like it's something.  Then God pokes my heart and says that it is, and I know He's right.  Even when it outwardly doesn't look like anything.  Then I'm stoked.  Because if this is what He's created me for, I will take it.  Right now.  Let's roll.

There is a difference between the good moments and the promise moments.  Between simple pleasure and divine purpose.  I'll admit this is something I have struggled with from time-to-time, having the good moments and trying to make more of them.  Holding them close and trying to work my life around them, set them up to define something, latching onto them as tightly as I could.  These past few weeks, it hasn't been that feeling.  I think it's the simple difference between empty and hungry.

When we're empty, we devour these moments and paint them in our minds so that we can relive them over and over and over again, seeking something that will stay with us.  Something that will remind us of something more.  We're so afraid of being empty that we're trying to fill ourselves up and we're not open to anything that lies deeper within a moment.  We just want something.

But when we're hungry....  Oh, when we're hungry, we take these moments and eat them up.  We taste every bit of purpose and promise baked into them.  Then we realize we wouldn't want this moment back.  We've surrendered to it and given ourselves into it for that sake of what it was, and we can't let ourselves spend the next day, week, year, reliving this because a day-old meal would not be the same.  But we want more moments like this.  We want more.  Ravenously.

That's where I'm at - loving these moments, hearing that whisper, feeling the roar, infused with purpose and passion and a little intimicitement.  Hungry, ready, wanting more....more moments like these, but not these moments again.  And I believe (and days passing by have shown) that this is how it's going to be.  All these little moments that seem like nothing but are somehow something, wrapped in my purpose and His promise.

Get ready, He says, and I can hardly believe it.  Because this is what I created you for.  And I'm speechless.  As much mercy, grace, honor, love, time, fellowship, art, beauty, holy as these kinds of days have shown...what could I say to this being every day got me, Lord.  You got me.  I got nothing.

Over the next few days, I want to share with you some of these moments, some of these times of seeming nothing that may be something.  Times of discovery, prayer, purpose, whatever it's been.  Hoping that maybe you will find yourself hungry and hear that same whisper.  Get ready.  God created you for something, too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


This may seem a step backward from what I've advocated in these past two posts (that we shouldn't accept money for love and to take our too much stuff, couple it with our too much time, and give it away while engaging our neighbors) - but not everything can be free.  It shouldn't be.  We must have a currency.

Now, whether that currency should be money, I'm not necessarily sure.  But that admittedly comes from someone who refuses to live by the dollar.  Maybe our currency is time.  Or talent.  An old-school barter system.  But we have to exchange something we have for something we need or want; it absolutely must be this way.

Which is why I told my friend to keep my 50 cents; she owes me nothing.  Part of it is probably pride, the sense of being able to give a little something to take a little something, to pay my way through the world as needed.  And yes, I do take pride in this - in trying to give as much as I take (or usually give more).  I'm probably not alone when I say that it's hard to accept something as free.  You can't help but feel a little guilty when someone's just handing you something, especially when you know that they could be earning a little bit for that or that it cost them something.  You can't help but feel a little selfish when you take something for free...because how is it that your lack of funds exceeds someone else's lack of funds?  You could both use a little something here and there, and you know that.  So free is tough.

I'm thankful we still have this.  I'm thankful there's something in us that recognizes the cost.  That understands there really is no such thing as a free lunch - that somewhere, somehow, even the littlest bit cost someone something.  It costs the earth its grasses, the cow her milk, the farmer his time, the milkman his gasoline....all to put a glass of milk on your table, even if no one ever transfers a dime.  It costs the sheep its wool, the shearer his time, the weaver her skill, the child its labor (sorry), the franchise its shipment, the store its put clothes on your back, even if they give it away.  You see what I'm saying - there is a cost to everything.  On some level, we understand that.  It's what makes us hesitate (some more than others) about "free."

On the flip side, I have to acknowledge that there are those who have almost no appreciation of the cost.  They nose their way through life, taking as much as they can get, giving little, and counting it a victory to not count the cost.  You know the kind of people I'm talking about - probably because they make the hair on your neck stand a little meaner.  (And if not, you may have to consider that you might be one of them.)  They don't seem to appreciate anything because they have this arrogance about them, this sense of entitlement, this super-pride that they can get whatever they want and manipulate their way into getting the world to give it to them.  They, too, are an example of why cost matters.

Cost matters because it teaches us to appreciate.  It gives us a chance to think about the interconnectedness of everything, to marvel at the way our world is woven together.  It gives us an honor to feel our place in the cycle of things - as a consumer, sure, but also as a contributor.  As someone whose time, talent, money, investment in what is around us will somewhere down the line fall into the hands of someone who needs it.  And appreciates it because they know that even this far back in its early stages, it cost someone something.  Cost puts value on what we have, what we do, who we are - and I don't mean a monetary value.  It's something more than that.

But the greatest gift of cost is this:

It teaches us to appreciate - truly appreciate - grace.  In a world where all is freely given, how can we ever understand the value of grace?  But in a world that costs us something...this free gift of God's grace is all-the-more measurable in its inability to be measured.  We appreciate it even though it has come freely to us (we have not had to buy it, not had to work for it, not had to given for it - it has been handed to use)...and we appreciate it because we know the cost.  It cost the Son His life to put grace on our backs.  It cost the Father His Son to put grace on our table.  Counting that cost, though we haven't paid a dime, reminds us of the value even of grace.  And that's why we have to have a currency.  That's why everything can't simply be free (and nothing ever is).

For fear we'd fail to recognize the value - the goodness, the graciousness, the invaluable gift - of something so simple as grace.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Inspired! Grace Sale

Every once in awhile, I'll get "Inspired!", so why not make this a regular feature in which I share with you my latest, greatest idea  You might have considered the first one was Rumors, so let's consider this "Inspired! 2."  

A Grace Sale.

I wrote Friday's post about not making money for love shortly after I had visited a friend's garage sale. I hadn't planned it that way; my Friday post was already much in the works before my short venture out, but so it happened.  My friend loved the post and then told me she wants to give me my 50 cents back (I bought something for my nephew while scoping out the other good things).  I laughed.  That wasn't the whole point of Friday's post, but this exchange got me thinking.

It's so easy in our society to get rid of the things we don't want.  If it's not any good, we throw it to the curb and a company comes by and scoops it away to the refuge of the untouchable where, eventually, most of it should decompose within the next ten billion years.  If it's worth reusing, we'll box it up and take it to somewhere like a Goodwill, a Salvo, a Lord's Locker, a pantry - somewhere for someone in need to come and get it, pay a little money, and take it away...all without our having to do anything but drop it off.  For free.

 Then there are those of us who are uber-organized and super-gifted at this sort of thing, and we have a great deal of reusable stuff to get rid of, so we have a garage sale.  (Or yard sale, depending on your garage availability, neighborhood association rules, or a variety of other factors.)  I'm not any good at the garage sale, so I usually pass and opt for the Goodwill, but some people have great success sitting in their yards all day.

...where unassuming strangers come and haggle over your already ridiculously-low prices, trying to get a great deal.  I like what Jeff Foxworthy says about such things, something about talking the seller down to a nickel for a whole set of tupperware lids that had been melted in the dishwasher.  Not because he particularly needed the lids, but because he was having his own sale in a few weeks and needed more items.  I laughed...because that's me.

But I was thinking about this.  We have more stuff than we need, and we know the crowds of garage shoppers looking for a bargain.  We also, if we're honest, have more time than we need.  Wouldn't it be fun to take all our extra stuff and all our extra time and mark it all up for a garage sale, put little price stickers on everything, assign arbitrary value to the stuff that we've already deemed worthless to us moving forward but know there is someone out there looking for just this....and sit in our driveways, our yards, our garages for a weekend and let people come to look at it?

Sounds like a garage sale, but here's the catch: give it all away.

When someone comes and picks up a few items, brings them over to the table and starts to haggle, tell them just to take it.  Everything is free.  When a young woman comes to pick up a few items for her yet-to-be-born child, then puts them back because she doesn't have five dollars today, give them to her anyway with a smile.  When a child toddles over and picks up that oversized teddy bear and gives it a big hug, bend down and tell him to take the bear home with him.  Watch him smile.  Watch him beam. Watch these individuals who were looking for a bargain find something better - a real deal.  Grace.

What would it mean for us to not just do this, but to do this with the realization of what it means not to grace these shoppers with our items, but with our time?  What would it do in our hearts to engage with the individuals taking over our hand-me-aways?  Not just dumping stuff off for the Goodwillers to pick through and dig through and pile up somewhere away from here....but setting it all up and giving it all away and in the meantime, meeting a new friend or two, creating a new relationship, being a part of our community, and giving some very needing (and of course, your run-of-the-mill treasure hunters) something we could never drop off at a store or a pantry or a donation bin: humanity.  

You need this?  You want this?  Take it.  Here's a smile to go with it.  Maybe a little story of where that came from.  A tale about the time it spent in these hands.  A little bit of my time because I have more than I need - of everything, it seems - and I want to share this moment with you.

We'll call it a grace sale, but we won't have to advertise it that way.  Just set it up like a sale and make it a point by the end of the weekend to have given it all away as best we can.  To have met everyone who chose our driveway, our yard, our garage.  To have shaken their hand, looked them in the eye, shot them a smile, shared a hug.  To have given something more than melted tupperware lids or an old bookcase.  To give away grace.  From our too much to their...whatever their story may be.

(And no, this isn't supposed to make you garage salers feel bad.  I get it; if I was any good at them, I might have more.  But some days, I think our neighbors just need a grace sale.  Consider me Inspired!)

Friday, June 22, 2012

For the Love of...

I am just about always looking for odd jobs.  Projects to take on.  Things I can do to help someone out.  Because I understand at this juncture in my life, God has given me a vast diversity of skills and a great passion for some of the hands-on things and enough free time to share that.  But then there's that awkward moment when the project is done and all the fire I've put into it is poured out...and I couldn't accept a dime.

This is why I am perpetually poor.

It's not that I don't need the money every now and then, and it's not even that there aren't some jobs I would require you to pay me for.  Like painting the majority of your house in a 112-degree heat index, and even that one, I was tempted to give away (work for free).  It's that I don't live by money.  At least, I try not to.  

It's tough because I run up against this world that is set on the dime and spins on the dollar, and there are absolutely places where money helps.  And yet in that moment where there is money or there is more, I will always opt for more.  I just can't make myself live by money; it grates against me.

That's also why when I find something worth selling, I'm more likely still to give it away.  If I see the way it makes you smile, how your face lights up when you see it, how it touches something in your heart to hold it...then have it.  Please.  Take this as my gift to you.

There's a lot in this world that would say that is contrary, but I say its our norm that is contrary.  I say it is contrary to use people and love money, and that we should strive to live a better way - to love people and use money.  (Someone smarter than me has already coined this phrase, I'm fairly sure.)  We've lost that somewhere.  I'm convinced that if Jesus were to meet a woman at a well today and ask her for a drink, she'd put her hand on her hip and say, "What?  You think I just work here?" and wait on Him to pay her.  Our lives are all wrapped up in money - in mortgage payments, in gas prices, in grocery bills, in utility costs - and somewhere in all of that, our hearts get wrapped up, too.  Whether we wittingly hand them over or not. 

I'm sorry, but I can't live that way.  When you start putting numbers to're never going to add up.  Then what are you supposed to do?  Spend your life chasing numbers?

There have been a lot of opportunities over the past few weeks for me to choose.  To choose something I can tally up or to choose something more.  It's really tempting to tally up.  To think about what it might cost to get the materials.  To think about how much gas I'm burning up.  To think about how much I could sell that for to some unsuspecting stranger.

But so, too, is there a draw in the immeasurable.  In the way a story is shared and you realize that more than a ride, he needed grace.  In the way a smile is stolen and you see that someone needs known more than she needs helped.  In the way a hug wraps a little tight and begs to be spoiled...just a little bit...because it's tough out there alone.  In seconds and minutes and hours that tick off the clock and are never counted and never missed and never wasted because each moment was something, even if you can never define what it was.  In weary eyes that look back at you, spent, looking for a moment that isn't going to cost them any more because they don't have it to give.

So, too, is there a draw in simple love.  Grace.  Love, which can never be counted but is that which we should count on to carry us through.  Love, the greatest gift for those who are spent because it doesn't cost a thing.  Love is free.  And that's how it should be.

Yes, I'm perpetually poor but my life is very rich because I make a policy, if you could call it such formal things, of never making money for love.  (And never making love for money, which is another thing entirely.)  Because there's not one number that gets me any closer to anything I truly need or even want...and I would never give up this moment that counts just for a chance to count it.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The truth is that as an artist, I'd be offended if my work didn't show its age.  If you didn't wear it out. Part of quality art is how well it stands the test of time.  But a greater part is how much testing time puts it through.

Think of a Bible.  Your Bible, perhaps.  God and man agonized over every one of those words, crafting the story in just such a way, putting it out there as this incredible creation for you.  For us.  It is art; it is His story.

The greatest way we honor that written Word, that story God has given by wearing it out.  There's a certain excitement, of course, to hold a new-bound Bible in your hands or compliment a friend at church on the sharp look of the new book.  But there is something entirely different to the statement made by, as Mark Schultz would say, "a Bible cracked and faded by the years."  The kind of Bible toted around by those who have been at this faith awhile.  The kind with a wrinkled old hand gracing its cover as it rests in the pew next to its faithful friend on a Sunday morning.

The kind of Bible with pages visibly falling out, but shoved back in and closed up in the middle.  With highlighter and pen and pencil coloring and commenting on the words.  With dog-eared pages and little strips of scrap paper fashioned into bookmarks sticking out the top.  Held together by a rubber band so that none of this accoutrement falls out along the path.

A Bible that is known and loved well by its owner and worn thin by its use.  Cracked, torn, ripped, marked on, messed up.  That is how it was created to be.

He didn't create this story for you to be in awe of it.  For you to admire it, protect it, and carry it with kid gloves.  He created this story for you to get into it, for it to get into you, to mess it up as it messes you all up.  To look like you've lived it, for Christ's sake...not to house it in a museum.  To house it in your heart, this thing you hold in your hands.

That is art.

Now imagine the way that art speaks grander by your having aged it.  By your having worn it out.  

Suppose someone who did not know Christ walked through your church doors and found you in the lobby.  They asked what this church thing was all about, and you told them it was about Jesus, about God, about Love, and about this story.  Then you pulled your Bible out of your bag, took it out of its box, heard the new pages creak as you opened it to a verse - say John 3:16 (that's the one we go to, isn't it?) - and tried to explain to this story to this stranger.

The stranger could hardly believe you.  He'd look at your pristine book and think at some level, it was all for show.  You carry this book around, and it still looks like you just pulled it off the shelf?  You can flip right to the page you want, but it doesn't look like any of the pages have a lingering fingerprint on them?  The story is the same but because you've "preserved" it as's missing something.

Now pull out your wounded Bible, take off the rubber band, pick up the little pieces that inevitably fall out, and flip to that same verse - highlighted in yellow with scribbles around it in several different inks, marks made over many years.  And tell this stranger about this story.  Now, he gets it.  This story has gotten into you, and it's worthy enough that you not only carry it with you and know its contents, but you wear it out.  You mark it up and mess it up and make it yours and somehow, that glorifies the words written in those pages.

That is why the Artist is offended when His work doesn't show its age, when you don't mess it up.  Because the way you live with the art, the way you interact with it, enhances the way it was created to speak.  It stops being stagnant - a story on a page, a painting on the wall, a song in the speaker - and comes alive.  Art is living; it was meant to be lived.

I'm not saying to go and try to "wreck" art, not to try to make it looked used, not to tear a few pages in your Bible for image sake.  I'm saying live it.  Let it get wearied by the years just as you are.  Let it get worn out by the journey.  Let it live this moment and the next moment and the next moment...its story and your story.  That's what it was created for.

I'm going to tack on to the end of this post and share with you this week's creation.  Here is the VBS Tripod.  Next week, this will hold a 10' bazooka blaster that will shoot small stuffed animals and (I'm pushing for) confetti at the children who join us for a week of worship and Bible stories.  It has full directional functionality, good for aiming both higher to lower and left to right.  The legs and braces are coded by paint color for easy assembly, with the legs being "Father," "Son," and "Spirit" and the connecting braces being scripture references to the relation between the three (Romans 8:16, 1 John 4:14, and 1 Corinthians 12:3).  And I hope we wear this thing out.  That - and a million little pieces of confetti falling on the auditorium - would be to its glory.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


So I told you I've been creating this week.  And honestly, I'm almost always creating something.  (And I, please!  I'm working on it.  I want to get an "art" tab up on this page soon; I've been slacking.  But it is part of what I do, what God has put in me, and so I will share.  This particular project?  The paint is drying in the living room.)

Not everyone thinks of themselves as a create-r.  It's easy to be intimidated by the Mona Lisas, by the Ode to Joys, by the movies and the music and the photos and the paintings and the drawings and the constructions and the creations of "gifted" craftsmen whose work is all around us.  For the record, I think that's a shame.  There are things here that only you can create, that are infused into your spirit, and if you pour your love out into are a create-r.  Period.  God created you to create.

But if you haven't tapped that yet, don't worry; you have a part in this art, too: you were created to enjoy it.

You were created into the mystery of every art that is you but is not yours.  That place where you don't know the how or the why or sometimes even the who, but you wouldn't have to - creation simply takes your breath away.  For every reason that is beyond words...  It just gets in you.

And may I tell you a secret?  As a create-r, I think you ought to know that as much as you were created to enjoy was created for you to enjoy.

This is where I think we do "art" - in any of its forms - a great disservice.  It's where we fashion ourselves too rational a people to simply enjoy it and we get into this attitude of assessing art.  Breaking it down.  Analyzing it to its extremes, regardless of whether we have any chance at all of ever knowing the truth.

That art we find so intimidating - the Mona Lisa, the Ode to Joy, the statue on the corner, the sculpture in the den - wouldn't be so intimidating if you would just say it's beautiful.  If you would engage it the way the artist envisioned.  I know that if da Vinci stood in the Louvre and listened to the way we analyze his Mona Lisa, he would cringe.  We could stand there for hours talking about this "masterpiece," the elegance of the brushstrokes, the blending of the colors, the appearance of depth in what we know is a two-dimensional creation.  And da Vinci would say, "But what about the woman?"  What about her beauty?  What about the way she has just those little fine lines around her eyes - like you see in the mirror...or the way her teeth aren't all perfectly straight - like yours is a little crooked....the way her hair falls and you can't tell if she's done anything with it or if she just let it be that way?  What about the woman?  He would tell us he painted this not for us to agonize over his artistry...but for us to see the woman in beauty reflected.  And maybe see a bit of ourselves.

Rarely do we, though.  It's because, I think, we're raised with this hands-off approach to creation.  Whether it's something in the flea market, in our own living rooms, or even in our backyards, when we see something beautiful, we think it must be delicate.  And we think we have no right to touch it.  Who among us has not, as a small child, seen something with such mystery and wonder that we wanted only to reach out and experience it...only to have our mother or our father snap their fingers and say, "Uh uh uh...don't touch."?  We learn that when it's beautiful...hands off.

Hands ON.  Let art get in you, but get into art.  Get into creation.  Art is created for you to enjoy.  For you to reach out and touch.  For you to experience.  Get in there and get messy.  Play around.  Look into Mona Lisa's eyes and think about the life she must have known...not the brushstrokes it took to bring her here.  Listen to the Ode to Joy and find every burst of magnificent joy...not every change in the chord progression.  Pick up a book and throw yourself into the story...not onto the cutting floor, picking out every typo or printing error.  Come out to VBS next week and see music, story, art, food, and one insane monstrosity whose art fades into the moment and enhances but is not analyzed.  See how art serves love.

And see how Love creates art.  Watch the clouds float across the sky, the way the moth moves on the back screen door, the way the petals of the rose open amidst the thorns, the way the tree splits off at the trunk and grows up in five sections or the way this section bends toward the greatest light and that one withers in the darkness, the way the cracks in the sidewalk mark the passage of years, the million little things each second that are art but that you don't analyze.  They just get into you and beg you to touch them.

This is art. This is creation.  It isn't hands-off; it's hands-on.  Get in here and be a part of it.  You were created to enjoy it...and it was created for you to enjoy.

And when you've touched it and it's touched you, thank the Artist.  Thank the Creator who created creation, who created creatives, and who created you to enjoy it all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Creative Arts

I am a create-r.  That is, I enjoy building and creating things.  (There is only one Creator, and I'll leave the "O!" to Him.  So I am merely a create-r.)

This week, it just so happens, I've been building with pipe.  Not an elaborate plumbing system.  Not a series of tubes for something to pass through.  Something entirely different altogether.  Think more "mad scientist."  But it's for VBS, so I'm entitled a little bit of that.

Saturday night, I finally got the thing to stand up on its own.  Not held together by anything but gravity; just testing my design, which had some serious reworking in it.  Then Sunday afternoon, I got it.  This thing was standing freely, held together more securely, and adorning the majority of the living room (which leaves you to wonder if I have a small living room or a large creation.  I'm not telling.).

So I'm standing there looking at it, walking around it, making mental notes about what needs to go next.  Then there was this voice: "It works.  It's standing.  It's fairly solid.  It's functional.  Leave it."  It wasn't coming from my head; it was coming from my couch, where my mom was just ready for me to be done making a mess.  (That is creation at its process: large part mess, small part glory.)

I tried in vain to explain that function isn't enough.  Structure isn't enough.  The majority of craftsmanship - the bulk of creation - is art.  It's finding a way to mold the pieces so they aren't just held there; they fit together.  It's putting in the work to contour the edges so it's a little more seamless, so it flows a little better instead of looking all haphazard.  It's not just making something that functions - it's making something that looks like it functions.  No matter how solid the actual structure, you wouldn't lie down in a bed frame that looked like it was about to collapse.  Wouldn't set your vase on a table that looked even a little rickety, even if it never wobbled.  Appearance matters.  That's the art of it.

If you need more proof, just look around you.  Look at the way God has painted the sky.  Look at the intricacies in a blade of grass, the delicacy in the petals of a flower.  Look at the beautiful wings on a butterfly that are both structure and excessive beauty.  Can you imagine a sky with clouds that weren't at least a little fluffy?  Even a storm cloud looks soft and graceful.  Can you imagine the sun giving off light in any other color, the way it would tint everything some other shade and wreck the light?  Would you trust in a ground that hadn't been smoothed out, that was just haphazard piles of rock here and there, as far as the depths could take it?  Would a rainbow have the same splendor if it sprawled out like the northern lights...or is there something to the art of its curve?  And what if those northern lights weren't all-consuming; what if they streaked across the sky like a rainbow?  They would lose their glory.

Our God - our Creator - who puts the O! in creation knew that structure was only a small part of it.  This world could work without its beauty.  It could be functional and dull and grey and a little dangerous-looking.  It could have the same foundation, the same support structure, the same everything without the splendor of it.  But it wouldn't have the same love.  His love - His craftsmanship - is not in having created something that works.  His love - His craftsmanship - is in having created something breathtaking.  Having taken the time to mold the pieces so that they aren't just standing here; they fit together.  Having contoured the edges to make things a little more seamless, to make this place flow a little better.  Having made it a point to round out the clouds...because they wouldn't be the same if they weren't just that fluffy.  Having delicately painted the wings of the butterfly for the simple grace of beauty.

Art is grace.  It is beauty.  It is love.  And it is craftsmanship at its finest.

In love, art is all the grander.  Think of God's greatest grace.  His utmost beauty.  His full love.  His Son - nailed to a cross.  There is the structure and the form of a sacrifice that works in a million different ways.  There were thousands of other options for the atoning death of a sinless Son.  But God chose this - because it was the art of the thing.  It was the art of the garden, of a final prayer in the thicket of betrayal.  It was the art of a march to Calvary, a beam weighing down on the man it would soon hold up.  It was the art of a crown of thorns and the little trickles of blood dripping down a dirty face.  It was the art of a body torn open, life pouring out while death drew in.  The art of an earthquake.  Of darkness.  Of curtains tearing and rocks cracking and tears falling.  It was the art of an empty tomb...

He didn't need any of that.  All He needed was the redemption; it was to honor Creation that He laid it out in art.  Because God understands that structure isn't enough.  Function doesn't cut it.  The best of craftsmanship - and the bulk of Creation - is art.  It's carving out His story and etching ours so they aren't just happening; they fit together.  It is art.  It is grace.  It is beauty.  And it is love.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I enjoy building things.  Creating them in my head, working out the kinks, putting my hands to it, and bringing something to life.  It is one facet of my love, to be able to build something beautiful.  Especially when I'm blessed to be able to give it away.

There's not really one medium over another that I prefer; it depends on my mood, but I do seem to do a great deal of things with wood.  And when I'm working these things out in my head, then standing in the hardware aisle looking for just the right bit of metal, I'm the kind of craftsman whose first instinct is for nails.  

Nails are great.  They aren't right for every project, and it's important to know the difference, but when it doesn't much matter, I will choose a nail over a screw.

Inevitably, then, as I'm working through a project or once I've completed something and start bringing it into more public air, there's always someone (and usually a certain someone) who kind of condescendingly questions - "I don't know why you didn't use screws."

Screws are new-fangled.  They are the updated nail technology.  Today, we use a lot of screws where we might have once used nails, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that.  But this adherence people have to the superiority of screws...I just don't get it.  Maybe a screw is a little tighter bond, but it's the craftsmanship of the thing.  You put in a few screws, and any old fool can take it apart at his whim.  But you put in some nails...and it's not so easy to pull into pieces.

Then my mind went here, because in this case, this particular screw enthusiast also happened to be someone not "in the faith," as we might call it.  She may be one who is exploring and questioning and sort-of seeking Jesus, but not yet living as one who truly knows Him.

So my mind went here:

Maybe there's so much gusto for screws these days because that's our universal experience.  As people living in this world, we understand "screwed."  

We understand how the world can sometimes stick it to us, how it drives something into us and wraps our hearts all around it in grooves, and we're not free to just back out and go another way.  We're tied somehow to this circumstance because of the way it's drilled itself into us.  Oh yeah, we know screwed.

We know fighting a battle you can't win.  Being in a place you can't just pull out of.  We know the work it takes to unwrap a painful circumstance from your heart.  To go through the slow steps of having to take it all apart one small step at a time.  Once this life gets you, it's hard to unwind yourself. We're all screwed, which may be why we're all a little screwy and so tightly wound.

Two thousand years ago, there was another Man who knew screwed.  The King of the Jews, He knew "royally screwed."  Life, and Romans, cornered Him in a garden He couldn't back out of.  They whipped grooves into His back.  He was tightly pinned here, bonded to this circumstance, by both law and love.  He walked a sinless, undeserved road to Calvary.

Then He chose the nails.

Because it's the craftsmanship of the thing.

So to all of you screw enthusiasts out there, I get it.  We know the power of screwed, and why wouldn't we want that for our creations?  But there is greater power in the nails.  There is love.

What would life look like if the next time you felt screwed, you, too, chose the nails?  What if in the face of affliction, you choose to choose love?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Out Loud (and Thank You)

This has been a tough week.  And today isn't really magically different just because it's today and yesterday was yesterday.  But it's starting to get better.

The words I've penned in this place over the past six days have been some of my most agonized.  They have not come easy.  Because I haven't been trying to say anything poignant, to put any grief into beautiful language, or expound some grand mysterious truth.  I've just been looking for the words to do some minuscule measure of justice to the pain in my heart.

So I have fumbled around.  I have tripped over my own words, fallen over my broken heart, and made liberal use of my backspace key and long afternoons, trying to find something more to put to these days than stinging pain of loss.  Trying..not to put myself out there but to put grief out there.  Trying...not to be an expert, but to be an example.  

These past six days, I've just been grieving out loud.  Maybe today, I still am.

Grieving out loud because I haven't known what else to do with myself.  Out loud because I don't believe in hiding.  Out loud because we need to see more of this in each other - we need to live with authenticity because that's how we touch each other's lives.

Out loud because grief demands it.  If there is one universal truth about grief, it is this: grief cries out for community.  It cries out to not feel any more alone than it has to, any more left behind our loss already leaves us.  When we're able to pull around each other the way we have in this past week, we answer something in each other.  We love somehow in grief.

This love gives us a soft place to land, a place where we're not hiding behind being strong.  Where we're not pushing through our days with clinched teeth because life goes on and we have to.  Where we're not pretending this doesn't matter.  We're just loving...because we're all here.  And I think following the heart of grief and grieving out loud gives us permission to let it be.  To let it come.  To invite love.

A few weeks ago when my dog had her first seizure, I wrote to you that I am a rock in a crisis, that I am the person you want to have around because I'm steady.  These past six days...I haven't wanted to be a rock.  I could have; God has given me that.  But that's not what these days have called for.  These days have called for authenticity.  For vulnerability.  For surrender.  And for a willingness to embrace a holy moment - that is, the intertwining of grief and love, of loss and life, of good and God.

And you, have been gracious to let me do it.  You have been gracious to give me this place  to put grief out there.

In these days and in this place, there has been love.  I have been both humbled and honored by the way my staggering around has managed to touch the hearts of those around me - not for my grief, but for our grief.  For our lostness and our fumbling and our numbness.  But I have been more humbled and honored by the way you have chosen to touch my heart.  By the way you have shared your hearts, told your stories, drawn into the moment and into the grief and agreed to stand here.  Agreed to be a part of God's people grieving out loud.

I don't think we need to be afraid or ashamed of that.  I know I'm not.  I'm not ashamed to grieve.  I'm not ashamed to admit or to show how hard I've grieved.  I'm not ashamed that in my own church sanctuary (auditorium) yesterday, tears rolled down my face and my body shook so bad I could hardly stand to tell a story in honor of my brother Harold.  I'm not ashamed of my grief.  Because I'm not ashamed of my love.

Love...knowing love...and the Father of Love give me permission not only to grieve out loud, but to live out loud, as well. me the confidence to do it. me the grace to live a little sloppy when I need to because this world - as these six days (and countless moments)  have shown us - is just a mess sometimes.

There's not one word in this past week that I have written for you.  I have been blown away by how powerful these piddly words have been, what an impact they could have.  And I'm thankful to God for the patience to pen them.  But these have been my words for a broken heart.  They have been painstakingly labored over for the sole purpose of finding a deeper story than pain.  They have been written for grief.  In a greater sense, they have been written for love.

But these next words, I write to each of you: Thank you.  Thank you for giving me these six days.  Thank you for responding to my heart with your hearts.  Thank you for not losing sight of the stories of grief or of love.  Thank you for loving me well.  And thank you for loving (and grieving) Harold with me.  With us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Today, we laid our brother Harold to rest with a beautiful celebration of his life.

In the first few moments, your eyes play tricks on you.  You're almost certain you see the man breathing.  A little flinch in his eyes, maybe.  A twitch of his hands.  Your heart is ready to believe that the universe realizes its terrible mistake or that everyone's in on some grand practical joke and at any moment, he's going to sit straight up and ask you what you're all so bothered about.

But in a day like today, you realize that body isn't moving, but the man is very much alive.  That room  was filled to overflowing with Harold. It was a room filled with family, friends, and strangers.  A room to which you've all been drawn by your love for this man, but perhaps more than that, you've been drawn by having been loved by him.

We sat there this morning in true Harold fashion - his life speaking while we spoke the words for him. Sharing stories about this moment with him or that moment with him, talking about his skydiving trip or the way he loved to craft with his hands.  How he preferred to store an extension cord or the bizarrely odd hours he kept and called on friends.  All swirling in the midst of these lives who know a little more Jesus because we've known a little more Harold.

We worshiped with some beautiful music, and in times of grief, it's hard to think worship could be so enticing, so inviting, so....apt.  And yet, we were all drawn in by it.  By the words of tasting heaven, of hearing God's voice, of meeting Jesus.  Knowing it is well.

Pondering what our brother is finding in eternity.  Knowing he's stoked to find it all finally before his eyes, remembering the absolute assurance he had that such a place exists and that such a God would be calling him there.  Knowing he's probably still looking for someone to tell all about it...even though they likely already know.

And thinking about his amen.  About how for so many years, Harold sat in the second row (but nobody ever sat in front of him) shouting out an Amen for a song, a prayer, or a speaker, unashamed to do so. That amen was Harold's gift to those using their gifts in the service; hearing that simple word put things in perspective.  It encourages and energizes and somehow affirms what you're doing up there with what God has given you.  Harold's amen...

That amen was Harold's gift to his congregation, too.  To those of us who have a propensity to sometimes let our minds wander, to be thinking about the things that aren't what worship is about, to be almost deaf to the word of God in the worries of our world or whatever we'd bring in with us on Sunday mornings.  Sitting in that purple chair, when you heard Harold's amen, you woke up a little bit. You started paying a little more attention.  Listening a little harder.  Looking for what God was doing, what your heart was about to hear.  Because you were sure you were about to hear seemed inevitable; you heard the amen.  And that amen in itself was so authentic, so un-self-conscious, so freely given and gut-reactive that as soon as you heard it, you sensed that God was there.  Something in your heart told you He was there.  And you just looked up and started thirsting for Him.  Because you knew He was close.

We need a few more amens like that in our world.  Do you think between you and I, we could give them?

Today was a bittersweet day.  Beautiful.  Holy.  Tinged with grief.  Saturated with love.

Thank you to Harold's family - to his wife, his children, his brothers - for sharing today with us.    We were honored to share today with you.  Thank you to Harold's extended family - his brothers and sisters by love - for sharing your stories with us.  We were grateful for the chance to share ours, too.

And thank you to Harold's Father - beloved Jesus, indescribable God - for sharing Harold with us.  We have been blessed to know him.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Choose Love

Grief is love.  And love?  Well, sometimes, it's a little bit of grief.

And a lot of grace.

In tough times, and in dramatic soap opera fashion, it's easy to say we will never love again.  In the grips of heartache, it's easy to cry out, "Love?  What is love?  Where is love in a time like this?"

Love in a time like this is...barely on our radar.  It doesn't seem appropriate to answer loss with love.  It doesn't seem honorable.  It seems oblivious, like we don't know what's going on or can't see what's happening here.  It seems arrogant, like we aren't touched by our loss.  It seems like a betrayal, like how could we go on living, let alone loving, when there's so much pain.

In teary eyes and tortured heart, love is a whisper drowned out by the screams of pain, anger, confusion, loneliness, demandingness, and exhaustion. It's easier to hurt, yell, wander, retreat, fight, or lie down than it is to love.

Love, on its surface, doesn't make much sense here.

Our wounded hearts can drag us down a ragged road if we let them, because we're not a people prone to love.  Not in the tough moments.  We're just not.  (We should be.  We're not.)  But that's why we have to choose love.  Because if we don't, we'll never get there.  We have to choose love and bring our hearts on the journey.

Choosing love is choosing the whisper.  It is quieting our instinct that is to scream and searching for something better.

Choosing love is choosing to stand.  It seems proud that love would choose to stand, but love is not proud.  It's not concerned with appearances.  Love stands, but acknowledges that if I stumble, then I stumble.  If I fall, I fall.  Love reclaims this moment and says, "This is a moment...and this is a life...that refuses to bend.  That refuses to us pain as a crutch.  That will not find some steadiness or stability in misery.  That will always choose love."

Love does not defy circumstance.  Love embraces it.  It doesn't refuse to be touched by heartache; it refuses to be taken hostage.  Love chooses to be transformed...on its own terms.  Love chooses the task of weaving loss into life, of stitching together the torn places with the threads of what once was and will never be (in the same way) again.  Love chooses to culture something deeper in the void.

That is why we choose love. 

It isn't easy.  Choosing love is painful.  It is heartache.  We know this pain is choosing love is an invitation to the pain.

This is where grace comes in.  Grace to let ourselves stumble here and there.  Grace to fall.  Grace to let our tears streak our faces.  Grace to forgive ourselves if our mascara runs or if one box of tissues just isn't enough.  Grace to feel every bit of our pain, every bit of our loss, and not be embarrassed by being people affected.  People who feel.  People who grieve.

People who love.

People whose present heartache is caused solely by our willingness to have loved in the first place.  And people who choose love again in the face of grief because worth every bit of it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

On Grief and Love

At times like this, everyone (myself included) is asking the same question: how do we grieve?  How do we appropriately weave loss into our lives?

It's not easy.

Just as we often don't know what to say to the family, to the loved ones, to those left standing in these times, we don't often know what to say to ourselves, either.  There are books, studies, 'experts' on the subject, words that attempt to tell you what grief is, what it feels like, why the pain is so great, and how to 'overcome' it.  Or for those less brazen, how to 'work through' grief.

That's all honky.  Bull-honky.  I will not claim to know any more about grief than the next person.  I don't.  But what I'm finding in these past few days is working me through it (notice the difference.  I'm not working through it; grief is working through me).  I wanted to share some of the thoughts I have been having in the hopes that it might help you in some way.

Remember that grief is rooted in love.  It is love.  You cannot be stricken by the loss of something you never allowed to strike a chord in you in the first place.  We grieve because we gave up a place in our hearts to something else, and that something else is now passed on.  What are we to do with the heart that we'd given away?

Loss rips a little piece of love out of us.  It has to.  That is grief by its very nature.  With our loss goes a little piece of our very heart, and as it rips out of us, it leaves a loss-shaped hole that nothing else is going to fill.  There will never be another love just like that.

That piece of us is never coming back.  There is a great deal to mourn as we see what we can never be again - not the two of us.  It can't be any more.  The memories we were going to make together, the adventures we were going to take, the journey we were going to walk, the hours we were going to talk...the piece of us that we'd given to that, to building that, is gone.  Because the one is gone, so is the tomorrow of the two.  And we feel that grief in the void.  In the piece of our heart that once bore the image of a love shared that is now nothing.  In this case, the Harold-shaped piece of our love is gone, and our hearts feel that hole.  It hurts.

Some may never figure out how to fill that void, what to do with the empty space where love used to live.  It becomes a portal into our deeper heart if we just leave it, a place where the smallest chips of the world sneak in and penetrate our core.  Some may try to shove another love in that place, something that never fits because it's not the right shape.  Some may let the void scab over and they, in turn, grow crusty.  Some reach out and take their heart back, squeezing it into the empty space in an attempt at wholeness.  Some preserve the object of loss and carry it around with them so that it fills that hole with the shape of the loved one.  But this is a burden, for though the shape is there, the love is not.  It becomes a heavy weight to try to live for the two of you for the sake of the one piece of your heart ripped away.  These are, I think, the standard 'phases' of grief that all of those experts will try to sell you on even while admitting not everyone will go through them in any particular order or predictably at all.  We just don't know a lot about grief; we only know how people react, and some people will react this way.

This isn't grief.  True grief acknowledges the void and doesn't feel a need to fill it right away.  It honors the place in our hearts we've given away by admitting it hurts, by admitting it feels empty, by admitting that the stinging pain makes us a little numb.  It admits that it doesn't know what to do with that place any more and waits for love to answer.  Knowing that love will.  For grief - honest-to-God, honoring grief - is guided by love.  Not by pity.  Not by misery.  Not by hopelessness.  Not by depression.  Grief is guided by love.

Grief is love working its way through us, weaving a new patchwork into our story.  Grief is our process of taking the love that was the two of us and honoring the contribution of both by finding a way to fill our void with a new kind of love.  It is taking a little bit of the love we gave away and sewing it back into our hearts with a thread of the love given to us by the one now gone.  This new love is true to our heart and backed by the inspiration of having known love.  It is a place inside us that takes to give, that draws on the love we knew in order to give a greater love.

This is how our loss - our loss of love woven into a new love - shapes us moving forward.  And it's important to find, with each loss, what that looks like for you.  That's why there's no formula for grief; it's always different.  Every love is different, so every loss is different, so every grief is different, and every new love is going to be different.  That's the miracle of how God has put us in each others' stories, in each others' hearts.  It's beautiful.

The thing to remember in tough times, in pain and in loss, is to be fully honest with it.  Don't rush to answers.  Don't listen to 'experts.'  Don't think there's a right way and a wrong way.  Grief isn't some dense forest we're supposed to bushwhack our way through, cut a path across, and walk through to greener pastures.  Grief is love.  And it's going to look different for each of us.  

The other thing to remember in times such as these is to be honest with yourself.  We should never abandon who we are to meet grief somewhere; even our loved one would never want that.  We should let grief leave us open to reckless abandon as it shapes and forms us, as it works its way through us guided by love.  Look for the way to honor your loss without losing yourself; in that, you will honor the both of you.

And the most important thing to remember in grief is to be honest with your God.  Tell Him you feel empty.  Tell Him it stings.  Tell Him, "Lord, I wasn't done with that Harold yet."  Tell Him you're're waiting to see how He's going to weave love together from a love that was and will never be (in the same way) again into a love that so far wasn't but now will be in a way that treasures what was, honors what is, and hopes for all that is to come.  Tell God you're're waiting to see how Love answers grief.  Tell God you're're just waiting...

I don't know how to do grief.  My heart, like so many, just hurts.  But I know how to do love.  And somewhere in love, my heart finds the answer I think my grief is looking for.

Friday, June 8, 2012

for Harold

I had planned all week to write about this today, and it seems only appropriate that I go through with that.  Though of course, it now has a little different turn to it.

This past Monday, I spent about three hours in Harold's barn learning to change out the brakes on my car.  Harold has been a member of my church longer than I have, a former elder, and precisely the man who only needs a first name.  Everybody knows Harold.  He was the kind of man whose handshake turned into a conversation, whose friendship turned into brotherhood, and whose every thought was worthy of a mini-sermon (and often became one).

As we wrapped up working on the brakes, I thanked Harold again and again.  And he kept telling me it was no problem at all, that he was glad to do it, because "So often, those mechanics try to rip you off."  It was true.  A mechanic would have charged more than $200 for what Harold and I accomplished for $15.

But you know Harold wasn't just talking about mechanics and brakes.  He might have thought he was, but when you look at Harold's life, you see that he was all about getting involved, getting in there, doing it himself, getting his hands dirty - because he didn't want this world to rip him off.  And he didn't want to rip off this world.

Harold knew that when you learn to do for yourself, when you put your hands to work, when you set about doing the things you're capable of here - the world doesn't get a chance to rip you off.  You take control of your own life, your own opportunities, your own service.  You take hold of the heart God has put in you.  You don't miss out on things, not even on a single moment, because you decide that each moment matters and you determine to make the most of it.

Like a mechanic, the world wants to say, hey, you leave your life with me for a bit and I'll fix it all up for you.  Behind the garage door, you don't know what they're doing, what quality of parts they are using, what care they are taking or not taking with your personal property.  But you learn to fix those brakes yourself, and you decide - you decide what every step is.  You decide what defines a quality part.  You decide what kind of care to take of your person.  You know exactly what's going on because you're in it, and you get to troubleshoot and you get to maintain and you get to direct and control what's going on around it.  See, Harold knew you live your own life, and you don't hand it over to anyone else, even if they claim to be an expert on living.

Harold was the real expert on living.  One minute with Harold inspired you to be fully engaged in your own life, to take back your every moment, to commit to quality and to living life yourself - doing the things you want to do, valuing the things you want to value, being the things you want to be, living as you would want to live.  Even when it doesn't fit another standard.  Even when it doesn't seem to make sense.

One minute with Harold inspired you to this.  And one minute with Harold strengthened you to do it.  Because looking at Harold, you couldn't help but see what it meant to be fully sold-out to everything God made in you.  Harold was that.  If he was nothing else, he was sold-out and just lived being as God created him.  There's a whole congregation of people who have no church but have one preacher - Harold - who would tell you what an honor it would be to live one tiny bit of the way Harold lives.  And Harold would look at you and shrug that off and tell you not to live like him, but to live like you.  To live fully and wholly what God put in you.

Harold knew that living this way, the world couldn't rip him off.  Nobody was going to tell him he couldn't do something he wanted to do, couldn't have something he wanted to have, couldn't love someone the way he loved.  But Harold also knew that living this way, he would never rip off the world.  Everyone who got one bit of Harold got all of him.  God got all of him.

I planned on writing today about working with Harold this past Monday.  About this - about living your own life so you know you're not getting ripped off.  Because it's one of many things I learned from Harold.  (There are many, many more I treasure in my heart.)  And I hope that in some way, choosing to go ahead with this piece brings a little more honor to what is a bittersweet day for many of us.

Harold passed away this morning.  Unexpectedly.  The email from our pastor says that while packing for a trip, Harold accidentally unplugged himself from his heart pump's power source.  It is a heartbreaking time for so many of us, for the handful that is by blood Harold's family and the countless others who are his family by love.

I am so thankful to God for this man named Harold, who I have come to know in incredible new ways over the past several months.  Whether we were working on my mangled lugnut in his barn or he was calling my house at 10 o'clock at night to tell me how impressed he was with my book.  Or whether, as had become custom, in the lobby at church, we made it a point to see each other just to say hi.  And he made it a point to remind me what an "incredible young woman" God has made me out to be.  I'm thankful for his constant encouragement and for the way he always made it personal.  I'm thankful for his example of what it means to be sold-out to God and how to live as one marked by God - forever patient, indiscriminately loving, humble, wise, honest, confident.  Harold lived loved, and by his example, I pray we all find a way to live that.  However that looks for us.

And I am thankful for God, who brings what little comfort there is to this morning and the days to come.  Because we know Harold finally met His Lord face-to-face today....and the Lord finally met Harold.  I'd like to think that's an honor for them both.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


There's a great deal that many of us could be doing, but we're afraid to give it a go because we don't feel like we have enough to work with.


We're familiar with the concept of shoestring as it relates to our budgets.  We talk about having shoestring finances, meaning we're running thin.  We've got little at our disposal.  And personally, I'll admit - I know a thing or two about that.  I'm trying to pay my way through the world with what most authors make, which is "not a salary."  I get shoestrings.

But it doesn't have to be money.  We can be living off a shoestring connectedness, not feeling like we have enough of a place to do anything.  We can be living off a shoestring talent, not feeling like what we do makes much of an impact at all.  We can be living off a shoestring faith, not sure we have enough belief.

The history of God's people is Israel on a shoestring.  There's not one example in all His Word of someone who thought they had enough, did enough, knew enough, or were enough.  David didn't stand up and cheer "It's about time!" when God anointed him king; he said, "me?  I'm just a shepherd."  I have a shoestring profession.

God told Abraham he would be the father of many nations, and Abraham was looking at his fragile old body and saying, "Me?"  I have a shoestring sperm pool.

Moses wasn't ready to speak for God's people, but God told him to head to Pharaoh's.  "Me?"  I have a shoestring courage.

God's people have always been shoestring people, people of limited means in one way or another.  Limited talent, influence, finances, faith, courage, graciousness.  But they have one thing in common: not a one of them would believe in a shoestring God.

God was enough.  Each of the men and women in God's story knew that if God was sending them, they could do it.  With God behind them, they had enough.  He was their talent, their influence, their provision, their faith, their courage, their grace.  They hesitated about themselves, and sometimes they hesitated about God, but they refused to rest on a shoestring God; they risked to believe He was bigger than that.

And He always proved them right.

That's how we get a people as numerous as the stars.  That's how we get not only a king, but a writer and inspiration for the ages.  That's how we get a new journey to undertake.  That's how we get a Messiah - because we know there was a hitch of hesitation even in Jesus, a moment when He thought maybe He wasn't enough.  That's how we get freedom.  That's how we get Love.

That's how we get a story about a widow who knows a little about a shoestring but gave it all anyway - two whole coins worth - as a story about building the kingdom.

You see, when you know God stands behind you, when you believe He makes up for all you lack, when you trust that He's going to use you no matter how piddly you may feel, you look at your shoestring - whatever it is - and you know there's only one thing to do with it:

Lace it in your sneakers and go.

Where is God calling you to go that you don't feel adequate to follow?  What if you laced up that shoestring and took off toward purpose, letting Him speak for your empty spaces?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Yesterday, I introduced the difference between apostles and disciples to set us up for this - because it's absolutely critical for our churches to understand the difference if we want to meet a seeking world.  The world wants to know Jesus.  They want to know how He talked, how He walked, what He looked like when there was something dancing behind His eyes, what His hands felt like, what the hillside felt like when He sat down to speak, what it was like to watch Him pick up a child - your child - and put that kid on His knee.  The world wants a real experience of Jesus.  They want a disciple's story.

Which is why we have to make our church more than apostlecaries.

Yes, I just made up that word.  Actually, it hit me on Sunday morning during a discipleship sermon, and I got a little giggly there in the seat.  But it's true - too many of our churches have become just that.  Apostlecaries.  This word comes from two - apostle, of course, which is someone who teaches or talks about Jesus but conventionally did not or does not walk with Him.  And apothecary, the old-timey word for a pharmacy.  Put them together and you see where our churches are - places trying to heal the infirmities of the world by talking about Jesus.

Certainly, it seems like the thing to do.  And it makes us feel like we're offering something good, like we're honoring God by presenting His word, His message, His mission to our communities.  The people seeking, walking in our doors, don't know a great deal about this Jesus most of the time, and it's our job to start telling His story, to introduce them to the things we've found, to talk about what it means to know Jesus.  They need the back-story, we think.  It's good that we tell them where this comes from.

But that's not Jesus.  And honestly, it's not really what they're looking for.  They just want to meet the man, not pass a quiz.

Jesus never started His sermons with an introduction.  "Hi, my name is Jesus.  I'm the son of Mary and the half-son of Joseph.  We live in Nazareth, and I have some experience as a carpenter, but then I really felt like this traveling and teaching thing was what I was really supposed to be doing.  I enjoy good fish and good wine.  A little bread every now and then isn't too bad.  These are my friends - Levi, Simon, John, James, Bartholomew..."

No, He got down to the heart of the matter.  "Welcome, friends.  This is Love...."

Jesus knew it didn't matter if people knew His whole story right away.  He knew it didn't change what He could teach them in the moment.  He knew that knowing where He came from wasn't going to answer any of their questions.  He had a word for them, and He just started talking.  They could ask questions later, and many of them did.  But the moment for Jesus was now.  The moment to hear Him was now.  His ministry was based on now, on people walking up and settling in and sitting there and just hearing Him.

That's still how it needs to work.  Our churches need to be places where people walk in our doors and encounter Jesus.  Not a lesson about Him.  Not a poignant sermon about His word.  They need to walk in and see Him.  They need to settle into our seats, wherever they are comfortable, and listen.  And hear.  Something more than our take.  Something more than our story.  We need to be a place where Jesus is speaking and we are all students at His feet.  Where He's speaking for Himself and anyone coming in those doors is going to meet Him.  Hear Him.  Know Him.

When Jesus speaks, He's not talking about Himself.  He's not rambling on about facts and history and formula.  He's rooted in love, and He's speaking what the heart needs to hear.  He's answering the immediate questions of the hearts gathered around Him, talking straight to the core of life as we know it, to our seeking, to our wondering and our wandering.  He's answering...and He's inviting.  He's offering us a chance to hear what we need to hear and to make a choice to hear more, to go further, to take a new step, to embrace this Man that stands before us.  We can ask questions later.

That's where our churches come in.  That's where we come in.  Those of us who know His story, those of us who have our story woven into His.  Those of us that know where He came from and what He means.  When people walk in our doors, they need to meet Jesus first.  The back-story, the history, the lessons and sermons and doctrine can wait.  We need to make sure it's Jesus they find.  Then, when they have questions, we're there to help fill in the blanks.

To start a journey.  To give a history.  To encourage and strengthen and guide and support and love.  Mostly, to love.  But to stand beside each other and journey Jesus together.

It goes back to apostleship versus discipleship - our job is not to be the professors, it's not to teach our communities a good story about a good God.  Our job is to follow Him, to make a place for Him within our walls and without, to give ourselves to journeying with Him and create a spectacle - something our communities can't take their eyes off of and dare to inch closer to.  Then when they get here, we have to, in a hushed whisper, make sure they're listening to the right Man.  Put the focus back on Him.  And when He's ready to move, we go and take our new friends with us, answering questions along the trail but always, always following Jesus.

Into discipleship.  Away from our apostlecaries.  Because talking about Him, we're not really healing anything.  Our world needs to hear from Jesus.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apostles v Disciples

Peter was a disciple; Paul was an apostle.  Peter became an apostle, later, but we remember him as a disciple.  John was a disciple.  John Mark was an apostle.  Timothy was an apostle.

As much as we love Paul, John Mark, Timothy, and many others, we're not a culture looking for apostleship.  Our books, our sermons, our small groups, our studies are about one thing: discipleship.  Always disciples.  Always striving to be disciples, to learn what it is to be a disciple.  Then the lingering questions of all the good that men like Paul did, all the beautiful words they've written, all the hearts they've touched, and we want to do that, too.  Somewhere, our line blurs between apostles and disciples until we're buried in kind of a mix of both that is sadly, somehow, neither.

Disciple sounds better, doesn't it?  I mean, nobody wants to be an apostle fo Jesus.  It doesn't have the same ring to it.  And I've never heard a sermon on how to be a better apostle.

No, we're craving discipleship.  Yet content in our confusion to settle for the lives of apostles.

Before we go further, here's the difference: an apostle is one who teaches about Jesus, as Paul and Timothy and John Mark and many others traveled throughout the New Testament speaking about Jesus.  A disciple, on the other hand, is one that has walked with Him.  That's why Matthew, John, Judas, Bartholomew get the distinction "disciple."  They were there; they walked with Him.

That's why we want to be disciples, and rightfully so.  That's why our churches focus on fostering discipleship - we want to be, and need to be, more than people who know about Jesus.  We want to be, and need to be, people who walk with Him.

It lends an authenticity when we turn around and talk about Him.  It's no longer a great story we heard somewhere, pieces we picked up here and there in the ladies' room or the grocery store or the park.  (Sidebar: a couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the Wal-Mart and passed two older ladies who had stopped to chat.  I walked by just slowly enough to hear "Yes, but you know what?  He's coming back."  "Oh, I know.  He is coming back."  "Yes He is and we just have to..."  I was unaware people still talked like this.)  Anyway, when we venture into discipleship, what we're doing is interjecting ourselves into the story.  We're insisting that we be there.  That we touch His hands and know what that feels like.  That we hear His voice and could pick Him out of a crowd.  That we know what He's like in the way that only actually meeting the Man and daring to hang around Him for a bit can teach us.

Yet it's fairly simple to live more like a Paul, more like an apostle.  Talking, teaching, about a Jesus we sort of kind of one time met but not really in the flesh, in some kind of other way that we knew and understood but would be kind of difficult and crazy to explain, and then we started reading about Him and found out all this intriguing kind of stuff about love and sacrifice, promise and heaven, and so on.  I'm not saying there's not a place for a Paul, but given the choice - apostleship just lacks something.  

It's why we don't preach on becoming an apostle.  Nobody wants to be an apostle.

We want to be, and need to be, disciples.  That tells God's story in a different way.

It doesn't seem as efficient.  It's not like gathering a small group and teaching everyone at once.  Discipleship is quieter, a little slower.  The men and women that gathered around Jesus didn't come all at once; they built slowly.  From the rumors of apostles' stories - people who had encountered Jesus but hadn't spent much more than a few minutes with Him.  From the criticism of the Pharisees, who directed the religious community and had a lot to say about this Man.  But most importantly, from the spectacle of the disciples.

It had to have been a spectacle.  Like the paparazzi following a Justin Bieber around.  All of these people, willing to give everything just to walk with this Jesus, just to hear Him and know His voice, to touch Him and feel His hands, to wash His feet and mend His tunic and pour Him a glass of water.  One Man, spouting the kinds of truth Jesus spoke, is powerful.  But a posse - a band of brothers going everywhere together, rolling into towns on the hillside as one - that's a whole different statement.  They weren't trying to be a spectacle; they were doing what their hearts inspired them to do.  It just sort of became something to look at.  People pay attention when they see a group that can't be disbanded, that has no interest in leaving anytime soon, that hasn't a thought to giving up and going another way because they believe in something in the middle so strongly.

That, in turn, changes our apostleship.  That is, it changes the way we talk about Him.  When the world notices a discipleship that has no heart but to walk with Jesus, they start asking questions.  Because our world wants to know.  Not about Jesus; but Jesus Himself.  What does He sound like?  What is it like to be so close you can hear His voice?  How cool is it when you get to shake hands with Him?  Or a holy kiss?  How big are His sandals?  (Why do we always want to know the weirdest stuff about people?  Honestly.)  Can you really see Heaven looking in His eyes?  They want to know everything about Him, questions they don't want us to answer by rumor or by story removed, but by personal experience.

That's why our apostleship is sometimes so difficult, why it seems our best words about Jesus fall on deaf ears.  Because it's not built on a foundation of discipleship.  We are too often content to fall back on a story of a sort of almost God-Man we kind of met somewhere without really meeting Him but we know He changed our lives, and we've read more good things about Him and...there's just something missing.

It's the authenticity of discipleship.  Of our being a people who don't just talk about Jesus; we walk with Him. We know Him intimately because we're there.  We insist on being there.  That's why we strive to be disciples.  We want to be there.

A bunch of us choosing discipleship over apostleship?  Choosing walking with Him over shouting His name to a world half-listening?  Yeah, that might make a spectacle.  We wouldn't mean to, but it would.  People would be watching...and wanting to know everything about Him.

Are you striving for discipleship or have you been content to be an apostle?  How could it change the way you're living to find Jesus and join Him on the journey instead of being content with a half-image of a God you almost sort of met one day but might never quite put accurate words on?