Friday, May 31, 2013


I am home now from ten days in the mountains.  After ten years without going anywhere, it was a much-needed getaway...even if I was working most of the time.

As I put the miles behind me headed south a week ago last Friday, I could feel so much releasing within me. So much pouring out of me.  Years of burden.  Years of struggle.  Years of heavy weight that I'd been carrying around.  This trip was a chance to break free from so much of that.  And truth?  I was able to.

But it wasn't all pleasure.

Every day, I woke up and looked out into the mist, popped open my Bible, and started reading, just as I would any morning at home.  Devotion comes first.  And normally, I am inspired by the Word of God.  He and I just connect.  We connect as I'm reading.  Several times throughout the day, He pops into my head.  Many moments, He sneaks in and grabs my heart.  I kind of live inspired.

In the mountains, not so much.  I only made notes on maybe two sentences in all my Bible in ten days.  I didn't have a lot of mercy moments.  Other than the really cool matters of creation - the thunderstorm over the lake, the rainbow, the mist, the mountains - I wasn't connecting with God in the same way that I have come to know, to treasure, around here.  It was kind of disappointing.

Really disappointing.

Down there, I had these moments where I was everything I thought I had ever wanted to be.  Relaxed.  Sociable.  Pleasant.  Hard-working, but not uptight about it.  Unconstrained.  There was no sense of time.  I mentioned it on Twitter and maybe Facebook - there was a clock where I was staying, and the clock's only job was to show the day of the week.  It was so easy to lose track...because I just sort of took the days as they came.  I didn't hurt.  I didn't fear.  I didn't tremble.  I looked in the mirror and saw the girl I had always dreamed of - inwardly and outwardly.

But this one gnawing thing was missing: heart.

I wasn't a woman after God's heart.  Don't get me wrong - I was living and loving, working and serving, doing and being and praying that in all of that, God would continue to use the time to free me from so many things and to create in me the woman I yearned for.  He did, and I have to be honest, I completely failed to notice.  I forgot to remember His role in things.  I forgot to honor Him for doing in me; it was too easy to just grab onto what He was doing.  It got to be midweek, and I wondered where my inspiration was.  I wondered where this whisper in my heart had gone, this companion and voice I have grown so accustomed to hearing.  I could almost feel my life shallowing out, my depths fading.  Because I was content for a few days to trade the God who has wanted to be all for me for a chance to experience all I had ever wanted.  Or thought I'd wanted.  Or...I don't know.

I'm not saying it's bad to have your moment.  I'm not saying it's bad to be the woman God created in me, the one I've longed to be in touch with.  It was absolutely cool.  But if I'm going to be that woman, I have to be more diligent about connecting with God in that place, too.  I have to be more concerned with getting my heart straight so that I find that relationship that I so treasure even in the fine times.

It's easy to be God's when we need Him.  When life bears down on us and we have all this fight and all this burden and all this trouble that only God can mitigate for us.  That only God can help us carry.  That only God can carry us through.  In an unburdened moment, can we also find God?  How are you His when you don't really need Him as desperately as life sometimes demands?  How are you His when you only want Him?

He's not a different God in those times; you are only a different you.  You have to learn - I have to learn - to bring yourself before God however you are: burdened, unburdened, worried, wondered, frozen, free.  You have to make God a priority and carve out the place where only He speaks to you...before the good things get so loud that you can't hear any more.

God still wants to be all for you even when you think you're all you ever wanted to be.  He is still all, and He is still more.  It doesn't have to be a trade-off; never settle.  Live unburdened - man, it is an incredible way to live and to breathe - but burden yourself for the fullness of God.  You need that, too.

I need that, too.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Creation

As you probably know by now, I am more than a writer; I am also an artist.  I enjoy the creation process, the creative process, really, and I almost always have my hands in this or that design-based thing.

Which only gives me a deeper appreciation for my Creator.

In the past couple of months, I have done some graphic work for a therapeutic horse riding center and have also undertaken a redesign of our monthly women's ministry newsletter for the congregation.  In these ventures, specifically, I have found myself trying to recreate things that have already been created - horses, flowers, the sun, a tree, a bug.  It is a surprisingly agonizing process during which I am fully aware: these things don't even have to work.  That is, my only objective is to create a two-dimensional, flat, stagnant representation of such things and not the vibrant, tangible, dynamic things that they actually are.

My flower just has to look like a flower; it doesn't have to grow.  My sun just has to share a smile; it doesn't have to shine.  My tree stands as a representation; it doesn't cast its shade.  My bug is just a little thing; it doesn't have to pester.  My horse just has to be recognizable as a horse; you don't have to walk behind it with a shovel.  And I'm a perfectionist, and let me tell you - even this is hard!

It's hard to create something that even looks like something created.  It's hard to get the little details right.  It's hard to bridge that gap between "refrigerator art," where everyone knows what you were going for and appreciates the effort, and "created," where things of course live and breathe and interact.  Somewhere in the middle is good design, and I only pray I hit it as often as I can.  Both to bring glory to the God who created me to do so and to bring glory to the God who created these things in the first place.

God is fairly sarcastic with me much of the time.  He loves me deeply, but it's the way we communicate.  My brain and my heart just seem to get it.  Or maybe it's me being sarcastic with myself the way God would if He were standing over my shoulder.  (He's standing over my shoulder, isn't He?)  But every time I sit down to design something simple, I kind of get the God of Job echoing in my head.

Tell me, God teases.  Have you ever even seen a ladybug?  'Cause that's not even close.  Do you know the way I built the shell?  Or why the antennae stick out at just such an angle?  Have you seen a tulip?  What is that thing you are drawing?  It doesn't even have to drink water; can you even make its petals look right?  

And so on.  I am generally amused.

(And God's not the only one.  The lady I was working with at the therapeutic horse riding center tenderly informed me that every one of my horses was a donkey.  By ear shape alone.  *sigh*)

But He's right.  And she's right.  Creation is so far beyond my grasp, even as an artist, even as a creater (I won't call myself a "creator"), that I cannot help but be in awe of the world around me.  I cannot help but lose my breath at the sight of the created world.  I cannot help but stagger under the beauty of Creation.

A flower...that not only looks like a flower but spreads its roots, soaks up the water, drinks in the sun, creates its own food, and grows.  A sun that holds its place in the emptiness, in the vast expanse of space, and gives light to a world billions of miles away.  A tree that stands firm on a root system that dwarfs its branches, that births new leaves and casts a shadow of respite on the ground.  A ladybug that flies, that lands, that senses its surroundings, whose red color is misleading, a beautiful defense mechanism so that it can protect itself from natural predators, though its vulnerability is ever-present.  A horse whose heavy body stands on strong legs, who gallops and trots and takes on a rider, whose sleek coat is contrasted by a flowing mane, whose hooves are firm but fragile.  This stuff doesn't just look like stuff - it is stuff.  It's incredible!

So I am in awe.  I am so far less a creater, even as I have been created to create.  I used to agonize over getting it right, over the finest details, over the smallest things.  Over doing justice to the images, the shadows of real things, that I was trying to recreate.  Not any more.  I mean, have I even seen a ladybug?  'Cause that's not even close....

Now, I just try to give glory.  To the God who created me to create.  And the God who created all this incredible stuff in the first place.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thank You

We do not need to say please when bringing our hearts before God (see yesterday), but there is certainly a Biblical mandate to be generous with our thank yous.  It's something that, if we're being honest, I struggle with.  Not because I'm not thankful but because...well...

Fairly often, I find myself mumbling a sincere and relieved "thank You" under my breath, usually after some awesome, incredible, or much-needed thing has happened.  Even if it's something small.  You know, like if I know I'm running late and I seem to make all the stoplights.  Or if I'm speeding through the store to pick up a few essentials, and there's one package left of something on my list and I find it buried in the back of the shelf somewhere.  Or if I've had a moment - that moment - that is just so perfectly right and unassuming and quiet and unexpected that I can't help but smile to myself and whisper a thank You.  Just because God is incredible.

It is important to thank God in such times, big and small, perfect and unexpected, because we need to remember where every good thing comes from.  And thanks is such an important concept to faith that God created a special offering just for that.  Did you know?

Go back to the Old Testament, to the books of Moses.  Around Leviticus and Deuteronomy; that section.  There, God lays out the rules for the offerings, the sacrifices that His people should bring before Him according to their hearts.  There is an offering for sin, so that the people had a way to bring brokenness before God.  An offering for guilt, again to bridge a gap between man and Maker.  Offerings for fellowship and first harvests, ways to draw closer to the God of presence and provision.  Offerings for dedication, for worship, for atonement.  Offerings just because, because there are some times we long to bring something to God but have no earthly idea what to give Him.  And offerings for thanks.  Whole, dedicated sections of Scripture to tell the people of God how to thank Him.  It was that important.

And I love my little smiles, the whispers under my breath.  I love the good, unexpected moments I share when I can't help but let out a little thank You.  It's just that I guess it feels shallow to me.  It feels hollow.  Because I find myself thanking God for the littlest of things, the minutest details of life, and anything I think He's done for me, but so rarely do I remember to thank Him just for being.  So few times do I offer my thanks that simply, He is.

I believe so powerfully in the God who is more than just the God who can (and does) do for me.  I believe so strongly that our relationship with God, my relationship with God, cannot be based on merit or work.  He tells us that He is not interested in such things from us, that we cannot earn our salvation, that we cannot merit His love, and the truth is that I'm not that interested in such things from Him.  It's cool and all that God walks beside me.  It's amazing that He takes the time to listen to, to understand, and to care for my heart.  It's incredible that I smile as often as I do for the silliest little things I know can only be from Him.

But that's not what our relationship should be based on.  Not the whole thing, I mean.  Of course I thank the Lord for saving me.  I thank the Son for dying in my place so that I can have life and the hope that is life eternal.  It just seems to me that if I love God only for the things He does for me, it's kind of selfish, isn't it?  Like I will love the Lord as long as He keeps doing.  Life is so much more beyond that.

That's kind of the catch, though.  I think.  I look around at all that God is, outside of what He's done for me. I look at creation, at the way He's woven things together.  The rainbow over the lake last week.  The way flowers keep their color even in the dark.  The way an ant carries a crumb twenty times its size.  The way the wind blows, often felt but never seen.  The way saving grace comes at just the right time for the woman in the cancer ward, the man on the streets, the family in the park.  All of these beautiful, wonderful, incredible things that God has done, that God has created that aren't for me - and He makes them feel like they are all for me.  Like if I were the only one here, He would still do it all because these things are for His glory and my pleasure.  Even what He hasn't done specifically for me still feels done specially for me, so I suppose I will always feel a little guilty and a little selfish and a little shallow in my thanks to Him.  Maybe I'm supposed to.

For sure, though, I know I am supposed to give thanks.  My heart is burdened with thanksgiving, and that is no accident; God created such a thing knowing it was a dynamic between He and man.  Knowing we needed a way to be grateful.  Knowing we needed a way to be honoring.  Knowing we needed a way to smother Him with love for the things He has done - specially for us.  Especially for us.

So don't bother with a please, but remember your thank Yous.  And don't feel guilty if, like me, you feel a little guilty.  Don't feel selfish if it feels like you're just thanking Him for the things He does for you.  This is more than just what God does; it is who He is.  For you.  This is all for you.  Be thankful.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Yesterday, I drove past a little church in a small town.  The sign out front read: "God, please bless America."

It made me wonder: do you think you ought to ask God "please"?

Most of us were raised with please and thank you.  We were paraded in front of a variety of adults and children alike, asking for the things we either wanted or needed, and awkwardly delayed while everyone waited and baited us to say the "magic word" - please.  It is a form of polite posture.  It is a word of deference.  It is a word that acknowledges that your request might put someone else out, if even for a moment, but asks anyway.

Does God honor you if you ask anyway?  Or does God honor you more if you ask anyway?

My morning Bible reading has me in the Psalms this time of year, and I'm reading the words of crying out penned by David and the other poets.  You know something?  I'm not seeing a whole lot of please.  I'm seeing a great deal of "O Lord" and a whole lotta "come" and a good smattering of "get down here and defend me."  But not much please.  A heart crying out to God doesn't seem to have a whole lot of space for the word.  There's no time for politeness.

God doesn't seem to mind.  He doesn't stand there tapping His foot, waiting and baiting His children for the magic word.  He doesn't respond to an agonized prayer by asking, "Aren't you forgetting something?"  He doesn't withhold His coming or His grace for the lack of a simple please.  He answers anyway.  He comes anyway.  He loves anyway.

I'm not even sure what part of speech please is, not in the way we use it today.  An adverb or something.  But in the Bible, please is only a verb.  We lead our lives to please the Lord.  We want to be a pleasing aroma.  We want our sacrifices to be pleasing to our God.  We aim to please only Him.  And so on and so on and so on.  It's a verb.  It's something we do.  Not something we ask.

That is the way we ought to use please with the Lord - calling ourselves up instead of calling God out.  Does He respond better to a please?  No.  If He did, wouldn't that change the image you have of God?  It would have to.  Do you want a God who stands waiting on a magic word?  I don't.  If in sixty-six books of the Bible, written by dozens of different authors across spans of both time and place, in varying circumstances and changing times, there has never been a reason or a need to pray a please, we have no reason to believe we need one now.

God, please bless America.  Fine.  That's nice and polite.  But God has never been one for politeness.

Bless this nation, Lord.

And let us please You.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bottoms Up

For the past couple of days, I've been shoveling mulch by the pick-up full.  The first few loads were really tough until I realized:

I was doing it wrong.

This truck bed was piled as high as it could hold every time it backed up to drop off a load.  And I, the youngest and most able-bodied of the crew, hopped right up in the back and started shoveling off into a 4-wheeler and a wheelbarrow for everyone else to disperse as they pleased.  My brain told me: start at the top.  Shovel off the top and work your way down so you're not lifting all of that heavy mulch with every scoop.  It will be easier that way.  Then I grew increasingly frustrated as I was just tossing more of it into a flatter pile than I was able to actually scoop into my shovel.

It seems counterintuitive, but once I started scooping from the bottom, the whole process got a great deal easier.  Running that shovel up underneath the whole pile, scraping against the truck bed as I went, I was able to keep my efforts in my scoop and lo and behold, the rest of the pile was not a heavy burden; it simply fell loose as I pulled out my shovel, making the entire thing easier in the long haul.

The mulch has got me thinking.  It's got me thinking about the shards of life that kind of seem piled up, the way there are just these things that I wish I could change here or there but it seems like if I ever want to get to the base of the problem, I ought to start by skimming stuff off the top.  It makes me think about all the times in my life I have been waiting on change, praying for change, and believing it starts with all the surface stuff.  That difference is made from the top down.

Which is why so little difference is ever truly made.  We spend all of our time shuffling things that aren't really things, shoving more off to the side than scooping it away.  Spreading our piles instead of digging them out.  Then we find ourselves in this big mess, with little problems spread out everywhere and...just standing there looking at it, it looks like we've made the whole problem bigger.  Instead of getting to the bottom of it.  There's more trouble to deal with, more base to mess with, more mess to clean up.

It seems counterintuitive, but if you want change in your life - honest, Godly, good change - you've got to start scooping from the bottom.  You have to go right to the base.  You have to get at the root of the problem, the foundation on which it is bearing weight.  It seems wrong.  It seems like too much weight to bear, like if you tried to start scooping from there, you'd have to pick everything up at once.  Who can lift such a burden?

But the opposite is true.  When you go straight to the base, dig straight into the bottom of the problem, what you find is that all the little stuff that's piled on top of it, all of the surface stuff loosens up and starts to fall away.  And it's easier to shuffle off.

You know what?  It's true.  It really works.  When you go straight to the core of your problem, all of these other things that look like your problem - these things borne of defense mechanisms and survival necessities - just kind of fall away.  You don't have to take the habits away to get to the heart; go to the heart and the habits will fall.  Because you just won't need them any more.  It takes awhile (literally, days, in terms of mulch; sometimes years in terms of hearts) but it all falls away, gets shuffled out, and you discover what you kind of already knew...

It's manure.  Pretty much all of it.

When you find your heart heavy, your life burdened, a mountain that seems too big to move, don't waste another second skimming off the top.  Grab your shovel and dig right in.

Bottoms up!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Naked Jesus

We know the verse in Matthew when Jesus says, "Whenever you have seen someone hungry and fed them, thirsty and given them something to drink, naked and given clothing, sick or in prison and visited them - whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for Me."  (Matthew 7:21; paraphrased)  Yesterday morning, this Scripture was part of my devotional reading, and the author of my devotional book put it this way:

"When Jesus said he was hungry and thirsty and naked in those around us...." (Brennan Manning)

The way Manning phrased this got me thinking about the reality of depravity and the aim of evangelism.  Of course, we should always be looking for the hungry to feed, the thirsty to slake, the naked to clothe.  (Always be on the lookout for the naked.)  But we should be looking for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned Jesus in every man, too.

We ought to be looking for the hungry Jesus, desperate to take a bite out of the heart of a man.  A Jesus lurking in an empty stomach, longing to be let in.  A Jesus waiting on His word to be digested.

We ought to be looking for the thirsty Jesus, awaiting His chance to send living water through the veins of the lost.  A Jesus aching to be relief in a parched heart.  A Jesus waiting for the chance to revive and restore.

We ought to be looking for the naked Jesus, the image of Jesus not clothed in glory.  A Jesus who stands bare in the heart of a man, unknown except by name.  Untrusted.  Unbelieved.  A Jesus waiting for the chance to put on a new wardrobe and show Himself in righteousness.

We ought to be looking for the sick Jesus, a Jesus tarnished by the world.  A Jesus whose name has been spoiled by the troubles and tribulations of the fallen life.  A Jesus waiting on the invitation to walk.

We ought to be looking for the imprisoned Jesus, trapped behind a wall of pain, brokenness, and indignity.  A Jesus who has been pushed back and pushed out by the experience of a broken man.  A Jesus waiting on the doors to open and the shackles to fall.

I'm wondering what our evangelism would look like if we were not only looking for the hungry, thirsty, and naked people, but we were looking for the hungry, thirsty, and naked Jesus they hold inside of them.  A Jesus waiting to meet them.  A Jesus longing to love them.  

What if we could do more than meet corporeal needs?  What if we could clothe a man and His Savior - one in blue jeans and a t-shirt; one in righteousness?  What if we could feed a man and His image of God - one with a simple meal; one with a simple faith?

I am always looking for someone to help.  I'll give away all I've got and then some.  It's absolutely crucial to the work of the Lord that we make food for the hungry, pour drink for the thirsty, mend clothes for the naked.  (Seriously, always watch out for the naked.)

But keep your eyes peeled for a naked Jesus, too.  And clothe Him in glory.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


This week, I am somewhere on a lake in the mountains of east Tennessee.  (A moment to be jealous....ok.  Let's move on.)  Water is fairly new to me; I haven't spent a great deal of time around any measurable water.  I've only been to the ocean maybe twice in my life.  It's been really fun to watch the way the water plays.

But mountain water?  Man, the other night was one of the most beautiful things I think I have ever seen with my naked eye.  And I kind of know how Noah must have felt.

It's hard to understand the magnitude of the flood unless you've been around the water.  Particularly, the mountain waters.  It's hard to appreciate what the storm looks like unless you've been here to see it.  The other night, I was sitting around the living room late in the daylight, looking out the large sliding glass patio doors as a storm started to roll through.  First, the waters churned.  The skies darkened.  The clouds opened up, and it started to pour.  With such an expanse of lake, you couldn't see anything past the big maple tree standing there in the backyard.

As the rains continued, something interesting happened.  The whole world went black and white.  Shades of grey everywhere, not a drop of color in sight, save the pretty pink flowers sitting right outside the patio door. But everything was in grey.  Even the giant tree not 40 feet away.  As if God had opened up Holy Photoshop and hit the "grayscale" button, just like that.  The skies started to clear, the rain started to pass, and the other side of the lake started to reappear - but all in shades of grey.  It was breathtaking.

It's how, honestly, I think our world is.  Not black and white; not so drab as all that.  Not cut-and-dried, as we might say.  Not in full color, either.  The world really lives in shades of grey, which sounds like a bad thing.  It sounds like we've settled for what that is.  We've put such a negative connotation with grey areas - convinced we should either know or not know and thus not have to deal with the middle ground - that it's hard to imagine how beautiful this could be.  But it's all middle ground.  That's our mission - to find a way to live in the middle ground.

It doesn't end there, however.  After the rains had passed, as the other side of the lake was starting to come back into view, as the sky was breaking and the mountains were pushing through, as the sun started to light the way again, everything stayed in that misty haze of greyness...except for the rainbow that stretched out over the water.  That, my friends, was in living color.

So I found myself thinking of Noah.  I've never had an appreciation for the flood before, although I lost a good chunk of my house and my hometown to a flood just a few years ago.  Here in the water, in the mountains, I understand a little more.  The Ark came to rest, we are told, on Mount Ararat - Noah was stuck in the waters of the mountains.  After witnessing a series of thunderstorms here this week, I know that he must have been trapped in this grayscale world.  His eyes had probably long-adjusted to the shades of black and white stretched out before him.  Then, the rainbow.

The promise of God in full, vibrant, living color.

Can you imagine what that did to Noah's heart?

God's promise is the same today.  In a world of black and white and shades of grey, God's promise is a full-scale, full-color, living, vibrant contrast to all that we have come to know.  Every now and again, the storm breaks just enough that we can see His promise stretch out above the skies and know that He is there.  It is an incredible sight.  Truly breathtaking.

The camera picked up a bit more color than my naked eye, but this is what I'm talking about:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


In the aftermath of the storm, questions inevitably arise: why does God create the tornadoes?  Why does He lead them into a place like Moore?  Where was He?

As I watched the video of the storm play again and again and again, and still again, on the news, I was struck by something that I want to share with you.  Not to minimalize the storm at all.  Not to distract from the tragedy.  But just to offer a new perspective, to set you back in wonder of the God who created the wind.

Because that, not the storm, is the handiwork of God.  The wind.  It's amazing.

What amazes me about the wind is that God created it, knowing we would never see it.  Have you ever seen the wind?  Have you watched it blow from east to west?  Of course not.  But we are thankful for the gentle breeze on a hot summer day.  We are thrilled by the refreshing way it touches our skin in a parched moment.  There's something about it - you never see it coming, but when you feel it, you almost can't help but let out a little sigh of relief and contentment.  There is something beautiful in the wind.

In a week like this, it's hard to say that, but it's no less true.  This week reminds us of the chaos of the fallen world, where even wind can get swept up in itself and wrapped around until it blows rogue and wreaks havoc.  I have seen the videos.  As I mentioned just a few months ago, I am a National Weather Service Storm Spotter.  I have a sober appreciation for the havoc of the wind.  But that couldn't stop me from praising this week as the video played on repeat on the television news.

I praise because the wind reminds me of the overflowing love of God, His creative genius, and His commitment to the tiniest details.  Specifically, I praise because the more I watch the wind in that rare seen moment, the more I watch the usually-unseen play out on my television screen, the more I can't help but wonder what other beautiful, wonderful, incredible things God took the time and tender care to create that we may never see.

How much else has He put in the universe that we will only ever feel?  Only ever hear?  Only ever taste?  Only ever smell?  How much is out there that science cannot figure out, that technology cannot control, that research cannot discover?  How much have we found and how much will we never uncover?  What hidden things are there in the universe that God has put there just for our pleasure - things unseen and meant to be that way?  The sheer thought of it is breathtaking.

We have an extravagant God.  Truly extravagant.  He has spared nothing in creating this place for us, and in a moment like this, I can't help but praise the intricate nature of His work.  I can't help but worship the God who created the wind, even in a moment of chaos when it's so hard to remember the grace of that wind.

The pictures coming out of Oklahoma are tough to watch.  It's hard to think about the devastation; it seems so big.  And my heart goes out to those in the path of the storm, those who will go to sleep every night for the next week, month, year, decade, and not be able to get the sights and the sounds out of their heads.  It is incumbent upon us as the hands and feet of Christ to meet them there and to love, to serve, to do what we can to help them rebuild.  And it is incumbent upon us to ask, to hear, and to honor the questions.  Where was God?  Why did He let the winds cut a path through a place like Moore?  Why did He create the tornadoes at all?

I'm not sure He did.  God created the wind - intended to be unseen - and set it in the chaos of a fallen world for our pleasure and His glory.  Chaos just carried them away.  In the aftermath, I find myself praising Him for the unseen, wondering what else is out there, and trusting - trusting - that in the debris, there is something else unseen that He is working on.  Keep your eyes on Moore, and you will see it.

Turn your heart toward Moore, and you may just be a part of it.  And if you are able, put your hands to Moore and contribute to the thing unseen.

That is the glory of God.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Carried Away

Yesterday, I talked about finding that still place inside of you even when you can't stop moving.  It cuts down on motion sickness when you engage yourself in something more than the ride.

And it doesn't have to be anything outward, anything physical.  It's just about focusing your energies into something and creating a place of non-movement within all of the motion of the world.  And I warned you a beautiful thing happens.  That is this:

You set yourself up to get carried away.

Isn't that the same, you might ask, as having no skin in the game, having no engagement in the motion, having no inner stillness, no sense of anything to ground you?  Not at all.  Completely different.  The way most of us are doing life right now - the way we're rocked by the motion of the world, the way we're passengers in the journey of life, the way we're just waiting to get "there" so we can stop for just a second - that's nowhere near carried away.  That is dragged around.

That is fear - are we really going anywhere?  That is exhaustion - will we ever find rest?  That is spinning and dizzy and disorienting and sickening to the stomach.  That is not at all what carried away is.

Carried more content for the journey.  It hardly notices the motion because it is centered, still, within itself.  It doesn't much matter where carried away is going because when you look around, you're somewhere new, and that's just fine.  There is no destination, no end to the journey.  There is no waiting on that next exit sign in the hopes of stopping for just a little bit.  There's just this.  There's just this going and you hardly even notice it.  Because you don't care where you end up.

When you're grounded, when you've found that place within yourself that ignores the motion and engages you in something new, you just don't care where you're going.  You're not counting miles.  You're not watching the gas gauge. You're not angry at the rest of the traffic that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and isn't in a hurry to get there.  It's just a journey, and you're excited.  You're ready to roll.

And you even look around every now and then and discover that not only are you ready to roll, you've already been rolling.  For Lord knows how long.  And you're on your way to somewhere, somewhere exciting, even if you've never heard of the place before.  You're being carried away.  There is no fear.  There is no exhaustion.  There is no spinning, disorienting, dizzying feeling.  There is no sinking feeling in the pit of your gut.

Because you were created for this.  We were created to be carried away.  We were created to ride the waves of the world - so long as we have found the faith within us that keeps us steadied, that keeps us grounded, that keeps us still.  It's a delicate balance, but it's awesome.  God created it to be that way.

Too often, I know I still feel dragged around.  I feel like a passenger in this journey we call life, but I'm working on it.  I don't necessarily have to take the wheel to be a part of things; I just have to engage myself in something, find that thing that grounds me and fuels me and centers me so I can feel the stillness within me, the peace even amid the motion.  Then all of a sudden, I find myself carried away and that is a pretty cool trip to take.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Moving Still

All my life, I have battled against a measurable degree of motion sickness.  Nothing too terrible; just that uncomfortable sensation of movement.  As life has gone on, I have gained a bit of insight into this phenomenon...and it's interesting.  I thought I'd share.

I feel motion.  Whether I'm walking around the grocery store, riding in a car, driving in a car, or flying somewhere.  There are times I feel like I need to just stop for a minute so I can breathe - or swallow.  Well, I am a seven-hour drive away from home this week, and it was fun getting here.

Ok, it really was fun.  I spent the trip playing with my motion sickness.

Here's what it is, and this is why persons even like myself tend to not be sick when they are the ones doing the driving: it's a matter of where you feel your motion.

What I realized as I wound my way through the mountains was that in the passenger seat, you're almost completely externally focused.  You're watching out the windows.  You're engaged in conversation.  You're looking at this, mentioning that, swinging yourself around, but you're not really in your own body because there's nothing for you to do.  So the motion is very pronounced because it's all external.  You're moving, but you're not doing the moving, and it just kind of takes you.  

Driving, on the other hand, you are fully engaged with your own body.  You're steering with your hands.  Changing the radio stations.  Moving your feet from gas to brake to gas again.  You're doing something internal, something within yourself, and it offsets the motion because suddenly, the motion isn't all you've got.

So I started to wonder - if you could engage something in your body as a passenger, would this limit the motion sickness?

Indeed, it does.  Somehow, engaging yourself in something internally creates a sense of stillness within your body.  You escape the motion by engaging more in the journey, weird as it seems, and you have a place to stop and settle down even if you never actually stop.

And the implications go far beyond travel.

This is, I think, a problem for most of us.  This world just seems to take us wherever it pleases we go.  We feel like passengers in this journey called life, and it's easy to get everything spinning a little bit.  Particularly in those times when we're not doing anything.  When we're just kind of hanging out, sitting around, waiting on life to be whatever it is or whatever it's going to be.  It's dizzying...and more than a little sickening.

But what if you could find something to engage yourself in?  What if you could find something internal to do to ground you?  What if you were more than just riding along, and you had something to keep your body engaged with the journey?  All of a sudden, it's a lot less sickening.

That is what God and faith do for us.  God and faith give us that something within ourselves to put our bodies to.  To put our minds to.  To put our hearts to.  So that as we're traveling around this world, around this place called life, it's not just motion.  We're in it.  We're doing something.  We are not just travelers; we are journeymen.  And journeywomen.  It creates a sense of stillness in us, a place where we are at peace, and weird as it seems, we have a place it feels like we can stop, even if we're still moving.

It makes all the difference.

The next time you find yourself thrown off, disoriented, dizzy, or disrupted by the trip your life is taking you on, ask yourself what you're doing.  Are you just riding along, staring out the windows, feeling the motion but having no physical connection to it?  Or are you in the driver's seat, engaging your whole being in the journey and having that something that grounds you to what's going on?

One makes the journey a lot easier.  And then something interesting happens, which I will share with you tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Secret to Getting Caught

As much I love being a nobody, can I say this?  I also love doing things in secret.  It doesn't matter to me if you know that I did this or that.  I'd be content to write if you never knew my name.  I'd be content to build if you couldn't identify my handiwork.  I'd be content to design if you never saw it.  It's not important to me to build my name.

It's just important to do what I do.

Most of the time, I'm up to something.  It's true.  I've got this or that secret project going behind the scenes, this or that little gift I'm polishing up, this or that task I'm completing behind the scenes, with one eye open to make sure you don't catch me.

It used to be a matter of my ego, or lack thereof.  It used to spawn from these lingering questions I had about whether I was worthy enough to do anything, whether I was good enough to try, whether you might be disappointed if you saw that I was doing something.  It used to be my insecurities that kept me living in secret.

Now, it's just love.  It's just the way my heart works.  I love to give, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it.  Which is why if you mention to me that you need this or that, it's likely to just show up.  If you ask me if I know how to _____, and I do, then you might not have to ask again.  You'll just notice it's taken care of. I've gone from being an Anonymous Note Leaver, secretly trying to get you to notice me, to an Anonymous Love Leaver, hoping you never figure out who's behind that mysterious good thing.  (I hope they are good things; I aim for them to be.)

And on the off chance you catch me, as more than a few have done, your gut reaction will probably be, "What do you think you're doing?"  And I will look up at you with the most sheepish, cheesy grin I can muster and say, "Trying not to get caught.  How'm I doing?"

(I'm not sure if I blogged this or not, but a few years ago while going through some old papers, I found the "daily schedule" I had made for myself as a young child.  Right there, 7 p.m., was the key to my future loving - "Ninja practice."  All that stealth pays off on these days when all I want to do is sneak a little love in there.  ...Maybe I should have practiced harder.)

It happens far too often that someone catches me.

But that's ok, too.  As much as I enjoy leaving secret love behind, it's cool sometimes to get caught, too.  It brings about these moments with people that I don't think would happen any other way.  It opens these opportunities to really talk to a person because somehow, all the sneaking around and the good work and the quiet ways is just an invitation.  It makes a moment just a moment - not a duty or a task or a job or schedule.  It's just a moment because neither one of you really expected it.  Especially not you.

Some of my best conversations have come right after I've been caught.  Some of my best moments have been just after I've been spotted.  When someone walks out their front door and catches me, when we've both chuckled off my sheepish smile about getting caught, when we're just shooting the breeze and there's no obligation and no pretense and no anything because nobody knew, it's great.  It's so much fun.  It's one of the few situations in life where I really feel like I connect with people.

A few months ago on a secret mission, I escaped detection by ducking down behind the steering wheel when a friend started backing out of her driveway just as I pulled up.  I pretended to be a lost, lonely driver making a u-turn in the side street, and she didn't really notice.  But she knew who'd left that present on her doorstep anyway.  (hmph)  Yesterday, I was out making mischief wearing mostly bright pink.  Major caught.

But caught can be cool, and so can known.  As long as you can laugh about it and then just take the moment for whatever it is.  I think it matters, too, that you have some measure of confidence in yourself, that you're not embarrassed to be caught and not even disappointed.  It's just a hazard of the lovin' and you embrace that.  You embrace that someday, someone somewhere is going to walk out their front door and catch you loving them...and you're prepared to love them face-to-face, too.

I take that attitude into my writing.  I write because I love to write, because I hope that the words God loans me will be love to somebody.  I build and design and create because I love to do so, and because I hope that the gift God has given me will be a gift to someone somewhere.  It doesn't matter if you know my name, if you could pick me out of a lineup, if you would know me if I told you.  It's a lot of fun to do what I do.

There are days, though, where it's fun, too, to be caught.  It's fun to be found out, to be known, to be called on it.  It's nice to meet someone new who knows my name.  It catches me off guard, but as a product of my lovin', I'm learning to embrace the possibility that someday, somebody somewhere is going to catch me.  They're going to know who I am and what I do.  And I'm ready for that moment, whatever it might bring, because those moments are pretty cool.  Pretty really cool.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Jesus was a man who lived in the middle ground of high hopes and skeptical disappointments (see yesterday's post).  But you know what else I love about Jesus?

Jesus was a nobody.

The Scriptures make it sound like He was really a somebody - a star in the sky guiding the way to a baby in a manger, wise men journeying from afar to bring gifts, a government intimidated by an infant, wisdom walking.  But let's not forget - this was Bethlehem.  This was a manger, a stable, a barn.  This was a barely-married mother and father, pregnant out of wedlock, spinning this ridiculous yarn about divine impregnation.  This was Nazareth.  This was the dirty son of a carpenter.  A craftsman.  This was Jesus from Nazareth - nobody from nowhere.

He didn't come divinely.  He didn't really live divinely.  He didn't die divinely.  He was an average man, an everyday guy.  He was a wandered.  A fisherman.  A carpenter.  A friend.  He was a Teacher, sure, but have you seen the Man's feet?  They were just as dirty, just as torn, just as calloused as any other man's.  He was anybody, and that made Him nobody.  Or so it would seem.

Of course we know Him as an incredible Somebody.  An awesome Anybody.  We know Him now as the Son of God, the Gift of Heaven, the Sacrifice for our sins.  The Messiah.  But can you understand how easy all of that would have been to miss if you had actually lived when Jesus lived?  If you had known the landscape, understood the culture, explored the region, and seen the Man?  Wisdom walking, yes, but just a guy.  Nobody in particular, except He happened to have a following.  Teachers, as we can assume from the incredible number of mentions of the Pharisees, were fairly common.  Here was another one.  So...what?

I wonder what He thought of that.  I wonder if He felt His nobodiness, or if He harbored somewhere in His heart His somebodiness.  Maybe both?

I've been wondering about that a lot lately, as my writing takes me to new places.  A new place for my name, I guess, and people sort of start knowing a little about who I am.  People from all over the country increasingly email me.  Mostly about Recess with Jesus but sometimes, other things.  People from my hometown recognize new things in me.

It's humbling because honestly?  I'm a nobody.  I really am.  A byline, a blog, and a domain make it sound like I'm a somebody, but let's not forget - this is the Internet.  This is the the 21st Century.  This is suburban Indiana (although I tend to call it more "superrural").  This is just a girl.  A writer.  Aidan from the Midwest - nobody from nowhere.

For the longest time, I wondered if I could be a somebody.  I spent my life exerting myself trying to prove that I was somebody.  Trying to be more than I thought I could be.  Now that it seems maybe I'm getting there, it's not that any more for me.  The more it seems that I might start thinking I'm somebody, the more absolutely aware I am of my nobodiness.  Every now and then, I pop into Amazon to see if anyone else has reviewed my first book (please take a minute and review it; you don't know how valuable this is.  I will send you a free PDF of Recess with Jesus if you promise to review it afterward.  Just email me).  Right now, it's got 5 stars - a perfect rating.  It's unreal.  Does it make me feel like a somebody?  No.  It makes me feel like a nobody.  It takes my breath away that a nobody would even get one star.

Some guy I've never met from some place I've never heard of sent me an email.  Just to tell me how much he was enjoying the book.  Does that make me feel like somebody?  No.  It makes me feel like more of a nobody.  It makes this completely smallness weigh on me and it's an incredible feeling.

I think that's the way God intended it to be.  I think when you're doing what God created you to do, when you finally settle into that niche God has for you, and the world responds or doesn't or whatever, you come to be grounded by your nobodiness.  I think God likes it that way.

And I think He also secretly infuses you with your somebodiness, too.  The more you do what He's created you to do, the more you just give yourself over to it and give all you've got for what He's doing through you, the more you understand the somebody He's intended you to be.  Which doesn't make you feel like just makes you feel....purposed.  Destined.  Designed.

Not to sound all holy, but I think that's the way Jesus must have felt - this secret somebodiness that encouraged and inspired and strengthened Him amidst public, external nobodiness.  I think that's the way He kept balance and beauty in His ministry.

I think that's the way I hope to do the same.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Everyone's got expectations.  And most people in your life have expectations of you.  They think they know what you can do, will do, or ought to do.  On the flip side, they think they know what you can't do, won't do, or shouldn't do.  

And it's easy to fall victim to expectations.  It's easy to either live up or live down to what you think the world is looking for in you .  Then one day you wake up and realize that you've been everything they thought you would be, and nothing you were actually created to be. 

That's a problem.

It's a bigger problem when you realize how powerful those expectations have been.  Suddenly, you realize that you only expect of you what anyone else ever expected of you.  You start yearning for people to expect more of you so that you can expect more of yourself.  You long for some to expect less of you so you can relax a little.  Somewhere in the pull, you're lost.

I've got those people in my life.  All around me.  And after many years, in the mirror.  I'm at a point in my life where I wish people had more realistic expectations of me, good or bad, high or low, so that maybe I could be freed up to just be as I ought to be and let that be not only enough but perfectly enough.  

Then I consider that's not what I'd want at all.  Because if everyone expected perfectly of me all that I wanted or had to give, then I would still just be meeting expectations.  When you meet expectations, you tend to blend in.  That is not the life God has called me to.

It's not what God expects of me.


Think about Jesus for a minute.  If anyone knew expectation, it was Him.  A nation in search of a Messiah had high expectations for what their coming King would be.  He would be a revolutionary, a political leader, a master controller, a rich man, a popular man, an elite man.  Every time they looked at Jesus, every time they talked about the Lord, they were kind of begging Him to be more.  They expected Him to be more.  Is this the Messiah?  He's not doing a very good job...

There were also those who expected much less of Him.  They were hoping for a Messiah, but they found a Nazarite.  A man from Nazareth, a worthless man from a worthless place.  Can anything good come from there?  They expected little from such a little-worthy man.

Somewhere in the middle lived Jesus.  Between high hopes and skeptical disappointments was a man who was everything God created Him to be - loving, wise, tender, sacrificial, obedient, devout, strong, merciful, missional, Messiah.  He wasn't anything that anyone expected of Him, but He was.  He was as He was created to be.  He was fully as God intended in Him.

Don't we love Him for it?  Can you think of a better Messiah?  Could anyone have done it better?

That's what I'm shooting for.  Somewhere in the middle of expectation lives Aidan, hoping to be everything that God has created me to be.  Not anything that anyone might expect of me, but simply who I am.  As He created in me.  As He intended in me.  

Then I think I get to shake the world.  I don't know how.  I don't know why.  I'm not sure how it all plays out, but that's the joy.  It's all unexpected.  That's what I love.  It just is what it is.

I love people who expect more of me; they invite me to expect more of myself.  I love people who expect less of me (sometimes); they invite me to relax a little and not push myself so hard.  I love them both, because neither group is right and that means I get to surprise them.  And I love a little mystery.

It's easy to listen to the voices and think we can figure out what to expect from ourselves.  It's easy to live up or live down to what everyone seems to be looking for.  But that's no life.  That's no fullness.  We need to be people who live somewhere in the middle, somewhere between too-high hopes and skeptical disappointments.  That tender spot that is created.  It's an utter surprise.  And it's wisdom.

And maybe one day, someone will look back at my life, at your life, and conclude, don't we love her for it?  Can you think of a better Aidan?  Could anyone have done it better?

Then you know you've done it.  

Expect yourself of yourself, and just be that.  You are what you are, and that is perfectly good.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What If Not

Yesterday, I talked about life's what-ifs - the big, generally negative questions we often ask ourselves and whose answers convince us that "nothing" is the wise thing to do.  And I told you that I'm changing my what-if and it's making all the difference.

Here's the thing: there are a lot of people who subscribe to the worst-case-scenario theory.  That is, you should play out your what-ifs in your mind to their most devastating possible conclusion, then come to terms with that potentiality and figure out how you could still be ok if such a thing were to actually happen.  You work yourself downward until you realize that the bottom is not so terrible as it seems, and this is somehow supposed to encourage you to go for it.

There is a place for that, in some situations.  There is great value, I believe, in always evaluating your definition of ok.  I've been there.  It's a cool moment when it finally clicks in your heart, if not also in your head, that even if it doesn't seem you'd be ok, you'll be ok.  Even if it's not, it still is.  Even if it's bad, it's still livable.  

The problem with this line of thinking is that it still keeps you focused on the negative.  We're focused on the questions.  We're focused on impending doom.  We're bracing ourselves for the worst, with one eye open to the very real possibility that this is it. tired of asking the questions.  I'm tired of answers based on the worst-case-scenario. I'm tired of trying to find the strength to be ok all the time; tired of mustering the resolve to let life be.  

So I'm changing my what-if.  I'm changing my question so that I can change my answers so that I can live.  

These days, as God prods my heart, I find that instead of asking my thousands of what-ifs, I am asking, "What If Not?"

What if that doesn't happen?  What if this isn't like this? 

You see, I'll admit - it's hard to just throw away the questions.  I get it.  These little insecurities (and huge insecurities) bond us to memories, to circumstance, and particularly to fear.  These are the things that keep us asking; these are our worst-case scenarios.  It's impossible, I think, to just wake up one day and stop asking.  Maybe one day, I'll be able to, but today is not that day.  Probably not for you, either.  These are our questions.  It's almost paralyzing in our hearts if we don't acknowledge them.

But there's nothing in the rules that says we can't rephrase them.  That's why I go with "What If Not?"  I'm asking the same questions I've been asking for ten years, but instead of focusing on what happens if they happen, I'm inviting myself to imagine what might be going on if they don't.

For the person whose anxiety rests in driving, maybe for years, they have asked themselves, "What if I get in an accident?"  The answer is fear, and fear convinces them to stay home.  But suppose instead, they start asking, "What if I don't get in an accident?"  The answer is adventure, and adventure drives them down new roads.

Maybe you're socially awkward and you've been asking yourself, "What if nobody likes me?"  The answer is fear, and fear sends you to the corner to stand by yourself.  But suppose instead, you start asking, "What if nobody doesn't like me?"  The answer is invigorating; you start to see yourself as sociable, likable, and maybe you are.  The answer sends you out to mingle.

Maybe, like me, you've faced failure and for years, decades, you've been asking yourself, "What if I fail?"  The answer is fear, and fear convinces you to not even try.  But suppose instead, you start asking, "What if I don't fail?"  The answer is amazing, and suddenly, you are able to step into the life you've only dreamt of touching for far too long.

Changing my what-if to what-if-not makes me focus on the great things that could happen, instead of trapping me in the potential disasters waiting ahead.  This little twist of the question has set my heart free to imagine the wonderful, incredible, beautiful things that are really going on, that God is really inviting me into, that I wouldn't want to miss for anything.  Especially not for simple fear.

In what-if-not, I am still acknowledging my same questions - I am acknowledging the haunting memories of my failure, the lingering circumstances that make me wonder, the very real nerves about trying again - which is healing balm to the part of my heart that is still looking for the answers to such things.  But I've turned them on their head so that these same questions empower me.  And empowered, I choose against fear, and that is part of the answer to these questions.  Doing life, and doing it again, and doing it again, and choosing to do it again, is starting to answer the what-ifs that wondered if I ever could.  It's starting to address those haunting memories.  And it's getting me pretty excited about the possibilities that are out there for me.

Things I would be missing if I was stuck in what-if.  Things that my what-if would say are not worth the risk. But my what-if-not tells me it's a blessing too big to miss.

It's time to get excited about something.  It's time to stop spinning ourselves into worst-case-scenarios and finding strength to face inevitable doom.  It's time to start asking instead what is out there and pumping ourselves up to dive right in, whatever questions may linger.

Because yeah, sure...what if?  I get it.

But what if not?

Monday, May 13, 2013

What If

Have you noticed that most of the questions we ask ourselves are ones where we wouldn't really want to know the answer?  Our questions are our fears, played out in our minds; it is our fears that answer us, only begging more questions.

For example, "What if?"

It is a question I have asked myself countless times, particularly over the past nine years, after an unexpected event literally shook my foundation.  As time has gone by, it has become the question and the fear in and of itself.  That is, I have no longer been dominated by the questions that started me asking in the first place, but I have found myself unable to let go of the questions themselves because at some point, those questions became habit.  A checklist.  An everyday thing that I had to always account for.  Like getting ready to leave. Do I have my keys?  Purse?  Cell phone?  Questions?

Once we start asking, it's so hard to get away from them.

And I have found that my what-ifs have been more devastating than any potential reality.  My what-ifs have been more destructive than any so-now-whats that could have come if my what-ifs had ever come true.  I had become paralyzed by the mere suggestion that there was an idea that something could go wrong that I have failed to even truly consider what would happen if such things did actually go wrong.

Not that it matters, because in the grips of what-ifs, I wasn't going to try them anyway.

That is the dirty little secret of the question.  You spend all your time worrying about what might happen, so much so that you give up thinking altogether that you might ever actually risk for such a thing to happen.

Our what-ifs, at least mine, are so negative.  They are centered around the bad things that could happen.  What if this?  What if that?  The humiliating, destroying, deadly repercussions swirl around in our minds like a bad nightmare, though our eyes seem fully open.  It's like we have a sixth sense of all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things that are on the horizon.  And the mere possibility of them, knowing that they are even possible (despite probability), makes us feel like we have inside knowledge.  Like we are somehow wise.  Like if we would heed our own advice, we would really dodge a bullet.  

It's evil.  The way our twisted questions give us tortured answers and torment our hearts into doing nothing...and then convince us that nothing was precisely the right decision to make.  We feel smart about doing nothing.

Then one day, we wake up and realize how long it's been since we've done anything, and there is sadness.  Grief.  Lament.

It happened to me.  Recently.  Like, in the past week or so.  (Again.  It seems to happen in cycles...)

God has called me to grand adventures, to good things, to incredible mercies.  He's been gnawing at my heart for awhile with such things, and I'm excited.  I mean, I am really excited.  The problem, for far too long, has been my questions.  My what-ifs.  The possibilities, however real or remote, that play out in my fear-faced fantasies that keep me from doing anything and convince me that is wisdom.  The thousands of questions that play out in my heart, tied to past stories, tied to former moments, blockading this very real, very awesome moment that stands before me.

And for too long, I haven't known how.  How do I stop asking the questions?  How do I get my heart to let go of the what-ifs and grab more fully onto the so-whats?  How do I take that one bold step that is, by metaphor, leaving the house without bagging my questions?  Keys....Purse...Cell phone....  No questions.  No fear.  No worst-case scenarios, no disaster declarations, no back-up plans, no escape routes.  How do I just go...and enjoy the going and enjoy myself and enjoy my God and throw myself into the grand adventure?

Not long ago, it hit me.  It's not what you might think.  Stay tuned tomorrow when I will tell you what set my heart free.  Maybe it's the answer to your questions....

Friday, May 10, 2013

Inappropriate Communion Thoughts: Not That Cracker

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

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

At the same time, why let these mildly- to wildly-inappropriate ideas go to waste?  This is an ongoing series as bad ideas continue to flow through my brain and get caught in the filter that separates the holy from the wholly inappropriate.

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

Not That Cracker

Every now and again, we hear the stories.  Someone has found the sign of Jesus in their food.  An image of Mary burnt onto their toast.  A cross embedded in the crust.  Well, it's happened again.  Recently, the internet was abuzz with the story of a woman who had found, in her bag of Goldfish crackers, a holy goldy.  The fish had been mis-imprinted, and she swore it bore the sign of the cross on its side and a mark of the crown of thorns just above its eye.

And no, I don't know why she eats her goldfish one at a time while inspecting them for irregularities.

But Jesus?  In a cracker?  Hardly.  

(Pause for ironic laughter.)

But it happens all the time.  In a world desperate, thirsty, hungry - you might say - for a sign from God, we'll take just about anything we can.  We'll take an image burnt in toast, an emblem carved in crust, an imprint in a goldfish.  We'll take a cracker.

And we're about to.

It's easy to think that this cracker is the Christ, that there is some kind of sign of the Holy One in this little bite of bread we take each week.  It's tempting to think of this as a weekly dose of Jesus, a medication that our spirits need to function, much like our bodies rely on the occasional pill or two.  But if we dare to think such a simplistic, worldly, close-minded kind of way, then what we are about to do becomes nothing more than another tabloid story.  Another Jesus in the cracker.

This is not that cracker.

This is the body of Christ, broken for us.  It's not a sign from God; it is a gift of God.  It is His very presence, His entire being, His incredible sacrifice right here right now.  It's not a coincidence.  It's not something you have to adjust your eyes to see.  It's not "cool;' it's awesome.

This sacrament of Communion, this simple bread and blood, is the most holy thing we do on a Sunday morning.  Don't let your mind twist it into a tabloid.

Jesus in a cracker?  Seriously....

Note: This works incredibly well in my head, also inappropriately, if it also happens to be April Fool's Day and you also happen to have replaced the communion wafers with goldfish crackers.  

You can read previous inappropriate communion thoughts here:  Eat Me and Holy Vampires.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The King's Friend

Many of those Old Testament books are hard to read.  Law after law, name after name, begot after begot.  We don't know most of these people; what do their names matter?

But there is beauty in even this.  For proof, I take you no further than 1 Chronicles 27:32-34.

David's uncle Jonathan, an educated man who possessed insight, was David's adviser.  Jonathan and Jehiel, son of Hachmoni, were in charge of the king's sons.  Ahithophel was the king's adviser.  Hushai, a descendant of Archi, was the king's friend.  Jehoiada (son of Benaiah) and Abiathar succeeded Ahithophel.  Joab was the commander of the royal army.

It doesn't look like much on the surface.  Characters we've never heard of and never hear of again; David's royal staff.  The Scriptures only tell us, by name and title, who these men are.  Nothing more.  Yet right there in the middle - do you see it? - there is room to list the king's friend.

Just his friend.  Not his scribe.  Not his adviser.  Not his prophet.  Not his commander.  Not his employee.  Just his friend - Hushai, friend enough that the writer thought it was important we know which Hushai we are talking about.  In this case, the descendant of Archi.

Isn't that cool?  I love that stuff like this is in the Bible.

Because it's so easy to think we have to be something spectacular to be in God's book.  It's easy to think we have some role we are supposed to play in the royal palace, in the presence of the King.  We mistakenly believe we have some job in God's entourage that we must carry out.  For a writer (like me), it's easy to think I have to be the scribe - writing the King's story as a record for His people.  Maybe you're a warrior and you think you have to command God's armies.  Maybe you're a prophet (or a pastor) and you think you have to guide God's people.  Too many of us, even those of us already in an aforementioned category, consider ourselves God's adviser - thinking we have to tell Him how exactly He's supposed to be God.

But this tiny little paragraph in 1 Chronicles, these few little sentences it is so easy to miss, tell us that's simply not the case.  And the Gospel of Christ backs that up.

Jesus had twelve (at least twelve) really good friends.  They traveled with Him, prayed with Him, ate with Him, fished with Him, ministered with Him.  Everywhere He went, they were right there beside Him.  They saw Him at His finest moments and at His most fatigued.  A few times, we get a hint that maybe this guy or that guy had a responsibility in the group.  We're told which one handled the money, but Jesus never called a money handler.  When He was picking this ragtag group of disciples, He called them to come.  Follow Him. Live with Him.  Love with Him.  Be His friend.  He never said, "Ok, now I need a scribe, so John, you be that.  And I need a money guy, so it's either Matthew or Judas.  And there's an opening for an adviser.  Peter, you always have something to say..."  

No.  He never went about filling all of these official roles in His life.  He never sought to gather these people who could serve the King.  He never burdened them with such noble titles or heavy obligations.  He wanted them to be His friends, so that they could be who they were and He could be who He was and nobody had to be intimidated by such a thing as being the "King's court."  

They were just the King's friends.  And that was enough.  And it is through His friends that we have heard and come to know His story.  No royal scribe necessary.  (With apologies to myself and every other Christian writer who is tempted to think this is anything.)

It's the same relationship He calls us to.  He wants us to be His friend.  He wants us to live with Him, walk with Him, love with Him.  He wants us to pull our boats to shore while He's grilling our breakfast over an open fire.  He wants us to gather in an upper room and break bread with Him.  He wants us to consider the sinful woman, the broken man, the blind, the deaf, and the mute as we see in His eyes how He sees them with His eyes.  So that we're just living together, loving together, instead of all this official nonsense where we're more wrapped up in our duty than in our doing.  The greatest thing we can do for the kingdom of God is to answer the call of Jesus and simply be His friend.  

We are called to be the King's friend.  Anything else we do for, through, or with God will flow naturally out of that relationship.  No job description required.  And through our friendship, we find that we have a place in His story - like Hushai - and we are telling His continuing tale - like 12 good friends of the Messiah.

That's what I love about our King.  He knows we want to be a part of what He's doing, and He makes a place for us to join Him.  But He hasn't given us a duty in His court; He's set us a place at the table.  Like any good Friend would.