Friday, September 28, 2012

Smells Like Holy Spirit

Church smells funky.  But I think it's supposed to.

I grew up heathen, which is a sect of atheism for those of you playing along at home.  I was pagan until preschool, then again when kindergarten started.  Though we weren't a church-going family, each of us kids were enrolled in Lutheran preschool on the south side of town and spent one or two summers at the same Lutheran Vacation Bible School, which in those days consisted of getting together for a little bit each day and coloring pictures of the nativity while learning the words to "Jesus Loves Me."  (This I know.  For the Bible tells me so, which is not a valid logical justification for anything.  Which is beside the point.)

What I knew about that Lutheran preschool - the church, really - and what I remember all these years later are the cockroaches, the too-holy-to-touch room called a sanctuary, and the smell.

It was funky.

Today, I might call it a mix of age and must and mold.

I'm not Lutheran any more.  (I never was.  One of my Lutheran friends, though, would probably make the joke here that, "I'm not Lutheran any more.  I repented, and God made me a Methodist."  I'm not a Methodist, either, but I do love denominational humor.)  I never really was.  Lutheran, that is.  Today, I'm in a new church that I found a little over 12 years ago when a cute young classmate dragged me there to work on school projects.

Twelve years ago, that church smelled funky.  The same mix of age and must and mold.  That same waft of lingering in my nose.

I could never figure it out.  What makes church stink?  I'd visited a few others over the years, and I'm telling you - they all smell like that.

But I've been at this one twelve years, and we have a new auditorium and foyer area that is about 12 or 13 years old, so it shouldn't smell like age, even though it did even when it was new.  Maybe because I was new.  As time went on, the smell kind of dissipated and I thought we must be getting better at air-freshening technology.  I think, though, I just got used to it.

Because you see, I got in this habit of just going to church.  Showing up.  Sitting in my purple chair.  Standing.  Singing.  Standing.  Praying.  Sitting.  Listening.  Hugging.  Leaving.  For the past several years, due to circumstances in my own life, I hadn't been doing a whole lot there but consuming.  Attending.  Putting in my time.  And not bothering to smell the rosary, as it were.  (We don't have a rosary.)  I didn't even notice when the smell went away.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to serve my church, as I'm getting back in the habit of doing as God has made me able once more in this season of my life.  I showed up early and spent four and a half hours of labor getting our building ready for National Back to Church Sunday.  (Did you participate?  I'd love to hear stories from your congregation about September 16.)  Somewhere around hour two, the place started to stink again.

It started to smell funky.

At first, I thought it must be because I was hugging a toilet with my face locked between the tank, the floor, and the wall.  But I started to think it wasn't the water; church is supposed to smell like that.

I like the idea that when we walk into our churches, that smell hits our nose.  I like that we're suddenly fully aware that where we are is somewhere other.  Because in all my years, even living on top of a musty old basement that was once flooded and molded and mildewed, I have never smelled that smell anywhere but church.  And I like that.  It's an instant, pungent reminder that this is a place to engage.

Can you not help but to engage in a place like that?  Walk into a cloud of odor, and you can't help but lift your head a little and start looking around, actively seeking the source of that smell.  For me, it's kind of like that with church.  When I smell that funky smell, I hold my head up a little higher and take notice of where I'm at and what's around me.  It went away for years when I wasn't doing anything but marking attendance; when I stepped back in to serve and started taking an active role in the community of God, there it is again.

And I'm not so sure about mold and must and mildew and age; I think maybe it's the smell of a thousand stories coming together and mixing in the air.  I think that's the way that "holy" must smell.

So I walk in every Sunday hoping to smell it.  Hoping to be so engaged in what's happening in that place, so involved, so thoroughly given over to everything that I even smell what's going on there.  It's become this whole body, five sense experience and if I don't smell it, I start to ask myself what part of me isn't in it.  What part of me isn't loving hard today.  What part of me isn't holding up a little higher and looking around.  What part of me isn't engaged. 

Because I think church is supposed to smell funky.  And if it doesn't, then I have to consider the possibility that at that given moment, I do.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gotta Go

Ever feel like you've got to get out of here?  I do.

Often I've suffered from what I call "window pains," where I'm only content to be staring out a window and dreaming of what exists outside these metaphorical walls...which are usually only enhanced by real walls.  Not that the particular walls of my life are that bad.  (They used to be, when window pains started.  Now, I just can't shake them.)  Some days, I still wonder what it would be like to be entirely other.  It's itchy.  It's angsty.  It's restlessness at its finest.

Is it a gift?

That's what Seth Barnes argues in his new book, Kingdom Journeys.  Kingdom Journeys is about one of the lost arts of discipleship - that we have to go.  Jesus sent each of His disciples on journeys.  They traveled throughout the region in His name, taking nothing along with them and learning a great deal in the process.  Learning discipline.  Faith.  Freedom.  Priorities.  Perspective.  Blessing.  Opportunity.  Chance.  Connection.  And an answer to restlessness.

Before we get too far into such things, none of this is about running away.  We are a world full of people who are too busy already running away, trying to escape whatever this is that isn't working for us, whatever these walls are that we're trapped inside.  And we know the truth that when you're running away....whenever you get where you're going...there you are.

Nor is this about running into God somewhere.  I have to admit, I think about journeys like those the disciples took and those Seth recounts in the book, and hindsight is always clear.  When you're telling the story, it's easy to use just the right details to show that obviously when these people decided to go, they ran straight into God like He was just waiting for them along the road.  Like the best place to find God is obviously Swaziland.  I mean, they don't have television; they must have God.

What I love about this book is the way it won't settle for those cop-outs.  It's about going, but it's not about running away or running into God.  It's about running out.

Running out of everything you thought you needed.  Like the young woman who packed one bag for a year's mission around the world and ran out of brow powder in the middle of Africa.

Running out of resources.  Like the woman in southeast Asia whose debit card went missing, leaving her with just enough cash for bus fare to the city and not so much else as even a tube of toothpaste.

Running out of back-up plans.  Like the same woman, who couldn't just call her bank and explain the situation.  Like another woman serving in Africa who had to find alternatives for a glue-sniffing street kid.

Running out of time.  Because the kids are sniffing glue and the women are being trafficked and disease is taking over and these things are terminal.

Mostly, though...running out of yourself.  Running out of your absolute everything.  Running not on empty but into it.  Brokenness.  An invitation to surrender.  A spark of perspective.  New eyes.  New faith.  New love.

Kingdom Journeys tells the stories of people who have traveled the world as missionaries through Seth's program, World Race, which is associated with Adventures in Missions.  Both are great programs for getting young people gifted with restlessness into the heart of this hungry world.  But you don't have to go to Africa or Thailand or Bolivia to have a journey.  Not even a Kingdom one.

A Kingdom journey is really only about one thing: a deliberate 'go.'  It is choosing to set your feet to a path your mind has only dreamt about...or maybe been too scared to dream.  It is choosing to take the long road instead of the comfortable seat and put yourself out there.  It is giving yourself fully over to the moment, to wherever you find yourself, and knowing that wherever you are, that place is part of your journey.  It's just about taking off and running right out of yourself. 

I'm a girl who feels like I've spent a lot of my life running.  Running away, mostly, and I've kept that no secret.  My personal Kingdom journey isn't as exotic as malaria in Zimbabwe or typhoid in Thailand.  God has simply asked me - for this season, at least - to take all of those running energies and turn them into a deliberate go.  To step into where He's sending me...which in my case has ironically been the quiet places.  It has been these tender places, these delicate times, where I have most found that I have run out of myself and I'm sitting there broken, empty, and eventually, surrendered.  Because when you're emptied, the next logical step is surrender to something that can fill you.  Or Someone.

Kingdom Journeys by Seth Barnes launched this week.  I've been excited and honored over the past few weeks to be part of the team previewing, reviewing, and promoting this book.  This means yes, I received a copy of the book for free (which I am disclosing per federal regulations) in exchange for my efforts as a part of this team.  But don't be jealous.  This week, you can own this book for free, too!  Kingdom Journeys is FREE in the Kindle store and the best part?  You don't even need a Kindle to read it!  Because Amazon provides a Kindle app free of charge, as well, for your computer, smart phone or tablet.

If you're hoping for a hard copy, hang on.  Next week, there will be some incredible bonuses for those who invest in Kingdom Journeys.  I will post a small update letting you know about those.

You've got to read this book, particularly if you're like me and you suffer from occasional restlessness or window pains.  Awaiting each of us is a deliberate go...and even though my particular commission is not (today) the heart of Africa, there is something in my heart.  And there's something in yours.  To find it, we just have to push into our gift of restlessness a little, find that invitation to the cycle of abandonment, brokenness, and surrender, then further into empowerment, call, and confirmation.  Until we run right out of ourselves and full into God.

Ever feel like you've gotta get out of here?  Grab Kingdom Journeys and go.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Enemy of My Enemy

Earlier this week, my Bible study took me into the tail end of the Gospel of Luke and a story we all at least assume we know: Jesus stands in judgment.

Let me take you to the text:

Then the entire assembly stood up and took [Jesus] to Pilate.  They began to accuse Jesus by staying, 'We found that he stirs up trouble among our people: He keeps them from paying taxes to the emperor, and he says that he is Christ, a king.'  Pilate asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'  'Yes, I am,' Jesus answered.  Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I can't find this man guilty of any crime.'

The priests and the crowd became more forceful.  They said, 'He stirs up the people throughout Judea with his teachings.  He started in Galilee and has come here.'  When Pilate heard that, he asked if the man was from Galilee.  When Pilate found out that he was, he sent Jesus to Herod.  Herod ruled Galilee and was in Jerusalem at that time.  Herod was very pleased to see Jesus.  For a long time he had wanted to see him.  He had heard about Jesus and hoped to see him perform some kind of miracle.  Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus wouldn't answer him.  Meanwhile, the chief priests and the experts in Moses' Teachings stood there and shouted their accusations against Jesus.

Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and made fun of him.  They put a colorful robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.  So Herod and Pilate became friends that day.  They had been enemies before this.  (23:1-12; emphasis mine)

At first read, my initial reaction was yeah, ok.  Herod and Pilate became friends because they both mocked Jesus.  That old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend came to mind.  But later in the day as I thought about it more, I wasn't sure.  I'm still not.

Because we have no evidence, at least in this story, that Pilate had any ill-will toward this Jesus.  Herod, we know, had plenty.  But Pilate?  This was a man who desperately tried to not let the Messiah be taken by the will of the people.  This was a man who plead on behalf of justice.  This was a man who wanted to turn this Teacher free.  This was a man who washed his hands of the whole situation.  And in this story, at the end of the first paragraph as quoted, I see this man kind of shrugging his shoulders and saying, "Ok, and....?"

I just picture Pilate as someone lukewarm, who is neither impressed by Jesus nor impressed by the accusations against him.  

Then how do we get from "Herod made a mockery of the Man, so he and the other judge became friends"?

There has to be something we don't know.  There have to be other details somewhere.  Maybe Pilate was a man weary of Jesus and of the Pharisees' constant push to have something done about it.  Maybe in other ways, Pilate was a tough man and Herod's mockery somehow impressed him.  Maybe it's not about Pilate at all; maybe Pilate never had a beef with Herod but suddenly, Herod was deeply appreciative of the chance to take his turn at Christ and now respected the system a little more.  There just has to be something in this dynamic - or perhaps in this interaction - that we don't know about.

Otherwise, I'm still confused.

Now, I say all that to say this: anyone who reads my stuff long enough will discover I love stories of Jesus in judgment.  We learn a lot about our God this way, and it gives us incredible permission to be like He was - snarky and wise-cracking at times, silent at others.  But until this week, until this particular story in whatever you would call this moment's particular circumstance (nothing that seems different than any other day), I hadn't really thought much about the stories happening around Jesus.

Today, I'm curious.  This story isn't about Jesus.  It is, but it isn't.  He's there, but He's not central.  The relationship of judges is central.  Yet even though He said not a word and didn't lift a finger, somehow the way this whole procedure centered around this man Christ still managed to make friends of enemies.  For whatever undisclosed reason.  And it's big enough, important enough, groundbreaking enough that Luke breaks away from the story that begins the ritual of sacrifice to tell us about two totally other guys - Pilate and Herod.

It makes me wonder what other things are happening around Jesus that maybe we're not noticing or when it's clear to us that there has to be something we don't know.  Things that are going on even though He doesn't seem to be lifting a finger, doesn't say a word.  Things that are happening because this whole mess is swirling around Him and even if we're not dragging Him into it (oh wait - they did), somehow good is still happening.

It makes me wonder about all of those times we as believers - myself included - fail to consider a moment holy, fail to consider this our chance, fail to see that what's happening is consequential...even if it doesn't look like it.  It makes me think about the times and the places to which Jesus has just brought me.

It makes me wonder which of our moments that we didn't consider holy might some day end up big enough, important enough, groundbreaking enough to include in His story.

It makes me wonder if this moment is that one.  And if I'm wasting it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Last December, I wrote about my new necklace.  I wanted this necklace for one reason and one reason only: so that every time my fingers ran across it in the course of a day, I would remember that I am absolutely loved.

For the first few weeks, I took it off only to shower.  And only then because having not really had any precious jewelry (and ok, this isn't that precious, either; it's what you can get at a JCPenney clearance sale on a limited budget, but it's precious in other ways), I was afraid the water from the shower might somehow damage the finish.

Then I started just leaving it on.  Through work and showers and sleeping and whatever else came my way, and it's been months since I've unclasped this chain.

And you know, this necklace works.  It does just what I wanted it to do: I'm a fidgeter and every time my fingers run over these little hearts, I unconsciously smile.  It just happens.  The thought and the peace that I. am. loved. washes over me, and everything is ok - whether it already was or hadn't been in awhile.

Do you know how cool that is?  To know how deeply you are loved?  It changes the way you live.  It reminds me to live loved.

Now, the problem is that in case you don't know this about me, I can tend to be very anal.  Obsessive. Perfectionistic.  So imagine my dismay when my hand ran across this little jewel about a month ago and I looked down to discover how tarnished it has so quickly become.  The silver is stripping away to this bronze-ish tone fading in and out around the shape of these two hearts.

I had to figure out how to clean it.

Thank heavens for the internet, which had some great suggestions on un-tarnishing silver.  I found out how to do it (for those of you wondering, a tsp of baking soda and a tsp of salt in warm water in an aluminum pan, then let your jewelry soak for about 15 minutes) and pledged that the next time I was washing the dishes, I would take that time to take better care of this necklace.

A week passed.  Two weeks passed.  I wash the dishes every day.  I kept thinking how much I needed to clean this thing, then letting the best opportunities slip by.  Then suddenly, I remembered right when I was starting to run the dishwater, and I held the pendant in my fingers again and for a moment, smiled, then washed the dishes anyway.  This doesn't need cleaned.

My heart hangs on His.
I kind of like the way it's tarnished, the way it's showing age.  The way that when I look at it, I see kind of where it's been with me and what it's meant through long days and days that weren't long enough.  I keep coming back to this image because I like it so much - but it's kind of like an old worn-out Bible that you know someone has loved well over the years.  This tarnish gives me that.

I like the way things age, the way they show their wear over time.  Just like I do.  The way not everything has to be perfect and clean and pristine.  The way you can absolutely clean it up, sure, but suddenly you feel no pretense about it and you wouldn't even want it new again.  If you wash it all up, wring it out, let it dry, and polish it...I don't know.  It just feels like you have to start breaking it in all over again or else you're spending the rest of your life crouched over cleaning because you started it one day and now you can't stop.  You can really get caught up in the idol of it if you go about it that way.  That's not what this is for.

So the thing is this.  When I happen to run my fingers over this simple silver, I still feel instantly, absolutely, incredibly loved.  Just as I had hoped it would serve my heart in remembering.  But there's something else.  The more it gets tarnished, the more powerful its touch until I feel like I'm touching eternity.  A timeless love with a timeless God who has loved me forever and will forevermore.

Do you know how cool that is?  I couldn't have imagined.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Could Jesus Fail?

The question of the day is: Could Jesus fail?

God sent His perfect and holy Son in the flesh to live as man lives and die as man dies in order that He might conquer death and grant man another taste of Eden to come.  One of the toughest concepts to explain as a Christian is what we think of this God-Man - how this Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  If He were fully man, we argue, then He must have been some super-spiritual holy man or else the flesh would have failed Him just as it does you and I.  Then we counter that it was His fully-God nature that kept Him from sinning.

Well, of course if your fully-God nature keeps pulling you back, you can't fail.  But that's cheating. 

To make this argument - that fully-God keeps fully-flesh from sinning - is essentially to say that from the moment of Creation, God had no plans except that the flesh would fail. Because He didn't put Himself in it.  Adam and Eve had no fully-God presence to pull them back from sinning.  It's arguing that God created Creation to fail.  That's not the God or the Creation story I know.  That's certainly not "good."  Did God really set us up to fall short?

I don't think so.

God created flesh in His image.  From the ground, He sculpted this thing called Man and breathed into him the breath of life.  Therein lies the conundrum.  Man, as created, is infused with this hollow space that is the air and the essence of God Himself - the breath.  This hollow space is also something else - choice.  (I shudder at the words free will because it seems more passive somehow and less defined than the clear-cut word of choice.)

Choice because love must be chosen.  Choice because without it, there could be no love.  Only obedience, dominance, enslavement, and so on.  We know that we must choose love in order for love to be, and so at our inception, we were infused with this breath that is the taste of God but opens this hollow place within us to be hallowed and to choose love.

That is the fullness of man.

Now, we have Jesus and we are told that He is fully man, and we take that to mean He is just like us.  Yes and no.  What Jesus is is actually fully man.  That is, He is as man was created to be.  As the Word of God made flesh, as the Son of the Father, as One of Three, as Jesus is - He didn't have this hollow place inside of Him called choice; He'd already filled it with Love.  It was infused into Him as part of His very being.

He didn't stumble around Galilee with unanswered questions.  He didn't have to figure out what to do with this space inside of Him that was aching for something.  He already knew.  From Love He came and with Love, He was filled.

That's what made Him not only fully flesh, but also fully man.  He was man as man was created and intended to be if only we would choose love in our void.  And I would argue that it was not Christ's fully-God nature that kept Him from sinning, from failing, from falling short.  It was His nature as a full man.

Because once you've chosen love, how could you choose otherwise?

It's easy to look at our flesh and think there must have been something otherworldly about Jesus.  That He had some supernatural help to stay sinless; that He was ordained for something that isn't in our particular cards, as it were.  It's easy to say, "Of course He was a sinless man.  He was God."  But that doesn't cut it.  It's much more simple, much more beautiful, and much more accessible than that.  He simply chose love.

We're not blessed at birth with this place filled with love.  We aren't one with the flesh of the Lord; we simply have a breath.  What He's breathed into us is this capacity for love in this place called choice.  By that choice, we define our time here.  Are we hollowed or hallowed?

Love is the answer.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Can we talk about Jesus for a minute?

With that, I have separated my readership instantly into three groups.  There are the group of religious nuts...uhm, enthusiasts...who are cheering, 'Yes!  Let's talk about Jesus!'  There are the group of people giving me the benefit of the doubt, who are willing if not to talk then to at least chance to see what I might have to say about Him based on what they've read or heard or known of me.  (Thank you.)  And there are the group of people who have already turned to another webpage and thus don't even know that right up front, I am acknowledging them.

Because there are a lot of people who don't want to talk about Jesus.  Many years ago, fairly early in my Christian walk (which meant I was in the on-fire stage), I heard a comedian or a preacher or somebody say, "You wanna talk about Jesus?  ....even religious people don't want to talk about Jesus." And I laughed because he was right.

I'm still laughing a little because he's still right.

The name alone is enough to turn people away.  Jesus.  Jeeeeesus.  Jeebus.  And...we're shut down.

I don't know if it's the way we've used the name over the past two thousand years.  It'd be easy to say that there's something about us - about the way we're talking Him or living Him or loving Him imperfectly in all our fallible glory - that's turning people off.  Probably so.  The problem is that while we may be connecting with Him, we may not be presenting Him in a way that invites or even allows others to connect with Him.  Not in a real and authentic way.  Then Jesus becomes this shield, this holy-sounding security, and this completely present trouble in times of help that just seems to get in the way of actually knowing anything about Him.

Because I believe that what we're taught is true.  I believe when we come to know Him, to truly know Him, what we form is this completely unique relationship with Him that is based not just on who He is but on where we are.  Then we're stuck trying to introduce the lost to the God of the Universe the way we have found Him, and they may not understand what the big deal is when they try to see Him through our heart with their eyes.  That's where we lose them; it's where we lose Him.  We have to bring this Man to their heart, while not neglecting to treasure Him in ours.

I also think we don't do enough to focus on the Man.  Or perhaps, we focus on the Man too much.  It can go either way, depending on who you're talking to.  It's so common to interchangeably use the names Jesus and God and be talking about the same concept.  In doing so, we shortchange both.  Yes, we know that they are two of the same One, two incarnations of the same Creator...but there is a dramatic difference.  God is a provider, a father, a shelter in the storm, the creator, the omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being of a greater good than all of this.  Jesus is the God with skin on, who knows what it's like to be a man.  When we go back and forth between the two like they are entirely the same, people start to lose touch with a God who doesn't get them and they lose sight of the big-picture God who set all things in motion.  Somewhere in between is a lost heart and a muddled God and nothing but confusion to show for the whole mess.

Personally, it's taking me a long time to come to know Jesus.  I say taking because I'm still getting there.  I'm a girl who has always run to God and just now starting to think about what it really means to throw in an "In Your Son's name."  I've always heard the names changed out for one another, so I've never been able to fathom why anybody would pray to Jesus when they could have the much-greater God at their disposal by simply choosing a different name.  I've seen Jesus as a cheap substitute for the all-powerful, and so I have to say - I don't have a fantastically strong relationship with the guy. And I kind of have rolled my eyes at anyone who's claimed He's the bomb.

Bomb dropped.

I love the idea of a God-Man.  A God who has seen fit to create this beautiful world and then walk its grounds with me.  One who knows what this is like.  Right here.  Right now.  And I'm seeking out to know more about this Man.  What it would be like to walk with Him...instead of throwing a prayer into the Heavens.  Which, don't get me wrong, has been workin' for me.  But this Jesus piece...Jesus brings it all together.  He is the bomb...and He's blowing this story up.

And I like the idea that God would make Himself so vulnerable, put Himself in a place in a way that anyone who's looking at it would think He'd be sure to fail.  God put Himself in a place where I would have expected Him to fail me - something so fallible as the flesh.  Yet He proved He wouldn't fail me by...simply not failing.  Tomorrow, I'll tell you how He pulled that off.  (It's a lot simpler than you think it's gotta be.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The past couple of days, I have talked about the gift of being busted and the power in owning your heart.  But I know when I said busted, I also thought about being broke.  And there's a certain value in that, too.

Broke, as in - a complete lack of funds or resources.

Broke takes us to a place of dependence.  Embedded in that is an invitation to deeper living because you're forced to rely on something outside of yourself.  You meet people when you're broke that you might have previously walked right by.  You come to know people in a new way when you're depraved, and somehow, it deepens your connection to the community around you so that when you're the most uncertain, you're still certain that there is this greater scheme that's taking care of you beyond what you could have prepared for yourself.  It's fantastically awesome.

We learn a lot from the eyes, the hearts, the hands, even the signs of the broke...and we learn a lot from being there, too.  A friend posted a status on Facebook yesterday about a woman she saw downtown in her city, standing next to the local taco shop with a sign that said, "Will Work for Tacos."  An empty stomach in a life that's broke still knows what tastes good, and it sets itself up to have some.  Someone commented on that status and said, "I'd probably buy her a taco, then."

My church serves a meal to families in need every Tuesday night.  Many others come to enjoy the meal with these men, women, and children.  One man has come to Sunday services here and there.  I didn't recognize him when I first saw him, but at the end of the service, our preacher made an announcement that this man, who had found us through our Tuesday meal for the hungry, needed a ride back home - a good 20-30 miles away.  He'd come without having a plan for returning because something in his heart told him that for this Sunday morning, his place was in that pew.  (Ok, purple church chair.)  And someone stepped up and took him home.

Several Saturdays ago, I had the chance to visit the free clinic run by another church in my county.  It's the only clinic in this county for the broke.  The room was filled with people patiently waiting their turn for the chance to see a medical professional donating their time to serve them.  They came humbling themselves and hoping for healing, trapped in sick bodies but unbroken in love.  The way I saw doctors, nurses, volunteers, and patients interacting with each other like old friends meeting in a bar for the first time in twenty years - it's inspiring.

And I'm currently reading Seth Barnes' new book, "Kingdom Journeys" (available now on; get the first chapter for free here).  It's about people choosing to be broke for a chance to travel the world, and it's about the relationships they find that sustain them through difficult times on tough treks.  Like a missionary who lost her debit card and spent her last cash to get to a town where she could buy toothpaste, only to run into another foreign couple in a coffeeshop who then gave her enough money for quite an extraordinary amount of toothpaste and bus fare back to her station.  Or the woman who left everything behind and went to Africa, where she formed a bond with a glue-sniffing street kid that she eventually placed in an orphanage...and returned to visit only to find him evangelizing his community with a wide smile plastered on his face.  They both started out broke; they both emerged so much more.

It was the relationship.  We make it pretty easy in this country to be broke, still get your needs met, and never have to put yourself out there.  We make it easy to sit by the mailbox waiting on a check to arrive or waiting for word that your debit card has been filled up, and you never have to talk to anybody.  But there's a greater need we're failing on, and that's the need for relationship.  It's the greatest blessing of being broke.  The chance to meet people, depend on people, and weave yourself into this community story that maybe you feel like the beneficiary of but nor is it lost that the greater story is grace.  Nothing makes up for that.

As an author, I'm fairly familiar with broke.  (Surprised?)  Someone asked me the other day what I did for a living, and I told them I'm a writer and they said, "Oh.  So you're rich then?" with kind of an elbow.  My answer is: Yes and no.  I don't have any money, if that's what you're talking about.  But my life is blessedly rich.  Because I'm meeting a lot of really cool people and finding a way to be a bigger part of this story and you want to know something?  Most days, I forget that I'm short on funds.  It's not the thing any more.

Broke shows you what the thing is.  The thing is that you can get by on a lot less than you ever believed you could, but you couldn't give up relationship.  It's the heart that keeps you going and the people you get to journey with that make life worth living.  It's just that.  That's the thing.

If you get the chance in your life, go for busted and go for broke.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Anonymous Note-Leaver

(This post contains explicit language that may be offensive to some readers.  However, I believe in engaging this world wherever I find it and bringing it the full measure of grace He's given me to pour out in the hopes that someone, somewhere, may come to know what Love is.)

No, I haven't turned in my friend in his tough times, though I'm pained to watch him doing what he's doing.  I'm still trying to bust him, and I'm hoping that the strong love of good friends can pull his heart of out this tailspin before we have to do something so harsh.

I have told him flat-out, though, that he needs to take his heart in his own hands and hold it.  It's clear to see that as so many of us do, he's abandoned his heart and is now in a place where he needs to deal with it and now can't.  He's got to take it back so that he can feel the weight of holding it and then choose to give it away.

Advice from an anonymous note-leaver.

I spent a good deal of my life leaving anonymous notes in some very specific places, notes that would only hint at a heart in bondage and beg the world to come and find me.  Someone.  Anyone.  Come and find me.  And I have been blessed to be surrounded by some pretty slick detectives (or as is more likely, I was never that good at anonymity anyway) who have always seemed to find me in my messed-up heart and come after me.

When you leave anonymous notes, it's a form of crying out for sure, and while it seems at least half-active, it's resignedly passive.  It's asking someone to drop in and rescue you, to come and put some credibility to your situation by acknowledging that this had to be your heart, then to pull you out of it and set you on some solid ground so that maybe for a little bit, you can breathe.  Your only role as an anonymous note-leaver is to note...and then leave...and then wait.  It's not really getting at the heart of anything.

Least of all yours.

No matter how many times someone might dare rescue you, they can't answer what your heart hasn't owned.  And until you sign your name to that note and say, "This is me.  This is me and it hurts and I don't know what to do with myself and this sucks and I need somebody," you're not owning it.  You're hoping someone will own you.

It's a subtle difference, and when you're looking for your place in this world, it's easy to think that what you need is for someone to own you.  So that at least you have them.  But it's so much greater to own your own heart so that you can make some choices about your place in this world.  Then, you get to be intentional about things.

The best answer you can give an anonymous note-leaver is a big "nuh uh."  No.  You've got something going on in your heart, then own it.  You own it, and we'll start looking at what we can do about that.

After an outpouring of love, dozens of commitments to stand with him, and an absolute show of strength to help this young man through these tough times, my friend has sadly responded in the new vein of the anonymous note-leaver: the emo post.  

If you use social media, you've no doubtedly seen this.  It's when someone posts some over-the-top, defiant, hate-filled, hurt-filled, self-deprecating, alienating statement that only begs the entire friends list to come out of the woodwork and ask, "What's going on?"  It's a statement that, though not anonymous, is precisely the same: it is a heart crying out and saying come and get me.  A person looking for a place and begging to be owned.  A person not owning their own heart.

And tacked on to the end of this from the toughest of tried hearts is often a response like my friend's.  After a slew of comments of love and support and invitations for him to come to this soft place of landing we're trying to create for him, his answer was pointed:

"F*** it.  F*** it all."

Of course, he used the real words.  And here's where I draw the line.  Because one anonymous note-leaver to another, I know it's a front.  It's a cop-out.  And it's a surrender.  He's not giving his heart away; he's abandoning it.  And that's not cool.

But what can you say to a four letter word?

"Alright, my friend.  You want to spend your life f***ing the world?  You'd better get started because there's a lot of world out there and you're going to be a busy man.  But don't be surprised when your reputation precedes you and you find out the world knows only one thing about you: you're easy."  Because when you set about to f*** the world, you're not pimpin' it.  The world owns you.

Maybe that's what you think you've wanted.  But there is such a better way, and it starts with you owning your heart.  It starts with you taking this chance to hold your own heart and figure out what all this hurt is and what you - with everything in you - are going to decide to do with it.  Then, yes.  Maybe life still sucks and this world is still hard and things still hurt and you still don't know what the answer's gonna be.  But you hold your heart and that means you get to be intentional about it.  You get to be intentional about living a life you'd want to sign your name to.

And often, as God blesses these things as such, you get to be intentional about giving your heart away. Which is so much better than abandoning it.

So nuh uh.  No.  You've got something going on in your heart, then own it.  Then we'll talk about what we maybe want to do with that.

Monday, September 17, 2012


The single greatest thing you can ever be in life is busted.  Caught in the act.  I firmly believe that.

There is no greater thing you can do for anyone - or that anyone can do for you - than to speak truth into a life that's tangling itself into some wicked mess that is less than all you ought to be.  I literally owe my life to people who have busted me.

The heart that is ensnared is the heart that is running.  If it wasn't running, it would have seen the trap. But you were running, and all of a sudden, you're caught up in this pain that isn't the story you want to tell and isn't the story you should be telling.  Your heart is standing here, clutched in these claws, and you almost feel obligated to tell this story because it's this thing that's bigger than you that's caught you in a weak moment when you had no choice but to run - when you had no inkling but to run, no energy but to run - and now you're snared and you're telling this story of caught and what you're not saying are the words that would set you free.

All it takes to turn it all around is for someone to look you straight in the eye, take hold of your raw heart with a strong hand through all the ropes and the spears and the bondage, and unimpressedly say (forgive my language), "Bullhonky."

Bullhonky.  (You may have another word for it.)

It's one simple word that says, "whatever.  I see through the act and whatever this is, this isn't truth.  So let's get to it."  It's an accusation.  It's also, however, an invitation.

I know this because there's a giant hole in the ozone layer due to the excessive amount of bullhonky I excreted through my tougher years.  I'm a girl who grew up tough because I always believed I had to be.  I had a tough exterior that turned a cold shoulder to the world and arrogantly stood in its own excrement and declared that it didn't need anybody or anything or any hope.  As years went by, I got tougher and tougher but there was this growing soft place inside of me that ached so deeply because it didn't want to have to be this way, and yet this was the story that my heart was so unwillingly wrapped up in and that in some odd way, I felt like the world was requiring me to live that as truth.  So I was playing this role that I thought I had to be playing, that came so naturally to a heart in bondage, and everyone was just ok with that.  Myself, I suppose, included.

I was in the shadows.  I mean, this was a dark place, but I was also living as a shadow because there was this piece of me that wouldn't die, this place in my heart that wanted to believe this wouldn't have to be my story forever...and yet it was also a place that would never have dared to not play the role assigned to me by circumstance and life.  So you kind of - I kind of - got trapped in this victimology that was fact, but it was not truth.  It was bullhonky.

It took one, then two, then a handful, then a dozen of people who I thought barely knew me, who loved me entirely too much to let my heart stay snared, to invite me to something more.  And it wasn't pleasant.

It took one, then two, then a handful, then a dozen of people who loved me enough to look right at my wounded (and wounding) words, my masking behavior, my too-tough exterior that was so paper-thin flimsy it's almost laughable looking back...and boldly declare, BULLHONKY.

Then my heart rebelled.  It stared them in the eyes and turned cold.  If anything, it became more distant, more trapped, more pained by the story that held it.  I could look these people in the face and curse them out, look in the mirror and curse out this girl, turn my energies into pain and hurt and increasing the violence in my own world and my own life.  I would yell and scream and cuss and threaten and get physically agitated with these people, and from the fullness of their love, they would look at me and calmly assert, bullhonky.

We don't buy it, they said.  And you don't get to scare us away.

There are so many of us living bullhonky.  There are so many of us trapped in stories that our hearts don't want to tell, but for all the bondage and the way they're wrapped so tightly around us, we can't see how to say anything else.  I've got a friend right now who's going through a difficult time and he's turning his back.  Turning back to old ways and choosing a path to destruction, and it's painful to watch him in this place.  Painful because I know that for all the hurt, he's got this raw place, too.  This tender place that's thirsty for mercy.

As he's turning his back, I can't help but think that the absolute best thing that could happen to him would be busted.  As he turns his back, someone needs to love him enough to turn him in.  Bust him for what he's doing first, because the best place for him to be is bounded by love - even if that love looks like the physical bondage of a jail cell.  I've been bounded by love that looks like bondage - something so simple as the physical bondage of someone who has dared enough to hold me and that won't let go even as I'm screaming that I don't need you to rescue me, I don't need you to love me.  What I need you to do is...well, I don't talk like that any more.  But it rhymes with "duck cough."  (I'm not entirely proud of my tougher days.)  But it was the greatest thing for me because from there, I couldn't run.

You've got to be busted and put in a place where you can't run any more.  If you aren't running, you don't stumble into the trap.  And then you've got to have someone who loves you enough to look in your heart and go after it so that at the very least, you can touch it.  You've got to have someone who's not going to be scared off, no matter how big and mean you look or how loud or violent you get.  You've got to have someone who loves you enough to stand there looking into your eyes and have only one conclusion: bullhonky.

And then the invitation:

Because what busting someone does - calling them on their bullhonky - it invites them to choose.  It takes away for a minute the burden of the bondage and invites them to touch the tender place in their own heart that they feel like has been sucked up by this story that they never wanted to tell.  You call them on their falsehood, and for a minute, they get to choose.  To keep telling this story that caught them out of nowhere when they were running...or to stop running and tell the story of their heart.  And I think we've got to keep calling them on it until they choose their heart.

Otherwise, we're giving up not just on someone we loved enough to get involved in the first place, but we're giving up on love itself.  Now, that's silly: love wins.

The greatest thing you can be in your life is busted.  And the greatest thing you can do for someone else is to bust them.  Persist and pursue them and tell them, "I'm bought in to you living sold out to something greater than this pain."

I'm bought into grace.  I'm bought into love.  And I'm bought into an invitation that starts with the simple truth that you and I both know: bullhonky.

You're busted.  It's the best thing that will ever happen to you.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Choose Enough

A week and a half ago, on opening day, I ordered my first-ever Colts shirt.  It arrived Monday, one day past home team kickoff, but this Sunday is a-comin' and I'm looking forward to sporting my pride.

I waited until opening day because I was anticipating a sale at this particular online retailer to honor the kickoff, and it turns out that I was right.  This left me, however, with a bit of a dilemma.

I'd been looking at team shirts since early summer and found one that was my typical style and something that drew me in, but it was $42 at the only shop I could find that carried it.  That's too much for a shirt; I don't care what logo is on it.  So I kept looking.  And I found this other shirt that, as an artist, I simply appreciated.  Quite a lot.  I bookmarked that and waited for a sale.

As opening day drew near, I went back to the site where I'd bookmarked the second shirt (at a more reasonable $24 regular price) and browsed through the entire collection one last time to make sure I had settled on the right one for my taste.

And there it was.  The same $42 shirt I'd regretted turning my back on earlier, listed now at this site for a still-outrageous but slightly more reasonable $34.  Not knowing yet if there would be a sale or what would be the details, I added both to my cart - the $24 and the $34 shirts - and bookmarked my cart so that I could regularly check back in on prices.

Then I did what all good girls do: I sent pictures of both to a handful of family and friends and asked which one I should buy.  (Before I grew out of my tomboy and into my curvy petite small, did you know I could do such a thing as confidently choose my own clothes?  What happened to me?)

The absolute consensus was: get both!

I can't afford both, I protested.

Splurge, they insisted.  Because most people who know me well enough to weigh in on my wardrobe know I also don't spend much on myself and really labor to be money-conscious.  I prefer to think of myself as a good steward of what I'm given.  That is, I live within my means.  Is that such a bad thing?  And still they all persisted - get both.

The morning of opening night: sale.  Suddenly, I could afford reasonably both, with the grand total to be just a few dollars over what I had anticipated to spend before I'd started looking.  I was checking availabilities and finalizing my cart and ready to begin the digital checkout process...and I suddenly realized I didn't want both.  I never wanted both.  Why was I about to buy both?

I've never owned a Colts shirt.  Or any football shirt for that matter.  I've been more of a homebody and a couch warmer, and I didn't understand why I needed to don myself in my team colors to be a "fan."  But I went downtown Indianapolis for the Super Bowl festivities last February and I just got swept up in this fantastically awesome huge thing that was so much bigger than myself, and I was surrounded by other people all caught up in the same thing even if they weren't Colts fans.  It was the larger family of football...and I think that's the kind of thing we all want to be a part of, at least in some place in our hearts.  That thing that's so much bigger than we are.

That's when I knew I wanted a Colts shirt.  But the steward in me was also patient enough to wait for the right one.  Thankfully, this season had it.

Yet I was keenly aware that to have both shirts...just clashes with the way I live and with what I was wanting to do here.  I've never been attached to stuff.  A few sentimental things here and there maybe, but not in the grand scheme of things.  And I'm easily overwhelmed by clutter.  I just don't have a need for a lot of the extra stuff.  Something about the idea of having both shirts felt immediately in my gut like too much.

Like I'd be selling out instead of sold out.  It's a line I don't want to cross.  In anything.

It's about finding my place in this thing that's bigger than me without getting swallowed up by it, and I think it's too easy to be at either extreme - too bought in and too held out.  That middle ground is tough.

So I sat and I stared and I prayed and I just looked and studied and decided that I truly only wanted one, and the one I truly only wanted was the one that felt the least like I might have always been and the most like what maybe I ought to be.  I cleared out my cart and purchased just that.  And I couldn't be happier.

There are still people who can't fathom why I wouldn't buy both.  The math speaks for itself.  By sale prices, I could have paid full-price for the one and received the other at a mere $7.  Seems like a bargain.  Makes fiscal sense.

But I don't think we ever have to be in this place where we take all we can get from the world and stuff it into our lives.  I don't think that's working for anybody.  Is it?  Is that working for you?  I feel like when I get too much stuff around me, it doesn't belong to me any more; I belong to it.  I'm much happier with the simple things...and in this case, the simple thing was choosing one.  It was choosing enough.

Enough to live as a sold-out Colts fan.  Which, I know, isn't looking so promising so far this season, but I believe in the blue.

Choosing enough gives me the space to be intentional about the way I'm living.  You just can't put a price on that.

And I guess I made a good choice because I wore that new shirt to the Blue Friday pep rally this mid-day, and one of the official Colts cheerleaders struck up a conversation about that very shirt.  It was so cute, she concluded, and just had to know where I got it from.  I know I made a good choice because I sure felt good standing there in it.  Standing there in a sea of blue, chatting it up with one of the ladies in was just what I was looking for.  I was, as I had engaged myself to do so, swept up in this thing bigger than me.  This Colts crazy.  It was awesome.

Build the monster.

(While I did tell the cheerleader where I purchased my shirt, I am withholding that information from this blog for the time being.  It is not that I don't want you all to buy the same shirt (but I don't; it's not as fun when everybody's got one.  Don't copy me.).  It's that I have ended up entangled in a customer service dispute with the online retailer, and I do not want to appear to endorse them (or smear them) until they have had adequate opportunity to respond.  It's a grace thing.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012


In the course of some simple and fun manual labor today, I stopped to chat with a woman who wanted to know where I learned to do what I was doing.  After all, it's not every day you see a young woman walking around covered in plumber's gunk.

I looked at her, smiled, and shrugged a little.  "I live in an old house with a lot of problems.  I come from a long line of strong women.  I can do almost anything, and I'm not afraid to try anything."

She smiled and affirmed my answer, and I walked back to where the toilet awaited.

The above statements are true, by the way.  I do live in an old house with a lot of problems, which has given me fantastic opportunity to pick up new skills in plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, and the like.  Been here 13 years, and by the time I started working construction this past summer, my boss couldn't say enough about my instincts and my skills.

And I do come from a long line of strong women.  My great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother have all encouraged and inspired me to never settle for what the world thinks maybe a woman should be and instead, be able to do for myself.  In the midst of all that, remember never to lose the lady within you.  I have been blessed and honored to know these women, to live with them and to love with them and to learn from them.  Strong, capable, fearless women clothed in graciousness, gentleness, and beauty.  I can only hope one day to be that kind of example to my daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter...and whatever other women may be watching.  By God's grace, I'm starting to feel like I'm starting to get there.  For whatever that's worth.

And I'm not afraid to try.  God has given me what I call the gift of tinkering, and I put it to good use.  I'm not sure whether it was growing up feeling like I was all by myself in this world or growing up with two older brothers who were experimenters and builders in their own right or just some crazy mix of however it is that I happened to end up here, but it is what it is and I just don't believe in handing a project off to someone else if there's a chance I can figure it out.  Like two winters ago when my windshield wipers died, straight-up across my windshield, for no possible reason I could fathom.  Switched out the fuse, but it wasn't that; it was the wiper motor itself.  The mechanic told me they could fix it for about $450 and even told me that it would really be best, since "we already have the hood up."  Don't be all condescending with me.  I'm a woman, not an idiot.  And as a woman, I already knew that the part - the new wiper motor itself - only cost $40.  So I went to the auto parts store and bought one, where the guy behind the counter asked me what I planned on doing with it.  I told him, "Well, I'm going to open the box and open the hood of my car, then look for something in my car that looks like whatever I take out of this box, and then I'm going to swap them out."  He looked at me incredulously.  The look was still on his face about two hours later when I walked back in with the broken one I'd taken out and returned it to him for proper disposal.  

Now, I say all that, but I want to say, too, that this gets me in a bit of a pickle sometimes and it's something I'm learning as time goes by to be more cautious about.  Having this in me, it's easy to get over-confident and reclusively independent.  (And it keeps me single because I'm foolish enough that when a young man about my age saw me struggling at Wal-Mart to throw my new bike in the back of the SUV, he put his bags down and jogged over to help.  And I told him, "Nah.  I got it."  And he persisted, and I was like "Yeah. I'm sure.  I got it.  Thanks, though."  Then I realized he was cute and if I wasn't such a stubborn-headed strong woman, I could have had a moment maybe.)  So I insist that I can do it and at the very least, I'm gonna try and I do that for so long that I wake up one day and realize how lonely I am and how I'm so tired of feeling like I have to do it all because there's nobody to help me and really, I've only worked myself into this reclusive independence by my persistent insistence that I can.   You see, if I put too much into my willingness to try and God-given ability to tinker, it's easy to lose the grace of the strong women who stand behind me and really, that's the part of them I wish I had more of.

So I guess as always, I'm working on my grace.  And I have quite a ways to go with that.  In the meantime, I feel good about the plumbing done today.  Extending my abilities as an act of service (they weren't my toilets) is something that - not because I'm special or anything, but because it's cool to be in a place you couldn't be without Him - just fills me to overflowing.  And as long as I'm not the one mopping it up, I'm just fine with overflowing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disciplining Your Art

Writing is a difficult field to establish yourself in, and that can be very frustrating.

The problem is that sometime in the recent generation, we collectively decided that you can be whatever you want to be if only you'll go after it and believe it to be true.  This has produced a bunch of wannabes (and much too much of that teenage-angst, emo "poetry" we're all already sick of) and inundated the market with people trying to establish themselves as writers, artists, and musicians when they have no earthly business trying to do so.  It may sound harsh, but someone needs to say it: some of these people out there just plain suck.

And that's hurting the rest of us.

Because it's hard enough these days to get anyone to read anything, and when you're buried in a mass of wannabe work, it's hard to draw enough attention to yourself - particularly as a no-name - to get people to engage enough with your product to let it speak for itself.  People are weary of less-than-great content.  (Musicians and artists have similar struggles, but they have one advantage: they require less investment from the market.  People can hear a song without listening or casually pass by a piece of art and decide in an instant if it's worth a second look.  Words are not so easy.)  

For the longest time, this has frustrated me.  To the point of getting a little hoity about it all.  And really angry.

I've been writing since before I could write.  I have books of poems I made my mom write down from my toddler days, things I made up and was so proud of.  Essays throughout school that still make me smile a little.  Metaphors from my early days as a devotional writer.  They aren't all that great, but I've been building to where I am now and where I'm going.  And then I started going public about my writing, started putting out there that I was working on my first book (Recess with Jesus: have you read it yet?) and I was inundated with emails and contacts from other people who said, "I'm a writer, too!  Do you want to read my poem?"

No.  No, I don't.  Because we're talking about two totally different things here, and what I do is actually writing.  What you do is...I don't know what you're doing.  That's the worst "poem" I've ever seen.  And I would be honest about it, and just encourage other people to be honest.  That's not a poem.  It's a diary entry.  Or better yet, it's "a...thing I...wrote."

(And for all the people out there reading this who want to be writers one day, I want to say this: it's not as glamorous as you think it is.  It's not as easy as you're hoping it might be.  It's tough.  Particularly when you're gifted and it and you're likely supposed to be a writer.  Then, it's even harder because you're pouring yourself fully into it and the return on investment - at least at first - is very small.)

So I got my first book up and running, and it's the most humbling thing ever and I start to understand what this beautiful gift is in me and how awesome it is that I get to do this.  Then I ran right up against the industry and fell into hopeless frustration again.

Because as much as no, I don't want to read your poem, there are thousands of established authors out there that I'd love to get an ear with, and they, too, are wearied by the inundation of wannabes and simply don't have time for the kind of mentoring and relationship I had been hoping to find.  Instead, they're more like gatekeepers these days and because of the sheer number of requests they receive each day, they look at something more than your words to speak for you.  Until you can prove yourself in numbers, the industry doesn't want to hear from you either.  Because the industry, too, is looking for writers...and until you are one, then you're not one, but you can't be one until someone says you're one.  So what in the world are you?

It's like the jobseeker trying to land a job, any job, and hearing over and over again that you can't get work until you're working or that you have to have three years of experience before you can get experience.  Then how do you get the first three years?

This has been my frustration, and my heart has struggled against that.  Because I want to be bitter.  And hateful.  And angry about the degradation of my industry.  I want to be arrogant because this is my gift - this is clearly, absolutely, perfectly my gift and what He has given me to do - and all of these talentless hacks keep standing in my way of reaching a larger audience with His story.  (I know!  I just sound all high and mighty.)  And somehow, they make me feel less about my gift, too.  Because when I'm asking for a reader, there's a part of me that feels a lot like the people who have so annoyed me.  I feel sometimes like I'm standing before the world saying, "I'm a writer, too!  Do you want to read my poem?"  Or better yet, this...thing I...wrote.

And for awhile, I was precisely that.  Frustrated.  Angry.  Arrogant.  There's still some of that fight in me.  But a couple of weeks ago, I saw it in a new light.  

It feels like all of these obstacles in my way, all these things standing between me and what God's called and gifted me to be.  These people - both wannabe authors and exhausted gatekeepers - setting up barriers to keep me out of this industry.  My industry.  A couple of weeks ago when I heard yet again that I don't have the numbers to be relevant, but "keep at it and maybe in a few years, you'll be there," I was done.  Ready to flip the whole industry the bird and be loud about it.  It's not about the numbers; it never has been to me.  I always count to one.  It's about this burden I have to share the story God's telling through me, and it drives me bonkers that His message is held back because His vehicle is something so rejected by the world as me.  I want to scream, Put me aside for a minute and just look at the content!

Then I looked at my content.  Those who wouldn't read it until I hit their magic number wouldn't know, but I saw instantly that I'd gotten complacent.  My writing was not as disciplined, and it shouldn't have been: I really wasn't loving it any more.  I said on my Facebook page that if it's ever not totally awesome and completely weird that God has chosen you to do what you do, then stop.  Because it's becoming about you and not about Him.  And that's where I was.

This new roadblock, this most recent rejection, wasn't my first.  If I'm lucky, it won't be my last.  But in that instant, my frustration faded.  (Though it still tries to come back if I'm not paying attention.)  What I saw that moment as more than anything...was an invitation.  A call to discipline my art.  To stop trying to push my way through the crowds and to instead rise above it.

I'm not special.  I can't demand attention just because I am me.  Nobody cares, and they shouldn't.  But what I can do is pour myself into creating stellar content, writing and rewriting and honing my craft so that my words rise above and demand enough attention to get the chance to speak for themselves.  Then I have to be ready for my work to do the talking.

That's a beautiful invitation, and I'm thankful He let me hear it.  It would have been easy to stay stuck in that place that was frustrated and bitter.  Instead, I'm back in that place where it's totally awesome and completely weird that God would choose me to do what I do.  As a result, I think I'm doing some of the best writing I've done in a long time.  And looking forward to the challenge.

(But sorry, no.  I still don't want to read your poem.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You?

Today is September 11, 2012.  Eleven years ago, terrorists hijacked four planes and targeted the centers of American government, defense, and global economics.  This is a day that we remember and honor by asking each other:

Where were you?

While that's the question I'm asking today, I'm not looking particularly for your standard answer.  I'm not asking the American coming-together question of collective remembrance that places each of us in our own little niche of the world, glued to a television screen, a computer monitor, or heaven-forbid, trapped in a tower or pacing by the phone.  While I believe in sharing these stories and the sense of community that we build by that, there is another question coming out of 9/11 - even eleven years later - that has yet to be answered.  That question, of course, is:

Where were You?

Whether you were in those towers, on board those planes, sitting in an airport, sound asleep, just waking up, commuting to work, having breakfast - whatever you were doing that morning, the resounding question coming from the hollowed places where the towers fell was: Lord, where were You?

We're a nation of seekers, a nation of questioners, and in a moment of absolute tragedy and disaster, our question was all the louder.  I was there; Lord, where were You?  And I don't believe it's enough for the Christian community to respond with platitudes.  That seems to be the only answer we've given to a hurting world who longs to know what God was doing in all of this.  "I don't know," we tell them.  I don't know why your husband didn't make it out.  I don't know why it took hours for your brother's call to come through.  I don't know why you had to wait, why you had to lose, why you had to suffer, why you had to grieve.  "But God has a plan."

Ugh.  And for the record...UGH.  And further for the record, can we just throw this phase out of our collective conscious altogether?  Because at no time nowhere in the history of the world has "God has a plan" brought any comfort to any hurting heart.  Period.  Nor does it paint an honest picture of our God.

But the question remains: Where were You, Lord?  And I think it would be cool if today - right now - we could start to answer that.  Because we - you and I - wherever we were that day, know where we saw Him.

I was in a makeshift study hall in my high school auditorium.  A junior, I had an unexpected free period while other students took the yearly standardized tests.  It was a Tuesday morning; the night before at high school Bible study, we had begun our work through the Experiencing God study and I was determined (for the first, but not the last, time) to wholly throw every part of my aching, searching heart into God and discover what was so great about this Jesus everyone else in youth group seemed to know so well.  I was still new to the church, just a year after baptism, and I was determined to find God in a tangible way.  That Tuesday morning, I opened my EG study book as soon as the bell rang and dove in, determined to answer the questions honestly and without thinking about anything but that moment.

As I drew to the end of chapter one, the courage of my own answers had convicted me, and I needed to talk to God.  I put the book down in the floor, bent over as far as I could in that auditorium seat, put my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, and started praying to God in the dimly-lit room...and all else seemed to fade away.  Fifteen, twenty minutes later some noise finally broke through and I looked at my watch, surprised at what time it was.  I'd been praying that long?  It felt like I'd only started....  And there stood the teacher as someone from the front office left the room.  She called for everyone's attention and in a quiet voice said, "There's been an attack on the World Trade Center.  You are welcome to go into the cafeteria and watch the television coverage if you so choose."

Kid filed out of the auditorium en masse, a little too loud for the circumstances but I don't think at the time, anyone really understood the impact.  Me?  I put my head back in my hands and continued praying until every bit of my heart that I had to pour out was out of me and I felt like God had it all and I felt like I had a little bit of God.  I remember my prayer that morning lasted just over 45 minutes - my first real prayer in my whole life, and it just so happened to be on a morning that I didn't know it yet, but I needed to be praying.

Then I joined the others in the cafeteria and watched the news.  I watched the replays of first one, then another plane hitting the towers, listened to the rumors and reports of two other planes in two other locations, and the more I watched, the more I couldn't help but think about my dad, who had died just slightly less than a year earlier.  Dad had been an air traffic controller at the midwest regional facility, and I knew there were men and women still in that control building - whom I had met and whom I may likely have known well - who had at least one of those planes on their radar.  Who were talking to at least one of those pilots.  That brought the moment closer to home for me because, and the FAA may not want to know this, but my dad had let me talk to the pilots, too, when I'd "worked" midnight shifts with him over the years.  I knew what it would have been like to have one of those guys in your ear, and the helplessness of it hit me.  I didn't know what to do, so I prayed again.  And again and again and again.

The rest of that day is a blur of breaking news coverage, nonstop video replay of tragic moments, live footage of the aftermath, interviews with the hurting...and kind of this guilty feeling that my heart was still more drawn to an hour I'd spent with God that morning and all I could think about was getting more time with Him.

Then I see these people, and they are crushed and they are hurting and they are grieving and the whole nation is in shock and everyone's asking, "Where is God?  God...where are You?"

The answer, so far as I know, is that He was in a high school auditorium in Franklin, Indiana talking with a girl just looking for a little bit of Him.

But I know that's not the full story.  I know that you know where He was, too.  So I invite you to share with us.  Share with us where God was that day, where you saw Him...because I think if we can put Him here, on this planet, in this place, with us at that moment - even if it doesn't seem all that connected to New York City or Washington, D.C. or Shanksville, we'll start to answer that question of where was He.  And we'll start also to answer the question of where is He for the hearts still seeking a God who ought to be here.

If we were looking for God that morning, where would we have found Him?  Please share where you saw Him in the comments.  (I know a lot of you love to inbox me or respond on Facebook, but let's use the comments here this time and put this story together as best we can.  And invite your friends.  We need to know where God was.)

Monday, September 10, 2012


It's been a little over a week since Grandma headed back to the mountains after two weeks at my house.  And while I love having her here, there is a lot of work that goes into preparing your home to house a guest.

We've all been there.  We have a few days or, if we procrastinate, a few hours until company arrives, and we're looking around noticing all of the dust bunnies, the cobwebs, the stain on the couch cushion (tip: turn it over), the spill in the fridge, and all the other little things that go unnoticed until that moment you fear that someone might be looking.  This sense of details is heightened exponentially when it's grandma.  At least, when it's my grandma.  Because she'll come in and clean my stove if she so feels the need.  And well, we wouldn't want grandma thinking I live like a slob!

And it's always the same.  Company arrives, and we wipe the bead of sweat from our brow, walk to the front door, suddenly remember and rip our dirty apron off, stuffing it under a corner of the couch cushion we just turned over to hide the stain, then gracefully opening the door and saying, "Hi!  Sorry about the's a mess."

When let's be honest - that's the cleanest it's been since....the last time you had company.

All this cleaning is supposed to make everyone feel at home.  But we're looking around trying to find that thing that's always on the table that we thought we'd put away and now need but can't for the life of us remember where we put it, and now our guest is almost afraid to touch anything or make any mess because - surprise! - this isn't what their home looks like, either.  Nobody lives like that.

So why is it we're so concerned about cleaning our house?  If it's a good enough friend to lodge at our house, it must be a friend who also knows we kinda live there.  And a week from now, a month from now, twenty years from now when you reminisce about the visit, you won't be talking about a cobweb in the far corner of the basement; you'll be talking about the time you spent together and the laughs you shared.

Knowing all this is true, why do we make our greatest Friend stand on the porch far-too long as we last-minute pickup, sweep, dust, mop, stuff our apron under the couch cushion, take it back out, get back to cleaning, SOS, scrub, wipe, vacuum again, buy a new couch, and take knitting classes to figure out how to darn our socks and mend our welcome mat while He's just standing there knocking, waiting, longing to come in and see us?

We keep our most gracious guest out in the cold while we keep peeking through the window at Him, frantic-eyed, pleading, "Don't come in!  The house is a mess!"

We turn around and look into our house and see the scratch in the floor that we never got around to repairing, the pull in the rug, the bundled mess of cords behind the entertainment center, the fingerprint we just now put on the window while waiting for Him to arrive, and all of the little things that make this a house not meant for Jesus.

And He's just standing there.  Because He won't come in until He's welcomed.  But He's anxious to come inside.

He's waiting at the door, and we're inside thinking there's no way we will ever be ready.  We're looking at our nicks and scratches, our pulls and tears, the bundled mess we often live in, the marks we've left here and there...and we think somehow this lessens what we offer.  He peeks inside and all He sees is a life that's lived.  If we're all being honest, His house doesn't look like we think ours ought to, either.  Nobody lives like that.

Wanna know about nicks and scratches?  Look at His brow and His back.  Want to know about pulls and tears?  Look at His side.  Want to know about a bundled mess?  Look at His grave clothes.  Want to know about marks?  Look at His hands.  This is a Man who knows what all that looks like.  He knows it's what your life looks like; it's what His life looks like.  And He still wants to come in.  Because He just can't love us on the other side of the door.

That's all He wants to do - come in and love us.  Embrace us and embrace this place we're in, whatever it is.  He's not looking around in the corners, in the refrigerator, behind the entertainment center, or on top of the stove.  He's looking at one thing: you.  As much as we're stressing about all the little things we're sure He's going to see, He's standing there patiently waiting just to 

Finally, we relent and resign this life to what it is.  We approach the door too worn out to even care about the apron and open the door exhausted.  With all the grace we can muster, we gesture Him in.  "Sorry about the's a mess."

And He throws His arms around us and holds us like we haven't seen each other in twenty years and just smiles.  "It's a beautiful mess.  How are you?"

Friday, September 7, 2012

Extend Grace

Grace is an art form, and we're losing it.

I am blessed to come from a line of women who I would consider gracious.  They are quiet women, flexible, willing to let you be just as you are and love you anyway.  There's just this great energy around them because everyone is comfortably at ease and not trying to prove anything.

God has given me a pretty fair amount of that kind of grace, and He's giving more every day.  The truth is that when you can quiet and still yourself, take a deep breath, and conclude that this - whatever this is at any given moment - is ok, it's fairly easy to embrace grace.  It's a passive grace, a grace that simply lets things be.

But not all grace is passive.  And it's in the active that it's easy to lose grace.

I'm a mutterer.  It's very frustrating to be infinitely better at something than the person whose mess you are criticizing or cleaning up.  (This is mock narcissism, a little tongue-in-cheek.)  So I mutter.

It's when you're already muttering that you have to make a conscious move toward grace.  Because you know at this point, you're not going to be quiet.

The opposite of grace is conceit.  It is this haughty attitude that's out to show itself, to prove it's something.  To prove we are something.  Seeking affirmation about ourselves.  It's the hand-on-the-hip, foot-tapping supervisor of the world that's waiting for that precise second to storm over, take the tool in its own hands, and show everybody a thing or two about how it's done...gaining a little respect in the process.

To move toward grace, you have to put aside that place in your heart that isn't into it.  That place that's fighting it.  That place that's wounded against it.  That is our biggest obstacle to grace - the wounded place within our hearts that's still looking for approval.  That's feels like it's got something to prove.

It proves something, alright.  But you probably wouldn't like what it says about you.

What if we could prove grace?

If we want to do that, we have to give our seeking heart to the only One who can answer it.  We have to set aside our notion that we have to prove ourselves and invite Him to confirm us.  To tell us we are more than enough.  To tell us we are simply this.  To tell us that this is better than ok, this is 'good."  We are good, for He created us and determined we are good.

When we can do this, we get a little more grace in our hearts, and we find it easier to extend that to others.  It's a grace that isn't quiet, but uses few words nonetheless.  Instead of muttering, we're mentoring.  Instead of gossiping, we're gathering.  Instead of judging, we're justifying.  Instead of lecturing, we're leading.  It's an active grace, a grace that speaks and responds and interacts with the world and labors to love and change it.  It's a grace that allows us to be still even when we're not quiet.

And it's an unassuming grace.

Un-assuming we have anything to prove but grace itself.