Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Everyday Special

"A potter has the right to do whatever he wants with his clay.  He can make something for a special occasion or something for everyday use from the same lump of clay."  - Romans 9:21

It's not uncommon to find someone existentially frustrated with their life.  It's a big world, and we feel small (which isn't a bad thing, at least for me) and there's got to be something out there that's more than this.  That's more than our daily commute, our weekly paycheck, our family get-togethers, our dinners, our leftovers, our Sunday services, our endless cycles that keep us stuck even when we feel like we're constantly moving.  

And one of the ways we solve this frustration is with platitudes.  Trite little things that seem to suppose to make us feel better about wherever we're at, and if we take them at their words, they do.  For awhile.  They are half-statements that try to draw us away from our sense of stuck while putting new emphasis on things like hope, purpose, and promise.  "God just has something better for you."  "It's not your time."  "God created you for something, and it will be better even than this."

Right?  Except that as time wears on, we hear these things over and over and we're planning our lives around that one moment that God does have for us.  That one time that is ours.  That one thing we were created to do.  Then we're grinding our wheels and waiting for something so crazy as one and wondering why God's "plan" can't come sooner.

See, we're all convinced - and when we're not convinced, the peace we give ourselves is to become convinced - that we're created for a special occasion.  That there is one niche, one purpose, one grand moment or thing that God is going to do through us (that will also be to us and for us) and the rest of our time here is waiting on that day.

What if that's not the case?  What if you weren't created for a special occasion?

What if God intended you for everyday use?

This isn't a world of special occasions.  As much as YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and news would like to have us believe, it's not a place where we're just watching everybody get their one grand moment that is so super consequential and then moving on to other things.  It's not a fireworks display of lives exploding onto the scene in magnificent glory and then fading away, never to have another moment.  

Most of what goes on here is day-to-day.  That's just how it is.  And when you're stuck in the day-to-day and wishing it didn't have to be this way, it's easy to think about that big moment.  You know, that special occasion.  That thing that's gonna be so much greater than this and maybe even get you out of here.  That thing that's going to make you feel purposed.

Maybe we ought to take those energies, though, and put them into purposing our every day.  We have to consider that, like the majority of this world, maybe we were created for such as this: the daily grind.  Maybe our influence isn't going to be one grand spectacle, one master gala, one magnificent moment; maybe it's going to be ground out over a lifetime of small, seemingly-insignificant encounters and choices.  The "here and there" instead of the "Here I am!"

I think that would be ok.  If you think about it, you would probably agree.  Because we've known these people.  We've known these people who live quiet lives of absolute grace, who spread their purpose out over a lifetime and don't ever think about "that moment" because they're too busy loving in this one.  Harold, as I wrote about in June at his passing, was one of these people.  My great-grandmother, whom I greatly admire, was one of these people.  Generations of people right now who I am honored to know and to call friends are some of these people.  Paul - the Apostle Paul - was one of these people, spreading his purpose out over the provinces.  These people aren't just killing time waiting on their special occasion; their everyday is special because they purpose it that way.  Without making a big deal of it.  And I think that honestly, most of us are created to be some of these people.

If that's a hard pill to swallow, there is a bit of a comfort: even those people get their day.  They get their special occasion, their chance to shine, that awesome time when their purpose is fully revealed and wholly known and celebrated and appreciated.  We typically refer to that as their funeral.  So you've got that to look forward to.

But think about this.  Think about these men and women you have known who were created for everyday use, who spent their lives in day-to-day living and loving.  Think about how you think about them.  They encourage you.  They inspire you.  They strengthen you.  You smile just thinking about them.  (Admit it.  You're thinking of someone, and you're smiling, and you're thinking about how you wish you could be more like them.)  You're not thinking of that one time....  You're thinking of a whole series of "one time..."s and others are, too.  And in all this thinking, don't you think that's kind of something special?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This world is designed to make us feel like we're feeling big.  We work our way up from smallness until we can walk to school by ourselves, walk to the library by ourselves, ride our bikes across town without supervision, drive, vote, shoot a gun, and drink.  Each of these is a stage of getting progressively bigger, and I have to admit that there are still some days, even at 27 years old, that I still feel big getting behind the wheel of a car.

The same is true in our industry.  We're trained into progressive stages of big, progressive growth of our ability, influence, and duty so that maybe one day, we make a decision that we feel like really matters.  So that one day, it comes down to us and we feel what power is like.  Or we do something well, and it just feels big.  Like we ought to feel big.  Because what we just did was big.

But I'm a girl who has got to feel small.

This world is good at that, too.  At taking your big and in an instant, stripping it to small.  At taking whatever you think you are and diminishing you into something so much lesser.  When the world makes you small, it's defeating.  It's humiliating.  It's meant to discourage and disappoint you.  The world's definition of small is belittled.  The world's definition of small is despised.  The world's definition of small is unimportant.  It's all of these things that strip you of what is you until you feel like you're nothing.  And nothing is about as small as it gets.

That's not the kind of small I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the kind of small that rests in the Infinite.  That is not humiliated, but humbled.  That is not belittled but bewildered.  That is not defeating but defining.  This kind of small does not discourage or disappoint; it inspires and affirms.  Somewhere in this smallness, you find that you're unimportant and simultaneously treasured.  You're nothing and something, and in this place, that makes perfect sense.  It doesn't seem contrary.  It's more...comforting.

For me, this is something I find in a big empty space.  Like a few weeks ago when my worship minister put together a "Gift of Silence" for those of us on the Worship Arts ministry team.  I took the opportunity to kneel in the middle of this giant sanctuary, where the lights were off and just a few candles and Christmas lights (apparently, we ran out of candles?) provided ambiance and the big screen displayed images of distraction and invitations to stillness and there was just a hint of a storm left in the ever-darkening evening sky.  In a place like that, I feel small.  And yet, it is somehow perfect.

It's standing outside under the starlight, looking at the expanse of all of these millions of other bodies that are not so much unlike this one and yet, I could never touch them.  And it makes me feel small, but it makes me feel...designed?  It just brings the emphasis of what's in my heart to focus and there's all these things and all this stuff and this ginormous God who made it all, and yet I see Him working in my life and living with me and loving on me and simply loving me every day, and I feel so small in the midst of all of this creation around me, yet uniquely treasured and somehow...I don't want to say "important," but just merely like I matter.  Like God has something in me He can't abandon because as tiny a speck as this is, it is part of that infinite, too.  Even on days when I can't quite figure out what exactly my part is.

It's getting out of town, hitting a dirt road, walking through the forest, wading in the creek, throwing my hands up toward the sky, singing without anyone hearing, not caring if they do, praying out loud, crying out loud, yelling and screaming and living out loud in this place that is so empty and so big and so wide open that I can't help but feel small and then in all that, it's just ok.  It's fine.  Small feels right like where I'm supposed to be.

All this big the world wants us to feel, all this grown up and capable and independent and big that this society is structured to work toward, it just draws me away from God.  It puts my life in my own hands, and I don't know what to do with it.  Some days, I can barely find a spot in the parking lot.  What in the world am I supposed to do with a whole life?  And then you set yourself up for failure after failure because you're trying to be big because the world tells you you're big and there's this entire set of rules and definitions and expectations of what big people do.  And I've gotta tell you, I'm just so, so seldom...doing any of the big right.

But when I have the chance to feel, then it just makes sense.  It puts my life in the hands of Someone bigger than me who knows exactly what to do with it, and when I feel small, I feel that.  I feel like I'm nestled into something greater than me instead of this little tiny life pretending to be big and trying to plow its way through and make a way.  I'm just resting in all that is that doesn't depend on me making my way or being big or anything.  I am a tiny, tiny part of all that goes on here.  And that takes the pressure off and allows me to just be.  In the midst of the Infinite.  Nestled in His hands.  In the expanse of all that is.  Surrounded by Creation and feeling created.  Small.

It doesn't matter what kind of day it is - a good day, a bad day, a hard day, an easy day, a Monday, a Sunday, an in-between day - any day that I can find a way to feel as perfectly small, it changes my everyday.  And that's kind of a big thing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

God in Community

One of the things that greatly pains my heart is to see people who do not know God as deeply and powerfully and wonderfully as I think they should.  (I know, right?  Like I'm the authority on anything.)  It's just that I see people trapped in some of the same heart that for so many years burdened and imprisoned me, and the way God pours His grace out on my life, I ache to see others still stuck.

Stuck sucks.

And I do my best to live Jesus for this world when I get the chance.  (Recently, I have done less than my best in this regard, but I promise to do better.)  I want to show people the God that loves them and the only way I know how to do that is through the God who loves me, and a big part of that love is church.

Thus, it pains me more when I see someone burdened, suffering, and stuck and yet I catch a glimpse of that heart in them that is searching, too, and they are still so adamant and obstinate on the issue of church.  It was here very recently that someone I love very much, who does not attend church much to my heart's discontent, informed me that their relationship with God was none of my business and that they don't have to find God in the same way that I did and they don't have to experience Him in the same way that I do and that they don't have to go to church to love God.

Truth.  Truth.  Truth.  And...not quite.

I don't believe you can love God without being in His church.  I'm not talking about the physical church, though that is certainly one convenient way to connect.  I'm talking about fellowship.  I'm talking about connection.  I'm talking about making it a priority to get together with other people who love God and to do whatever it is that love leads you to do - worship, fellowship, pray, sing, talk, preach, serve, drink coffee, eat donuts, knit, quilt, hunt.  Whatever it is.

Because I think it's possible to love what God you know, but you don't know God until you've seen Him working in community.  You don't know God until you see Him somewhere besides your own life.  You don't know God until you see that He is so much bigger than the God of your imagination and stretches so far beyond your little world and until you see the tender care, the mercies, the grace, and the absolute Love He has for all of creation.  Until you see that, I don't think you're seeing God.  And you can't love what you don't know.

Although if you knew it, you'd love that, too.

The truth is that the God you know when you don't know Him outside of your own heart is nothing more than a reflection of what you'd want Him to be or, in some cases, a reflection of your own good. I know people who say they don't have to be in His church to see Him working, then turn around and talk about some good deed they did that surprisingly met the needs of someone else.  Needs they didn't know existed.  That's a nice sentiment, but there's a really fine line there between you and God because when you claim you're seeing God, what you're also saying is that you're seeing Him in the good thing that you did.  That blurs the line.

I have known people who have said the church will corrupt them, that they couldn't stand with all the hypocrisy and infighting and even outfighting in the church.  That it would tarnish their view of God.  But what if in that church, you saw the way God really loved?  Then you could look in the mirror and when you see the same hypocrisy (and it's there.  Trust me.) and infighting and outfighting, you will remember the people God's put around you and the way He loves them, and you will know better this God that loves you.

Now, I love God.  Most of the time, I even like Him.  And one of the things that makes God so absolutely incredible, beautiful, and worthy of the heart that I give Him - as flawed and broken and burdened and torn as it is - is that my God is so much bigger than just me.

I think that's what makes Him God.  I think that's what makes Him worth loving.  That He's bigger than me...and yet chooses to be small enough to live in my heart.  And I just don't think you can get that until you see Him working hugely in all the other little hearts around you.  I don't think you know God until you see Him in community.

That's why we need the church.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Talk Life

Yesterday, I said that not every dirty little detail has to make it into your story.  Some things are just life.

And just because you're not letting life into your story doesn't mean you don't have to deal with it.  So I feel obligated to now add that life has its place, too.

Life, as I consider it, belongs on the porch.  That is, life is the talking point where we meet one another.  Where things don't have to be deep because it's just life.  It's incidental.  Or coincidental, as the case may be.  Life is what good neighbors talk about on the porch swing.  It's what friends talk about over coffee.  It's what acquaintances mention in passing in public.  Life is what you talk about.

As it should be.

But wait - shouldn't we take every opportunity to talk story, not life?  Shouldn't we be focused on words that matter instead of the grind and routine that I just said doesn't matter so much?

No.  God, no.

Because we've all met these people.  We've met people who can't talk life; they can only talk story.  They're always weaving everything into the bigger picture and refusing to redirect from their overall mission, which is usually to demonstrate precisely how awesome their story is because of their attitude toward specifically the things you're mentioning - that is, life.  We know these people, and do you ever feel like you can actually relate to any of them?  Do you get the sense they have any understanding at all of what this world is?  Or do they seem sort of aloof to you?  Distant?  Removed?  Arrogant, even, like they are above all this "life"?


That's why when we're talking, we talk about life.  That's how we relate to one another.  That's how we scope each other out.  Our responses to circumstance, sure, but we can't neglect the circumstance itself.  That's where we make the connection that we're all in this thing together, and we start to form bonds with one another.  Life is where hearts and stories meet.

This is true even for lives that meet in story.  Even for lives impressed by story and drawn to the greater tale being told.  Think of the person you admire, the one you wish you could be like, the one you've waited to hear speak something into your life.  Now, remember the moment when you felt like they could actually understand.  Was it story?  No.  It was probably life.  It was the moment when they said something of their details and something in you breathed again and said, "Ok.  They're normal.  They're just like me."

Life opens the door to story.  It grounds us here and sort of levels out the playing field so that our story has impact.  So that people look at our story and don't think it's detached or unattainable.  They look at our story and see that it's buried and burdened in the same day-to-day grind that theirs is, and that's where story gets power.  By being in it all.  Not above it all.  Not removed from it all.  But right in the thick of it all.  In the thick of all this.  (Whatever THIS is.  I don't always know.)

So that's life.  It's something to talk about.  On porches.  In coffeeshops.  In lobbies and hallways and phone calls and grocery stores.  In fact, it's really the only thing to talk about.  But you can't just talk about life; you have to respond to it.  And that is your story.  (We've all also met people who can do nothing but talk about life, and we can't help but feel sorry for them, for they will always be victim to their details.  It has to be a balance.)

You talk about life; you live story.  Get the details confused, and you're giving up your pen.  Hold tight on your story, and you have say over your life.  Choose how you respond to the details, without sacrificing yourself to them.  That's where your life speaks, without words, and that is story.

Even if you start out talking about life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dirty Little Details

There are things in this world that are always going to try to push their way into the story you are writing.  The story, of course, of you.

Once you figure out you've got something to say with your life, once you start pouring your efforts into embracing what that story is, it seems everybody wants a piece of your pen.

It's easy to fall victim to that.  After all, if the story is your life and circumstance can push its way in, then it's easy to think that becomes part of the story.

But it doesn't have to.

Earlier this week, I was bombed by a difficult situation that, I'll be honest, I still haven't worked my way out of.  And my first thought was absolute frustration.  This is not the story I'm telling, I yelled into the sky with clenched fists.  Then, anger.  I don't know why the world seems to have so much crap for me when I least need more crap in my life.  Then, indignation based on the details of this particular situation.  Before things settled back down, I cried for about an hour and a half and prayed.  My prayer started as: I don't want to deal with this right now, Lord, so You're gonna have to.  But it ended at: whoa!  I almost lost it there for a second.

(I totally lost it there for a second.  Or a thousand seconds.  It's ok; it happens to the best of us.)

My problem, initially, besides the problem itself was that I was instantly reminded of all the other times life has pushed its way in and changed the story I was trying to tell.  I was remembering all of the times I have been bound by circumstance and felt helpless to even say what I was saying.  When I felt controlled by precisely these kinds of things and they absolutely got me.  They took over.  I was fuming because I was keenly aware that I have told this story.  I have given over my pen and allowed circumstance to write my life.  For precisely the reason that seems logical: if it's in my life, it must be in my story.

Oh, the dirty little details.

But as I cried (and prayed.  And cried.  And fumed.  And clenched my fists.  And prayed), something quiet overtook me.  Something still that said, "And?  This still isn't your story.  Don't let it be."  To which my answer, of course, is how can it not be?  It's in my life, that means it's my story.  It's the same ragged, crutched, crooked story I've been forced to tell for longer than I want to.  My heart was literally aching over another hijacked moment, another chance lost to break free of this cycle of circumstance that has always kept me saying things I didn't want to say, living a life I didn't want to live, defining myself by things that I didn't want to define me.  And the still, small voice insisted, "This is not your story.  Unless you choose to tell it."

I had not really considered the idea until recently.  Until recently, I thought every detail was life itself.  This is just what it is, and it's up to me to respond to it.  In my response, somewhere, is the story.  But when this bomb dropped, I saw clearly for the first time that nope.  My story is my story, and if I don't let circumstance get in the way of that story, I am stronger.  More content.  More confident.  And more at peace with even what these circumstances must be.

God answered my crying heart so quickly that in the same vein as I wrote the Facebook status, "So...I may be ridiculously screwed right about now. ...Praying for God to come and answer this because my heart just ain't strong enough" I also came to the conclusion, "This does not change my hope. This does not change my hope. This does not change my hope. God is good, and even in trouble, God is good. This does not shake my heart. This does not wound my faith. This absolutely shakes my flesh. But it does not change my hope."

Because it doesn't.  It doesn't change my hope.  It doesn't change my heart.  It doesn't change the way I relate to God.  It doesn't change the way I live.  It doesn't change the way I love.  And it doesn't change my story.  And if I let it, then it's not my story anymore; it's been hijacked.

I felt...steadfast as I came to that conclusion.  At peace.  Strengthened.  Resolved.  And no longer heart-shaken, though my flesh is still waiting to see how things are going to work out.

And these details?  These dirty little details that we like to call circumstance?  There's no room for them in the story I'm writing.  So I threw them in the cutting pile.  I took my red pen and edited them out.  They don't really matter.  They want to, but details are not the author of this story.  They don't get to pen me.  

You are the co-author of your story.  Not everything in your life has to be in your story.  Sometimes, it's just life.  It's up to you to propose or deny the details to your story as per the choices you make.  Your job in your story is to keep track of your pen and know - as best as you can know - what's being written about you.

As such, you have to decide if everything that wants a piece of your pen can have it.  Or where will you draw the line?

My story will not be dictated by circumstance.  It won't be run by dirty little details.  It will be directed by my God, who is down and dirty in those details because He's just as into this story as I am and eternally more.  He...can have my pen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


At church, we're in the thick of an 11-week sermon series on the reality of Heaven.  For those of you wanting to know just how real Heaven's going to be, I recommend C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" - a road trip from Hell to Heaven in which you will see how absolutely tangible eternity is.

But this past Sunday, we were talking about how when we get to this other-physical realm, we will be endowed with new bodies.  Unbroken, untarnished, unvulnerable bodies for the rest of forever.  And I couldn't help but laugh because I know a few people who are waiting on that day.  

I know a few people who are looking in the mirror right now and thinking, "Eh.  I won't be fat forever.  God will give me a new body."  Or "At least I won't have to put up with this nose for eternity!  My new body's going to be perfect."

Or will it?

I caution you to be aware that while Heaven will be perfect, it will also be unperfect.  Not imperfect.  Just unperfect.  By our current definition of the word.

You might still be fat in Heaven.  You might still have that nose.  Every mental image you currently hold of Heaven might be absolutely backward or ingloriously wrong.

Heaven is not this place that magically fixes everything you're dissatisfied with in your present life.  Heaven is not this future where you finally achieve the 'perfect' you've been looking for.

Heaven is the promise that perfect doesn't matter any more.  That you don't have to obsess.  You don't have to meet a standard.  Heaven doesn't make things perfect; it is perfect.

It is perfect for you and what is perfectly you.

Perfectly you, as God created and intended you to be.  Perfectly you, with your unique body and your unique personality and your unique love and your unique place.  Your unique everything perfectly designed to contain you.  After God breathed life into Adam and Eve, He didn't leave it to them - to genetics and science and sex and happenstance - to create you; He put just as much work into you as He did into them.  He sculpted you from the very dust of the earth and breathed life into you.  He created you to contain and encourage and facilitate everything about you.  He didn't do all that so that we'd all get to Heaven and look, live, and love the same.  He did that because there's something special about uniquely you.  There's something awesome about divinely you.  And one day, you'll know that there's something heavenly about unperfect you.

You may still be fat in Heaven.  You may be stick thin.  You may still have that nose you don't like or that gap-toothed smile or that mole on your eyelid or that stupid haircut.  Or maybe stupider.  In Heaven, you will be fully all that God created you to be, and your body will accentuate that, however that's going to look.  If you could see your Heaven self now, you might groan.  How hideously unperfect it might be!  But when you get there, that isn't going to matter.

Because you'll understand that it's perfect and so will everyone else.  And no one will be looking at you and judging how you look.  There's no such thing as fat or thin or ugly or pretty or this or that or the other.  Because you'll look absolutely full and beautifully perfect and completely unique and totally you.  And that will be enough.

That will be better than enough.  It will be perfect.  By every definition of the word.

That's the glory of it, and frankly, I like that promise of Heaven better than the way we too often imagine it.  I like the Heaven where I get to find out what I was really meant to be.  How I was supposed to look.  To walk.  To talk.  To live.  To love.  I like the Heaven where I get to discover every little detail that God created in me that was meant to make me me.  I like the Heaven where I come face-to-face with the truest, most honest, most fulfilled version of me and the Creator who imagined and formed me.

So stop looking in the mirror and groaning about these days.  Stop waiting on the Heaven you think is going to fix this - whatever the this in your life may be.  Turn away from the place of Heaven and embrace the promise of Heaven - that it's all gonna make sense.  It's all gonna be ok.  It's all gonna be perfect even if not one hair on your head is different.  (My eternal sympathies for those who wind up with an eternal stupid haircut.  I promise to pretend I don't notice.)

It's gonna be perfect for the fullness of you.  

It's gonna be Heaven.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Victory

Yesterday, I wrote about the difference between winning and victory:  Winning is statistical; victory is story.

Not to get too SAT problem on you, but let me add that winning doesn't always feel like victory, but victory always feels like winning.  Regardless of the actual numbers.

That's what's so cool about victory.  But there is a danger here, and that danger is misusing the word victory when what you actually mean is a win.  In that subtle difference is where hearts hang in the balance, and we can do great damage by confusing the two.

Victory always sounds good, but a premature celebration can leave a wounded heart and a tattered life in its wake.

An abused woman hears, "You're not the victim any more.  You're the victor." because she's done something so basic as survive.  She's alive, and on the scoresheet, that looks like a win.  Maybe it is.  But talk to her aching heart, and you know it's not a victory.  Tell her while she's still hurting that this is it, that this is victory, and you don't encourage her.  She's discouraged.  This is it?  This is victory?  Her heart is still hurting.  She's filled with unanswered questions.  She's still in flight mode, searching for a place to land.  She doesn't know whether she's strong enough.  She doesn't know if there's anything worth living for.  She doesn't know if she made the right move or the wrong move.  There's a new, hard road ahead of her...and there are many among us who have the audacity to tell her this is victory.  It doesn't feel like a win.  And if this is what winning is, then what is winning worth?

A cancer patient comes through chemo and enters remission.  Day one, we tell them this is victory.  And on the x-ray, maybe it looks like a win.  But their hair hasn't grown back.  Their body hasn't found its strength.  Their immune system is still compromised.  Their schedule hasn't filled back in.  They're still looking ahead to the next check-up, the next check-in, the next check on cancer in their lives.  They are alive, but it takes some time to resume living.  Which is the victory?  We tell them being alive is the victory, but that barely seems like a win.  Is this all there is to look forward to post-cancer?  Winning isn't worth it.

These are just two of the common scenarios in which we're too quick to declare victory when what we have is simply a win.  Victory has to encompass more than the circumstances; it has to be the story.

Victory is when the abused woman discovers what she is on her own.  Something besides broken, scared, running, and questioning.  It's when she is able to separate herself from the spreadsheet and stand on something more than a win.  It's when she finds her strength and her meaning and her source of life that is beyond counting the score.  It's when she realizes that while she's been fighting for so many years, she isn't fighting any more and doesn't have to.  It's when she figures out what this all really is - and it's not a game, and it's not a battle, and it's not a fight.  And it's not a win; it's a victory.

Victory is when the cancer patient figures out what it means to live healed.  What it means to not keep one foot in the bed for fear the side effects will come back to bite.  What it means to start circling days on their calendar again - and I'm not talking about doctor's appointments.  What it means to plan for a day beyond tomorrow, trusting that there's going to be one for them.  What it means to get up, get out, get in there, and get involved in the business of life as we know it and stop looking at the x-rays and the scales and the prognoses and start looking at the horizon and the seasons and the future.  Then we move from a simple win into a brilliant victory.

Don't get me wrong.  There's a lot to appreciate about a good win.  But there's a tremendous danger in declaring a simple win a victory.  Even in the win, we have to leave space for the aching heart, the broken heart, the wounded heart, the hurting heart to look for something greater.  Something that isn't statistical.

Something that is story.  Something...that actually feels like a win. 

A victory.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Beyond the Win

Yesterday was a great day for sports in Indiana.  The Indianapolis Colts pulled out a victory over the Cleveland Browns (I know, but don't sell the Browns short - they're good in their own right and building something better).  And the Indiana Fever took home the WNBA title in a hard-fought game 4 to deliver Indiana's first basketball championship since the ABA.

It's cool to wake up here this morning and hear about the winning.  But winning isn't everything.  In fact, it's hardly anything.

I'd rather go for the victory.

Wait...what?  Isn't winning a victory?  Aren't they the same?

Absolutely not.  Victory goes beyond the win.

Winning is statistical.  It is numbers on a spreadsheet, points on a scoreboard, tallies in a score book.  It is an objective reality based on the rules of the game and whatever scoring system is established.  It is out-performing, out-playing, out-showing an opponent so that the numbers stack up in your favor.  But that's all that winning is.  It's numbers.

Victory, on the other hand, is in the story.  It is dynamic.  It goes beyond the scoreboard and into the heart.  It's not necessarily a numbers game; it's life as we know it.  Victory doesn't have to necessarily add up.  But it feels like a win, so you go with it.

Yesterday, we put two W's in the win column.  Today, that's not what anybody's talking about.  We're talking about victory.

We're leading our coverage of the Colts by talking about Coach Pagano.  Coach Chuck Pagano was released from the hospital following four weeks of intensive treatments to start his battle against leukemia.  We're talking about him going home earlier than expected, watching the game from the comfort of his own home.  We're talking about his doctor standing at the gates to the stadium as part of the ChuckStrong team.  We're talking about the hard days behind him and the hard days still to come.  We're talking about the community standing behind him, the monies raised for leukemia research, the work being done at the IU Simon Cancer Center, and what the powerful energy behind this one man whose energies have to be being sucked out of him is doing in, for, and through this community.

That goes way beyond the 17-13 on the scoreboard or the .500 on the season.  This goes beyond 2 rushing touchdowns for the rookie quarterback or fourth-quarter stops by the defense.  This isn't a win; this is victory.

When we talk about the Fever, we're talking about Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, two women who have played in Indianapolis for more than a decade, committed to their team and to using their talents to bring this victory here.  We're talking about leadership, in the locker room and out of it.  We're talking about community ambassadors, the way Catchings has been part of so much and uses her platform to inspire a new generation.  We're talking about key injuries and the way girls are coming off the bench to be a factor.  We're talking about Coach Lin Dunn, who has poured her heart into building this opportunity for women and who leads with conviction and credibility.  We're talking about the way Coach Dunn subbed the injured Katie Douglas into the lineup in the last three seconds so that she could taste the win she'd poured her everything - including her ankle - into.

We're talking about more than 87-78.  We're talking about more than minutes played, rebounds, steals, and fouls.  This is story.  It's about a team that's connected here.  That lives here.  That plays here.  That serves and loves and is committed to here.  It's not the win (taking the series 3-1) that's got the whole town talking.  It's the victory.

Yesterday was a great day for sports in Indiana.  But it goes beyond the win.

Don't get me wrong.  The win feels good.

It's just that the victory is so much sweeter.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Best, Better, Good

Writing is a bit of a backward process.

As many of you may know, I am currently working on my second book - Prayse.  It is an incredible writing adventure and requires an entirely different set of patience, research, prayer, and attention than Recess with Jesus.  It's just the nature of the beast.

Don't think, though, that I'm not loving every minute of it.  This fuels me.  But the current chapter is sucking up a lot of time as I work through, discover something new, weave it in, am blown away by the deeper implications of it, humbled by what I'm finding, stop to just catch my breath and think about how awesome our God is, go back to the writing, find some crap, edit it out, try to mesh the details of the story back together.  ...It's taking a bit.

And I have this mixture of excitement and disappointment that when I finally get it all worked out (hopefully later today?  I can't wait to share this chapter with you!), it still won't be finished.  It won't even be good.

Such is the backward process of writing.  Here's how it goes (at least for me):

It starts with an idea.  A set of notes.  A single statement in some cases.  A bit of truth that I'm looking to develop into the story.  I'll get distracted for a bit because these ideas work really well as twitter statuses, too, and I like them in nice little packages so I can't stop thinking about them.  But once I sit down to expand on the idea, I put everything I've got into making that chapter work.

However long that takes.  I'll be honest.  Sometimes, I can just spit these things out.  Other times, it's an agonizingly slow process.  It's just how it goes.  But however long it takes, I put everything into getting that chapter right.  Into doing the absolute best that I can do with it, giving it everything I've got, trying to give it everything it deserves, and put the fullness of both my style and the greater story into those words.  When I've worked out all the kinks, smoothed all the bumps, and am finally staring at something I'm proud of and I've run full out of ideas to make any improvements for the moment, I breathe a deep sigh and say, Yes.  This is the best this is going to be.  In its rawest form, when it has all of the details I was looking to include, when it works in the story, when it speaks for itself, and when it maintains the heart of the original idea and I've invested hours, days, weeks, into getting it just right, I set aside what I've got and admit: This is the best I can do with this.  It's everything I wanted it to be.

A little bit later as a new round of editing kicks in for the finished pieces, I look again at what I've got and start asking myself: how can I make this better?  Any writer can tell you this, and I'm going to say it - it doesn't matter how perfect it seemed the last time you put it away.  It doesn't matter how satisfied you were with it when you settled for its best.  It doesn't matter if you spent three hours or three months on any given piece of content.  It can always be better.  In this second stage, I focus on taking my writing from best (everything I wanted it to be) to better.  Every time.  And I'm never disappointed.

Then comes what you might call the final edit.  It's the polishing.  It's getting everything ready for that intimidating little thing called "press."  It's finding a way to commit to these words so wholeheartedly that I'm ready to put them in print and on the shelves.  In this phase, I take everything I've already made better and determine to make it good.  In my case, this often means taking out all the panicked words of an on-fire writer trying to make a powerful point and quiet things down.  It's about taking out the fire and brimstone so that my words speak softly and every bit of dynamic emphasis comes through to its full purpose.  It's about making sure my style doesn't get in the way of what I'm trying to do here.  It's about finding a way for the story to settle into itself and be.  When I can read each word and conclude, "That is good." and find myself drawn deeper into the story than even when the ideas first grasped my heart, I know it is done.

Does that mean every word is perfect?  No.  Does it mean I catch every little mistake, every small error?  No.  Does it mean that after the book comes out, I have no regrets?  No.  Every writer will tell you that no word is ever perfect, but if you're waiting around for perfect, you'll never tell your story.

So I take all my stories from best to better to good.  And when I get it down to good, I go with it.  That's just how writing is.

(The chapters I'm posting currently on the Prayse blog are between best and better.  I firmly believe that this is the crucial time to seek input.  You help me make it better.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012


We all need a good word every now and again, and this past week or so, I have been blessed with more than a few.  Yesterday, I wrote a little about the grace of surrendering all glory to God with the simple thank you.

But that doesn't mean the ego-effect is lost on me.  So the second question I think we have to deal with  in receiving the praise of man - besides, "How exactly do we give the glory to God?" - is: how do you accept a kind word without getting a big head?

The answer is in answers.

We're all asking questions.  Every day.  Every second, for many of us.  We're searching for answers to our hearts, our callings, our faith, our life, and whatever million other things those umbrellas don't cover.  The question in the question is: to what are you giving the power to answer?

For the longest time, I (like many others) gave that power to the world.  In those days, the praise of man meant a great deal.  Every word was a bolster to my courage, a muscle to my strength.  The words of others kept me going, kept me pushing, kept me pursuing.  The words of others validated in some way what I thought I was doing or at least, trying to do.  The opinions of others made me feel like I had a worthy offering for the world and that maybe there was something I was getting close to that would answer that gnawing question in my heart of just who I am.  And in the grander sense, what I am and what I offer and whether or not that matters.

That's well and good when the praise is pouring in.  (And oh, how I have been blessed by ego-feeders throughout my life.)  But giving this power to the world means the answer changes based on my performance, audience perspective, and a complete lack of any type of guidelines that would truly define whether I am what I think I am and am being told that I am or whether I am not.  Ten good words could be erased by one bad one.  The words of others could devastate me.  Quickly.  They could force me to stop, to give up, to give in, to change course.  The opinions of others made me feel like I would never have a worthy offering and would never matter.  The words of others left me asking more questions that then had to be answered.

Who's going to answer?

There is Someone who will answer our questions.  I know He answers mine.  That's how you go about keeping you head small even in those situations where it might tend to get a little inflated.  (Ok.  A lot inflated.  There have been times in my life, I'm sure, when I could have given a costumed mascot a run for its money in the head department.  You, too?)  You have to know who answers you.

The words of man don't answer me.  God answers me.  The words of man don't validate what I'm doing.  God validates what I'm doing.  The words of man don't inspire me to keep going.  God inspires me to push on.  The words of man don't make me worthy.  God makes me worthy.

Then of what use are the words of man?

The words of man are encouragement and they are settlement.   The words of man remind me to settle into this place called Answered.  They allow me to know I am engaging with my world and that my world is responding, which puts me in precisely the place God has created me to be - in the midst of this without being the center of this.  It helps me to know that I'm not alone, that I am indeed a part of something greater than myself, and to know that what I'm doing is not in vain.  But lest I get vain, I'm reminded that in whatever I offer to the world, I don't put it out there in question form.  Because I've been answered.

It doesn't make me above needing your kind words.  Of course, I need them just as anyone around you does.  It is encouragement to know that you're out there, and I cannot emphasize enough what the words of man mean to the very heart they're settling.  I cry humbled tears when you tell me that this matters...because it's overwhelming.  It's just completely...overwhelming.  And reminds me why I do what I do - to be living in and working in and working with my God, who has remarkably, incredibly, unbelievably chosen to work something through me.  When you praise me, I see Him working.  And I'm humbled by that.  So no, I am not above needing your kind words. They mean probably more to me today than even in my ego years.  I take them with honor and try to receive them with grace.

But I am beyond living by them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Simple Thank You

How exactly do you give God the glory?

Everyone needs a good word every now and again, and I have been blessed in this past week to receive more than a few.  Consider me encouraged.

But one of the persistent problems I've faced - and I know I'm not alone - is that it's hard to know how to respond to praise.  For any number of reasons.

In the past, I have felt unworthy and tried desperately to deflect kind words.  I have been embarrassed, hung my head, and walked away.  I have been arrogant, expecting more praise than I've received.  I have been falsely humble, using good-sounding words to seem appreciative without neglecting my own ego.  I have hung my head, raised my head, enlarged my head, and turned my head away.

These days, I'm kind of just shaking my head.

Because it's unbelievable.  It's simply overwhelmingly unbelievable that my today looks like this.

The question, though, is how do you respond to the praise of man when it doesn't make you feel any different about yourself?  When the kind words poured out on you only make you feel more blessed and more gracious and more humbled?

One of the more popular responses as people aim to be more humble in these times is the quick "Thank you, but it wasn't me" followed by some physical gesture toward the heavens or verbal quip about our incredible God.  I wonder if even half of the people who say this, though, even believe it.  It just sounds nice; but it also sounds phony.  It leaves me with a taste of falsehood in my mouth that I just can't shake. And I start to think I'm talking to someone (or responding as someone) who just can't take a compliment.  I just don't feel like even when we verbalize "give God the glory," it even comes close to that.  It sound more like shaking it off - don't tell me.  Tell Him.

And if I take every good word that comes my way and pass it off on the Father who blessed me to do such things, I feel like I start to lose part of myself.  Like I'm giving myself over that God would work through me instead of my working with Him.

Don't get me wrong: I love the God in me.  But I'm quite fond of being in Him, too, and there has to be a way for us to share the harvest in some small way.  Not for my glory, but for the chance to experience the fullness that comes from living in Him just as He has filled me to do whatever it is that I do.  It's a God thing.

I'm finding the answer may be the simple thank you.  That's all.  Just a simple thanks.  An acknowledgment that I hear your good word and am thankful for it, but I'm neither burying it in my heart nor giving it away.  I'm letting it be in the moment, in whatever has just taken place, so that it doesn't get in the way of what's happening here.  So that neither word - yours nor mine - builds a barrier to this.  Whatever this may happen to be.

The simple thank you allows both the praise-giver and the praise-hearer to engage in the moment without either being distracted from the grander scheme.  For example, people will sometimes come up to me after I've spoken somewhere and start talking about this or that thing that I said.  That's awesome to me because it means you have heard a word.  But if I start talking about that word and this other one that sort of tied into it and the general overall everything, then when you walk away, that word isn't as strong in your heart.  Instead, you're thinking about your interaction with me.  But...if I respond with a simple thank you, four things happen: you are satisfied in having spoken your heart, I am encouraged by your engagement with both me and my offering, we both walk away not with each other but with that word digging deeper into our hearts, and God gets the glory because He gets to work through that.  In both of us.

In the years that I struggled with what to say to the praise of man, a close minister friend of mine would constantly nag me.  "Can't you just say a simple thank you?" he'd ask.  Over and over and over again.

These days, I'm learning better to do just that.  For no other reason than to give God the glory.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The following is the text from my Communion offering this past Sunday.  It is my honor to be able to use my gift in this way for God's glory, and I am humbled by the response that these words, in particular, received - even coming from this woman of limited insight.

I hope you're hungry.

No, I'm not saying that because it's snack time.  I say that because I know church is one of the hardest places to be hungry.

When you're hungry, it's easy to walk in these doors wondering if this hour will be enough for you.  Wondering if we will sing the right song, pray the right prayer, preach the right word so that you don't walk out of here starving.

That's why I love the way Jesus has wrapped His sacrifice in this ritual.  This bread and this blood so that even in the midst of all this church, we are reminded that He is still the one who feeds us.

But that's hard, too.  It's hard to come hungry to Jesus.  We want to feel like there's something to us, something in us that we can offer to God or something that at least makes us not so desperately needy.  Hunger makes us aware of our emptiness, then when we come before Christ, we wonder if there's anything at all in us that is worthy.

(Here's a hint: There really isn't.  That's kind of why He has to be Christ.)

When we're about to come here hungry - empty - searching - thirsting - there's something in us that says we have to fill up our lives first.  Something that says we have to bring something.  Anything.  So we go about gorging ourselves on the things of this world - sometimes even the most holy-sounding things - so that when we get to Jesus, we feel like we're something more qualified or more valuable than "hungry."

That wasn't Christ's plan.  Let me ask you: what are you going to do this morning with the Bread of Life if you're stuffed?  What are you going to do with the Blood of the Lamb if you're satisfied?

Jesus never said, "Blessed are those who don't need Me today, for they are not a pain in my neck."  No.  He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst...  For they. will. be. satisfied."

So I hope you're hungry this morning.  Because that's the only way you're going to taste Jesus.

This is the text as I had written it prior to speaking.  As you can imagine, an opening line of 'I hope you're hungry' could have gone either way, so I took the liberty of writing this one out so that it wouldn't end up as post #3 in my 'Inappropriate Communion Thoughts series.'  (#1:#2.  I must note that when I write them as inappropriate, I have not actually spoken them.) Some of the words came out this way; some did not.  But this is roughly what I hope those in my fellowship heard...and I pray we all come hungry.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Angles and Damiens

A couple of Saturdays ago, I took my nephew (Damien, whose name lent itself so well to this post) to our annual town heritage festival parade.  I pulled his little toddler tush down the street and around the corner in the little red wagon, and we parked ourselves at the southeast curb of the first corner of the parade route.

Little did I know...

I pulled the wagon, with its canopy, behind us as a windbreak and invited this dear little boy to join me on the curb.  It was a little cold and wet, but there was hardly anyone else around and we wouldn't have to look over any other families to see the parade.

Then the entrants stated coming.

From our position at nearly ground level, those cars and horses and floats came right at us as they rounded that first turn.  We saw more of the grills than maybe anyone else at the parade.  And every time a new car started to turn the corner, Damien's eyes LIT UP and he started screaming, "Look at that truck!"  Or "HORSIES!"  His little mind was absolutely blown by the sight he saw before him.

I have to admit, it was easily the best parade view I've ever had, too.  We were both sad to see it end.

There are three to four parades through this little town every year, if memory serves correctly.  And I take in all of them, though they are usually standard fare.  Tractors.  Dance teams.  Shriners.  Clowns. Public Library Book Cart Drill Team.  Horses.  Princesses.  Corvettes.  Republicans.  Democrats.  And CANDY.  (Damien and I came home overflowing with candy that gave all of us a hefty haul when properly divided.  By which I mean, after I took the banana Laffy Taffy and all of the fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls and atomic fireballs and lemonheads.)

But I look at them differently after this last one.  After you've been eye-to-eye with the headlights on the mini-Shriner cars and seen every intricate detail of the horse's hooves (and thankfully, no detail behind them), it's hard to look at a parade the same way.  Instead of being one of those "sophisticated" adults with the lawn chair and the umbrella and a niece or nephew sitting on my lap, I'm going to start seeking out those curb seats.  And maybe some day, a balcony or two.

Because I cannot stress enough the importance of changing your angle every now and again.  It's the way you start to see life again.

I'm reminded again of a story from my summer.  Working outside, assessing the work on the roof and the panels, I spent a lot of time looking straight up.  More than once, I got a little dizzy as, for the first time, I realized not how high are the heavens above the earth, but how majestically deep they are.  It gave my heart a new breath of God.

Find a new commute to work in the morning.  Take a new road home.  Climb a tree.  Crawl in the mud.  Rearrange your furniture.  Choose a new seat.  Sleep on the other side of the bed.  Sit on the other side of the sanctuary.  The possibilities for finding a new angle are everywhere and it's doesn't have to radically change your day-to-day or squeeze more todo into an already busy schedule; it just changes your perspective and gives you new appreciation for the little things.

Like the white-haired hooves of a Clydesdale or the way candy looks when it's not coming at you but falling on you or just how many people could use a new pair of shoes or how deep are the Heavens and God's gracious love.

Friday, October 12, 2012


A quick reminder that Recess with Jesus is FREE today through Sunday in the Kindle store.  Please do me the honor of downloading a copy and please do me the favor of leaving a review when you're done.  Also, please share this with as many friends as you've got.  

Now, onto today.

It wasn't that long ago that someone asked me if I ever regret the parts of my story that I choose to make public - through this blog, through interviews I've done, through blogs I have guest posted on, through opportunities I've had to speak, through just meeting people.  As I get more bold in my writing and as God does a fantastic job of skillfully weaving more of my story into His own that He's asking me to tell, I thought I would address this question right up front.


The simple answer is no.  I don't regret it.

Here's the thing about story: everybody's got one.  And there is a way, I am learning (by God's great mercy), to tell your story with grace. can find that grace, there's nothing to regret.  No matter what your sordid details may be.

This means that yes, there have been times I have regretted it.  Times I have used my story with less than grace, and that will always come back to bite me.  This is why, for quite a while, I simply stopped telling my story.  Without the grace, my story got away from me and became this thing that hung over me until I was so drunk in the details that I was kind of hungover myself.  As time presses on and God develops in me the gift He's given me of story, He's teaching me the grace so that we can weave mine back in.

Grace in story is this: it's recognizing that the most powerful, the most real, the most worthy aspects of your story are never the details.  It's never about what happened.  Anybody who's got a story and been buried in their details knows this is true.  Because in all of our seeking to understand our own stories, we run into the narratives of others whose details are the same and we walk away more confused than when we thought we were searching.  We don't relate to people in details.  If there is even one other person on this entire planet who lived precisely the way you have lived, you have no kindred connection unless there is something in your heart in the way you handled that life that draws you together.

We relate to people in heart.

So telling your story with grace is foregoing the opportunity to name names.  It's refusing to dwell on the details.  It's choosing not to elaborate on events.  Instead, it is owning your heart and owning your healing and owning your journey and your character and your subplot.  It's about laying out not who said what but some bit of truth that another heart can hear.

When I'm using my story, I focus on my story.  My details.  My decisions.  My desperations.  My heart.  That's how you're going to connect to it anyway.  Then, I don't have to worry about backlash.  I don't have to worry about offending anyone.  I'm not dragging any names through the mud.  I'm not distracting from the real issues with something so trivial as the facts.  This is my heart, and I'm offering it in the hopes that there's another heart out there searching.  And I have no regrets.

I am neither naive nor foolish.  I know there is stigma in my story.  In the details I don't dwell on, in the ones I have to hint at to set the scene, and in the nitty-gritty of how I have responded, which I haven't always been proud of but neither will I run away from that.  There's stigma in this story and there are people who will pounce on that, but I don't have a lot of room in my heart for stigma.  There's something greater at stake.

Your story is your story.  There are people - even good-hearted, well-meaning people - who will tell you that you don't need to live under that story and that you shouldn't be bringing it up.  That if you keep talking about it, it will hang heavy over you your whole life.  That's bullhonky.

My story frees me.  It makes me make sense.  It adds depth, meaning, and even promise to my life.  It lends authenticity to everything I know, knowing I can draw on these deep breaths I've breathed and talk about this world like I'm living in it.  It is an honor to know that in some small part, my story is also freeing others.  Others who grew up as men and women without.  Without families.  Without a place.  Without a dream.  Without a hope.  Without a purpose.  Without a future.  Without a promise.  And who were told that as they grew up, they ought to ditch their story, too, and have nothing.  We cannot live as people without a story.  Without our stories, we are hollowed, not hallowed.

Our stories bring us grace.  And then I think it's up to us to weave our stories back into the Greater Narrative with that same measure of grace.  No regrets.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Limited Insight

I am a woman of limited insight.

...I like it better that way.

About a decade ago (and maybe even as recently as a few years), I would have bitten your head off for even suggesting such a thing.  I was a teenager, then a young adult, and by virtue of my vast experience alone, I was an expert in life.  Yes, life.  As broad, generic, and incredibly varied as that is.  I was the expert, and I wasn't afraid to tell you as much (and while I was at it, tell you how to fix your life, because you obviously weren't living it right).

In my college years, my particular life took me into the office of a board-certified psychiatrist for a full psychological evaluation.  When I've mentioned my post-traumatic stress disorder in the past, I was not exaggerating, and the conditions of such condition made a lot of upper-level administrators at my nice, clean-cut Christian college more than a little nervous.  Had I not put a name on it for them, they would have thought me simply quirky.  When I named it, they got scared.  So here I was for the sake of their comfort telling my story to some shrink.

He concluded, as I had fully anticipated, that I was functioning remarkably, that I had an incredible story that I was working out with some growing measure of grace, and that I was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  (A few years later, I got his notes as part of a completely separate mission I was on.  What he also concluded, though, was that for as much as I thought I knew, I was a young woman of "limited insight."  It didn't detract from his praise of the journey I was on and my overall handling of life and circumstance; but I wanted to track him down and smack him upside the face nonetheless.

These words haunted me for years.  Limited insight?  My entire worldview, self-esteem, position, and everything...were centered on the one simple fact that I was an expert at life and therefore knew everything.

But I am so glad he was right.

These words that so haunted and offended me for so long now encourage and humble me.  They help me keep my head on straight, among other things.  And were it not for these words, when praise starts flooding in for something I've written or something I've said or something I've created, I might be tempted to believe you.

And I wouldn't be good any more.

The truth is that being a woman of limited insight fuels what I'm doing.  It's showing in the way I'm locking into my own voice, and I laugh at myself quite a bit when I read the sort of things I used to write.  Stuff in my personal archives.  Rough copies of my first two manuscripts, which I do not intend to publish.  Early drafts of my first book.  Notes for upcoming books that have been sitting in their various folders for five years or more in some cases.

Because when I started writing, I was an expert and I wrote as such.  I laid down literature as law and condemned those who couldn't see it.  It was exactly the kind of attitude I resent in other writers, and I read a lot more than I write (and I write a lot).  I get ruffled when I see somebody else trying to tell me how to do things.  When I read their words and maybe it worked fantastically for them, but I'm at a point in my life where I'm practically screaming at the pages, "That's nice, but that's not my journey!"  I think once these men and women started to think they were on to something, and others encouraged them that they were, they kind of lost that ability to relate to me.  At least to me.  Maybe to you, too.

The longer I write and, in general, the longer I live, the more I'm coming to know how much I don't know.  And the more beautiful I'm finding that.  People sometimes want to talk to me about my style of writing, what I'm writing, what I'm saying, or where I'm getting my ideas.  The truth is that I'm learning out loud.

As God has broken me and put my story in perspective, as I have ventured to grow into the gift He's put in me, as I have spent more hours with Him than anywhere else in the world, what I'm coming to value is not all of the answers but the real questions.  The honest questions.  The seeking, more than the finding.  Everyone has an answer, but they aren't my answer and they aren't His.  There is Truth and God has it and if I - or you - ever want to find more of it, we have to learn the asking.

This has revolutionized what I now have the opportunity to do - which is, ironically, to share a message when I now feel so radically inadequate to have anything to say.  But allowing myself the questions, embarking on the journey, embracing the mess is giving me that one thing that I always longed for as a storyteller and am now honing every day - authenticity.  I am telling my story better, hopefully enabling you to tell your story better as we all tell His story better, by simply learning to live it and share how that's going.

I love authors that make me think.  It's hard to believe, but I'm becoming one of them.  An author who makes me think, and I don't think that's a detriment to crafting a message or putting a word out there.  There's a lot I need to think about.

Because I'm a woman of limited insight.  And I like it better this way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pop-Up Talent Show

For roughly 25 years, I've been basing my life on the hopes of one simple thing: a pop-up talent show.  Is that too much to ask?

It's the kind of thing that maybe every little kid who is good at something dreams of.  And maybe not.  I've never claimed to be every little kid.  But I started piano lessons at the age of 3 and dreamt of being fabulous.  When someone happened to notice that I was getting there, I threw everything into practicing, my every thought thinking of that one day - that unknown day - when I would be walking through the mall and find an impromptu competition in which to show off my skills.

It was always the mall and I was always sure this was an actual possibility.

It never happened.

In fact, the very small handful of talent shows that I have found in unexpected places had such pesky things as rules and registrations, and I was never on the list.  I was a nobody.  And I found every minute of it absolutely agonizing.

There are still days I think about such things.  Days when I'm walking the mall and I can't help but laugh to myself about how much of my energies I'd invested in a day that never came.  Of course, I always stop by Von Maur and have tickled the ivories there a few times, much to the delight of the older woman they actually pay to do that.  (It's not a fantastic piano; it has fewer than 88 keys, which makes much of me repertoire difficult.)  I've given up, though, on the pop-up talent show.  In the age of YouTube, it's less likely than ever before.

But I'm still basing much of my life on similar hopes.

Oh, they're different now.  I won't be the next Liberace (though secretly, I was more of a Victor Borge girl - the little bit of humor thrown in).  So it's not so much the piano, necessarily, or even music, much to the dismay of a few people I know.  (Mrs. S. - don't you worry.  I'm still dabbling and working on a song to release with my next book.  I may petition my good friend and awesome worship artist Terry Waggoner to input on that one.)  Today, though, it's more the things God has created me to do in this season of my life.  The writing.  The speaking.  The ministering.  The loving.

I'm throwing my energies behind being ready for that moment.  And I've decided that, Lord-willing, may it be blessed to not even be my moment.  Let it be His.

My mind and my heart are constantly swarming in this beautiful anticipation.  I'm planning how I want to love.  Practicing how I want to serve.  Thinking on what I want to say.  Learning to live and capture a moment that doesn't matter any more if it's center stage or backstage or so far removed that I can't even see the stage.

My days are consumed by contemplating that chance.  That moment.  That opportunity that is going to come in which I get maybe just one split second to be love for somebody.  One chance to show them something greater than myself (which at one point, I might have told you was super great, but most days these days, I'm content to be something much greater than great - that is, to be simply as He's created me, which is special in its own way but hardly anything special at all).  One chance to plant a seed.  One chance to shine a light.  One chance to hold a hand and steady a heart and point the way to a Man much greater than I'll ever be.  One moment to be all that He's created me to be.  To be love.

I'm looking forward to that.  That's why I'm spending my life readying myself.  I think I have to.  I think we all have to.

Peter says we must be ready to give a defense and explain why we believe what we believe about Christ.  I think it's much simpler than that.  I think we must be ready to live Christ.  Because if we're not living Him, it doesn't matter what we would say about Him.  Nobody will be asking.

Prepare yourself, then, to live Christ.  Prepare your heart to love.  And always be ready because the chance will come, the opportunity will pop-up.  Unlike that talent show that never stopped at my mall, we will each have our moment.  Will we be ready?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Books, books, books.  And more books.

I always want books for Christmas.  My entire list is books and music, which wears thin on some of those who are buying and really wishing I'd ask for something crazy.  Maybe books aren't crazy, but I absolutely love them and I'm already looking at a few good ones for this December.

I wanted to write about books today not to talk about how wonderful they are.  You should already know that much.  I want to talk about three particular book-related opportunities right now that you can take advantage of and be a part of.  (This is going to be link-heavy, but they should all open in a new tab or window for you.)


First, the book I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when I said I gotta go - Kingdom Journeys by Seth Barnes.  If you haven't read this yet, what are you waiting for?  Oh wait...I know.  You're waiting to sweeten the deal.  Well, it doesn't get any sweeter than this week.  If you buy the material copy of Kingdom Journeys through its own dedicated website, Seth will throw in a copy of every other thing he's ever written.  And some of this stuff is good.  I have to admit: I haven't made it through all of it yet.  But once you read Kingdom Journeys, you'll want to read more.  The freebies include:
  • A discussion guide for the Kingdom Journeys book
  • All of the digital copies available for Kingdom Journeys (.mobi, .ePub, and .PDF) so you can take the book with you wherever you go (because you've got to go)
  • The Art of Listening Prayer
  • Revolution of a Broken Heart
  • The Secret of Abundant Living
  • The Warrior's Journal
Take advantage of this offer while it lasts.  (Ends October 13.)


Second, I've decided to give my first book, Recess with Jesus, another few free days in the Kindle store.  These will be coming up this weekend, October 12-14 (Friday through Sunday).  I'm doing this for two reasons.  First, to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible.  I offered a similar promotion in June and was very encouraged by the number of downloads and the response that filled my personal inbox.  I want to see that happen again; I want to see people reading this book.  Second, a little selfishly, I'm hoping (and therefore asking) that you will take advantage of this free offer and pick up my first book, then hop back onto Amazon and review it for me.  Right now, I'm stuck at a measly three reviews.  As I told my Facebook friends, Donald Miller's new book, Storyline, had only nine reviews at my last check and if I could only get seven more people to take five minutes for Recess, then maybe for a minute, I would feel legitimate.

I was joking, of course.  I do what I do because I love it and was created to do just this; God legitimizes what I do, and I don't really spend my time counting the numbers.  (Count to One)  But what I know about reviews is this: the more this book has, the better prospective readers will be able to assess their interest in it.  This means getting it into the hands of more readers so that maybe these words can change more hearts.  That's really what it's about.  What I also know is that I'm getting ready to start pitching my second book - Prayse - and one of the best ways to demonstrate my audience is not by pointing to my inbox.  It's by pointing to Amazon and saying look.  Here are the people who read my first book and were interested enough to say something about it.  That doesn't mean you have to love it; just engage enough with me and with this book to have something to say.  That's the key.

So sometime this weekend, hop over to Amazon and pick up your FREE copy of Recess with Jesus (Kindle app also free to download for PC, Mac, iPad, and smartphones) and do me the honor of leaving a review.  To whet your appetite, you can find a few full chapters on my Recess with Jesus site.


Finally, I am deep into the writing of my new book - Prayse.  In this process and by engaging with and reading other authors, I am honing my voice and learning how to say what I want to say.  In fact, I'm shaping into the writer I've longed to be so much that the last chapter I penned (keyed?) inspired me to go back through and rework some of my previously drafted material.  Just to get the right voice in there.
But what I would love to do as well is this: I'd like to include some stories other than mine.  That's where you come in.

Prayse is a book about honoring God with our prayers.  The project began when I started to wonder why we don't seem to be getting the same answers that our Biblical heroes received.  Does God even answer any more?  What I'm coming up with and circling around is that we have to pray honest prayers.  Prayers that don't necessarily start with a "Dear Lord" and end with an "Amen."  Prayse is deep in theology and draws on a lot of stories in the Bible - from Solomon's famous prayer for wisdom to the dozens of men and women healed by Jesus to an in-depth look at one blind man in particular who received his sight and so on.  Rather than trying to lay out a formula on how to pray (as so many other books do and...I'm confused.  Aren't you?  How do we ever know if we're praying right and why isn't it working?), my aim with this book is to give the reader permission to pray like your heart already wants to if it had never learned all these "rules."

So what I'm looking for are your stories of prayer.  Prayers that were answered and prayers that weren't.  Prayers where you struggled against your heart to find the "right" words and prayers where you gave up being proper and just poured your heart out.  Prayers particularly in some of the following categories:
  • Prayers for healing
  • Prayers of bargain (If you, God....then I...)
  • Prayers you stuck with
  • Prayers you gave up on
  • Prayers you settled for half-answers with
  • Prayers with answers that scared you
  • Prayers with answers that energized you
  • Prayers where you encountered Jesus
  • Prayers where He couldn't have felt further away
We all have prayer stories, and I know you're thinking of yours right now.  There have been several in my own life that I'm drawing on in working on this manuscript.  I need more.  Because this thing about prayer - it isn't my story.  It's God's story, and I want to use as many of His characters as I can.  If it's a prayer episode in your life that you remember so strongly that you're thinking about it right now, please share it with me (implying your consent that I may use it in my new book, with attribution [note if you would prefer your name protected], at my discretion) by clicking here.

And of course, you can get a sneak peek of all of my drafts for Prayse here.


This past Saturday, I took my three-year-old nephew to my town's Heritage Festival parade.  About halfway through, the public library marched with a bunch of small children.  A little girl hopped out of her mother's wagon and walked over to my nephew and handed him a book.  A real book.  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  His smile was huge.  When we got back to the house, his six-year-old sister excitedly exclaimed, "I know that book!  I read it last year in kindergarten!" and proceeded to spend the day reading that book to him and to a small, but dedicated audience of various dolls and stuffed animals she'd strategically arranged on my bed.  There's something wonderful about books.  

Never forget that.  And don't let this week pass you by without taking advantage of the above offers for Kingdom Journeys, Recess with Jesus, and Prayse.

As per federal regulations, I am obligated to remind you that in exchange for my review and promotion of Kingdom Journeys, I received a free copy of the book as well as all of the bonuses that this week's purchasers receive.  That said, I must also say that I hope you know me as a straight talker, and if it wasn't any good, I would tell you so.  It was good.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Not an Apple

Every time I talk to God, He's eating an apple.  I shared that much with you on Friday.

At first, I was amused.  Because if anyone can eat an apple, I thought, certainly it is God.  (And certainly, it is not Eve.)  But the more I thought about it, the more I simply wondered: Why is it we always think of Eve eating an apple in the Garden?  The Bible simply says "fruit."

Eve picked fruit from the tree and ate it.  She shared that fruit with Adam.  After being specifically instructed not to eat the fruit of that particular tree.  Where's the apple?

We probably picked up the apple because it is particularly identifiable in pictures, which is how we all first learned about the apple.  Vacation Bible School, church preschool, wherever - I didn't even grow up in the church but I remember distinctly at these two places coloring pictures of two people in a garden eating apples.

Color an orange.  Are they eating a basketball?  Grapes.  What are those little candies they have?  Peach.  What even is that?  Pear.  Visually identifiable, but how common is it to see a whole pear?  Banana.  This image just makes me laugh.  Is the banana the source of all knowledge?  Regardless...we pick up on the apple right away.

There's another reason, though, that I like the apple.  It is one of few fruits with a core.

That speaks to me.  At the center of all knowledge and at the center of life itself, there is a core.  We know that core to be Christ, but back then, it was a little...juicier.  It was a fruit.  But I think that's just a beautiful image that when we start to eat and partake of this goodness and knowledge and life of God, we nibble down to a core.

A peach, an avocado, a mango - these have pits.  It's easy some days to feel like at its depths, life is a pit, but that's not entirely truth.  It would seem awkward to have a piece of fruit be the bearer of all knowledge and life only to have a remnant so hard and callous and thistly as a pit left over to be disposed of.  We can rule pitted fruits out.

Fruits like the banana and the orange have nothing particularly definable in their center.  There's not a part of these I personally dispose of while eating - except, of course, the peel, which presents two problems with this category of fruit.  1) Would knowledge - as created in the Garden in its most perfect form - come with a peel?  And 2) Would it have nothing at its center?  Of course not.  We can rule peeled, empty fruits out.

There are fruits that do not grow on trees.  Watermelon and grapes grow on vines.  Tomatoes, too.  (Yes, that's a fruit.)  So we can rule vined fruits out, as well.

Which brings us back to the core issue.  That is, the fruit with a core.  Some could argue that like the pit of a fruit, there are those among us who discard cores, as well.  This is true, but you don't have to. There are many others who eat every bite of an apple and leave only the stem and the seeds.  So in our cored fruits not otherwise excluded for having a pit, having a peel, or lacking a center, we are down to apples and pears and persimmons.

No, the source all knowledge and all life wouldn't have to be a cored fruit; it could have been anything that grows on a tree.  I'm not trying to paint God into a box.  But let's be honest about our Creator for a second.  You know He put a core in the center of the fruit.

Every time I talk to God, He's eating an apple.  After much consideration, I've decided it wouldn't have to be.  He could be eating a pear.  (And for giggles, the occasional banana.)