Friday, August 30, 2013

Holy Hands

Today is the last day of orientation; next week, I start visiting with real people and doing my best to be Jesus for them. One of the recurring thoughts I've had leading up to and into this journey is : What exactly do I have to offer?

They asked me that in the interview, and I said what I thought my references would say. But the truth is that when it's just me and my empty hands, I'm still asking.

Because I look at these hands, and I think about taking another hand in mine to pray. I think about holding another hand on a tough stretch of the road. I think about even something so simple as stretching out one of these hands to introduce myself and say hello. It may be the first thing you ever meet in me - my hand - and I wonder what these bruised, scratched, scarred and calloused hands say about me. I wonder what they tell you about my ministry.

The problem, I think, is that we get a too-perfect image of Jesus. The problem is that we like to think of the Immaculate God, the pristine persona of Christ. We like to think of Him blameless, sinless...perfect. And that comes down to His hands. Oh, sure, they're nail-scarred, but what Messiah's aren't? We can overlook the blood of the nails for the tender touch of the Savior.

Whatever tenderness there was in Jesus, it was not in His touch. Not in the calloused, scarred, bruised, scratched, broken flesh of His hands.

He grew up the son of a carpenter, which means Jesus had to have spent a great deal of His time in the wood shop. Yes, we see Him at age 12 hanging around the Temple, but I think we would also see Him quite often hanging around Joseph, for no other reason than that's what young men did. This was before power tools and protective gloves and all that; He would have been manhandling the wood. A forebear for the Cross that was to come? His hands would have been calloused in all the right places.

He went out fishing with the guys. I mean, the disciples. I don't imagine He just sat there and supervised. He helped toss and haul the net, burning His hands on the rope. Scratching them on this or that in the process. Over time, those little nicks and scratches would have scarred over and dotted his flesh with the soft white tissue of haunting injury.

He was pushed and jostled and banged around. He probably tripped a time or two on a rocky road. He climbed mountains, so you know He had a few tumbles. He was fully human, and even though we think of Him as perfect, His tangible flesh was anything but. If it was, then you'd have to say Jesus was never a man. If He could live in this world, work in this world, love in this world without getting scratched and scarred and calloused in the process, He was never human. He never had flesh. That negates the whole Jesus story.

But He was fully man. He was fully flesh. He was human, and His hands are the proof. Push the nail-bloodied holes aside and look at what remains. Look at the hands of a Man who lived here. Think about it what it means to see those calloused hands breaking bread. Think about what it means to see those scarred hands touching the blind. Think about what it means to see those scratched, bruised, and broken hands pulling a child onto His knee.

Think about what it would mean to your understanding of Jesus if you were held, not with perfect hands, but with calloused ones. They weren't perfect; they were holy.

So I think about my own calloused hands, about the way I am about to take another hand in mine. About how I am about to hold the hand of someone on the toughest road. About how I am about to offer this hand to another as a way of introducing myself. And I wonder what my hands say about me.

I hope they say that I'm fully flesh. I hope they say that I really live here, that I really work here, that I really love here. I get intimidated thinking about all the imperfections of my life that my hands show, but I just keep coming back to Jesus and then I can only pray...

I hope that mine are holy hands.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Old Testament is full of nations that are primarily "not God's people." Yet He uses them in His loving discipline of those nations that are His people. The problem is: what do you do with a nation when you're done with it?

It's an interesting conundrum. As God led His people through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, He destroyed the nations ahead of them. He wiped out the peoples living in His chosen place. That's one way of doing it. But Babylon wasn't in the way. Babylon was completely out of the way, so completely out of the way that the exile of God's people there was quite a long journey.

The Babylonians were not God's people. They had their own structure of living, their own way of life, and their own set of gods, which for the most part, did not include Him. They are also the nation He chose to carry out His curse on His people. The Babylonians took the people of God. They blockaded them, attacked them, defeated them, captured them, burned their cities, and ransacked the Temple as God mourned the disobedience, the lack of love, of His children. And God allowed this to happen. It's not like the Babylonians took God by storm; He invited their invading armies into His towns because He told His people this is what would happen. Now, here it is. Here they are.

While in exile, the Babylonians corrupted the Israelites. They intermarried, you can imagine. Some of their other gods kind of crept in. Pretty soon, the nation of Israel kind of looks like the nation of Babylon, and God's people kind of look like not God's people. I'm not sure if that was part of the plan or not. We always see God hoping His people will stay pure amid distracting influences, but no such luck in Babylon.

And the Babylonians were hard on the Israelites. We see them willing and able and almost excited to kill the Jews. We see them blockading their captives even in their new towns. We see them destroying for the sake of destroying, defeating long after Jerusalem was defeated. It's just a mess.

God's not happy about the godless way the Babylonians are treating His people. Even though He sent them there. Even though He knew the nation was godless. Even though He could have anticipated this. Through the graces of a good king, He gets His people headed toward home and now there's this: what to do with Babylon.

Fast forward to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 51. This is the second chapter of a prophecy against Babylon. One-hundred four total verses about what God is going to do with this place that corrupted His people while He was redeeming them. I want to take you to verse 40.

I will take them to be slaughtered like lambs, rams, and male goats.

Have you heard some of those words before? These are the animals of the offering. These are the animals that God's people brought to the sacrifice to be an aroma pleasing to the Lord, an atonement for sin, a burnt offering. Contrast this with a feast or a celebration or even the simple act of eating, where we are told on numerous occasions that someone slaughtered a fatted calf. There's no fatted calf in God's plans for Babylon.

He wasn't preparing a meal; He was offering a sacrifice.

He was presenting the nation of Babylon to Himself as an offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. He was taking this nation that had served in His story and sanctifying it. It's kind of a cool thing to do with a nation. At least, I think so.

It just makes me think about the times in my life I've been less than pleasing. The times I've been godless. The times I've corrupted this or that thing, or worse, this or that person. It makes me think about the times when I have clearly been "not God's people." And it gives me hope. Because He can be angry with me. He can disagree with the way I've done things. It can seem like He and I have nothing more to say to one another, like revenge is coming, like judgement is here...and God can still be sanctifying me. He can still be making me holy. He can still be sacrificing me as an aroma pleasing to Himself. There's still something I can be.

I can be an offering.

It's kind of a cool thing to do with a person. At least, I think so.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Power, Wisdom, and Understanding

Have you ever wondered about Creation? You've heard, no doubt, that it was God's design by wisdom. That He weaved this whole thing together just right because He imagined it just so and He labored to get it perfect (although, as we saw yesterday, perfect was only ever good). I never really thought much about Creation beyond that, but a passage in Jeremiah recently dropped my jaw over the whole thing.

As if you thought God couldn't get any better....  Here's the verse:

The Lord made the earth by his power. He set up the world by his wisdom. He stretched out heaven by his understanding.  (51:15)

Break this down. Start with the Creation story in Genesis. Once upon a time, there was chaos. Then God made light and separated it from the darkness so He could see what He was doing. Then He brought together the earth and separated it from the heavens. You know all those images we have of God as Holy Potter (oooh..that would make a great mystical adventure series...Holy Potter....). Now is a good time to dust off those images. Imagine God, before you even existed, holding the masses of what would be earth in the palm of His hand, pressing and pushing and shaping and molding and trying to get the whole darned thing to stick together. If you've ever created anything with clay, you know it takes power to bring it all together. With the power in His hand, He formed the earth. It was the only way.

Now He had a world, but what to do with it? God is a brilliant Creator, but unless you make something dynamic, it either never grows or else grows wild and requires your constant creative attention. (Think: a painting that never changes or an elaborate landscape that needs pruning.) God wanted neither. He wouldn't settle for a world that never changes; He wasn't interested in staring egotistically at His creation for all eternity and admiring His own handiwork. He wanted an interaction. He craved a relationship. At the same time, as gifted a Creator as God is, He's primarily a Lover. He didn't want to spend all His time pruning, shaping, and reshaping things to keep them just right as the world grew. So what does He do? He sets up the world by His wisdom. He makes it a dynamic place, but self-correcting. He sets the parameters for growth but includes checks and balances. He makes a flower to bloom and die and drop its seed to bloom again so He doesn't have to make another flower. He sets the air temperature and the properties of water just right to make consistent, nourishing rain so He doesn't have to keep filling up His watering can. He sets the earth on an axis to rotate and revolve as it distributes the light and the heat, the dark and the cool just right to sustain every living thing in just its right place so He doesn't have to keep spinning this thing. He makes creation to sustain itself so He is free to love, which is what He always wanted to do. He foresaw the obstacles to that, as a Creator, and by His wisdom, set things up to avoid that problem. It was the only way.

The earth spins and moves and lives and dies and grows on its own, and the Creator is free to love. But what is Love? How does a man, a small fragment of Creation, experience Love? With a welcome and a promise and a hope. God knew it would be easy for us to look around down here, to see the way things run on their own, and to conclude that this is just how it is. This is natural. This is nature. This is how we are. Who needs a God for that? But there's not a lot of hope there, either. There's nothing welcoming about being in a place where you're just part of the machine. There's nothing encouraging, there's no promise of anything greater than nature deems fit. It's kind of...blah. It's dreary. It's dull. It certainly isn't love. But God knew it would be easy for us to think this way, so He devised a way to include Himself. He found a way to make Love the thing, instead of making this thing He made the thing. He stretched out heaven. Knowing we would need to see. Knowing we would need to hope. Knowing we would need to dream. He stretched out eternity and infinity and Immaculate before us so that we could see. He understood we'd need to see it to even remember Him. He understood we'd need the hope, the assurance, the promise that is this greater thing. So in His understanding, He stretched it out for us. It was the only way.

This passage changed my view of the Creation story. It makes the whole thing more intimate for me. It makes God more incredible. To know that He wasn't, like I so often do, just pulling pieces together to make a thing be what He imagined it might be, but that this was actually a process. By His power, making the place. By His wisdom, making the mechanism. By His understanding, making the way. All in the name of Love.

I'm speechless.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mostly Good

Speaking of the Garden...

Isn't it so easy to envision Eden as the perfect place? A paradise, really. Green plants, vibrant flowers, the sounds of the animals filling the air, from the whoop of the chimpanzee to the chirp of the cricket. No smog. No traffic. No lights. No darkness. Everything was as it should be, as it was created to be. It ought to be perfect, right?


Eden was never perfect. It was the original creation and it still wasn't perfect. Read through the creation story, and you will discover that God tells us all that Eden was. He tells us it was...good.

It wasn't even great. It wasn't fantastic, spectacular, awesome, breathtaking, although we could imagine it being those things. It wasn't perfect. It was simply good. So does that mean God could have done better with His original creation?  Not at all.

Not everything has to be perfect. I think most of us have learned that by now. We long for perfect. We strive for perfect, but most things in life are simply good and that's enough. Good is good.  It isn't perfect...but then, only one thing is.

Yes, there is a perfect thing and it wasn't created. You won't find it in the Genesis story. It didn't happen on Day One or Day Six or any day in between. There is one thing that is beyond good, one thing that is perfect, and while God doesn't tell you that His perfect design is perfect, He does tell you this:

His love is.

God's love is perfect. It is the one perfect thing God has given you, the one thing that cannot be debated, improved upon, or reconsidered. It is whole within itself. It is complete. And it is perfect.

And I think, if you think about it, you'll realize it's the love that draws you to Eden anyway. There are places in this world where you can go for the scenery. There are places where you can hear the birds and the crickets chirp, the beasts and the heavens roar. There are countless trees bearing good fruit that you could eat from. Streams flowing in every direction. It doesn't take much to find a taste of the landscape of Eden. But it still leaves something wanting.

What we want is the peace. We want the wholeness, the fullness. We want that place without noise and traffic and smog. Without troubles. We want that path where God walks beside us and we know it's Him because we see Him face-to-face. We hold His hand. We hear His voice. It's paradise because it is love. It's a place where you are, where you belong. It's a place where there's plenty to do without anything you need to do. It's intimacy and relationship, work and rest, all of you and all of God. It's a place that honors you for who you are, honors itself for what it is, and honors the God who created it. Everything fits. Everything is as it was created to be, and as we know, all creation is love. It looks like things, like trees and birds and bunnies, but it's love. It is the embodiment of perfect embrace, where God created this world to hold you and created you to hold this world.

It's easy to think Eden must have been perfect. Maybe it was. But if so, it was the love, not the creation, that made it so. The creation was only ever good. Love is the only perfect thing.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Where Credit Ain't Due

I have written before about the perfect tense, a structure in Greek language that signifies an action happened once and continues forever. Generally, I talk about this in terms of Jesus' nail-pierced hands, but today I kind of want to flip the coin a little. I want to talk about Satan.

I know. Some of you are already shuddering. It's awkward, right? When Christians talk about Satan, I mean. We say things like, "You have a very real enemy who is working against you at every step." Or "Satan doesn't want you to...." or "Satan only wants you to...." We laughingly claim, "The devil made me do it!" Personally, I think we give the devil too much credit.

Here's the problem: the way we talk about Satan makes it seem like he's here every day, and the way we talk about God makes it seem like He's waiting in tomorrow. We talk about Satan like he's an everyday reality, a constant battle, an eternal struggle. We talk about God like He's simply eternal, like He's not bothered with today because He's promised tomorrow. The way we define our spiritual battleground, Satan is an ever-present adversary and God is a never-present help. This bothers me.

Because as much as I believe that Jesus' hands are still pierced, I also believe Satan is still in the garden. Let me explain what I mean by that. I mean that I believe Satan also acted in the perfect tense, that once upon a time in paradise, in Eden itself, our enemy snuck in and deceived us. Thousands of years later, we are still deceived. Satan doesn't have to be here every morning when I wake up for me to be a fallen man. He did that with an apple before I even knew what an apple was. He doesn't have to come and trick me today; he got me yesterday. If today, I am a sinner, it is not because my enemy lurks around every corner; it is because he lingers in my heart, the haunting echo of a once-upon-a-time desire for more that still leaves me questioning in my spirit whether God is enough. Even when I'm not reminded of the question.

We have to think about the reality of the enemy for a minute and the difficulty with the way we perceive him. When we talk the way we talk and say that Satan is here every minute of every day, that he's waiting, that he's watching, that he's working to deter or defeat us...that's got to be one tired Satan. Or else we've made too much of him. We talk like he's omnipresent, like he's everywhere, but who besides God is everywhere? Do you give the enemy as much dominion as you give God? How is that working out for you? When we talk about him like he's constantly deceiving us, we have to realize that there's no precedent for the enemy being omnipresent. There's no indication that he is at all God-like, in character or in form. So if he's always deceiving you, he couldn't be deceiving anyone else at the same time. You must be very important.

What's more likely is that in one bite of juicy fruit, he planted a seed in your heart that grows with just a little water. Just a little adversity renews the life of the adversary that has taken root in your spirit. And adversity is a byproduct of the Fall. It's part of our inherited brokenness.

What's also more likely is that Jesus told the truth. He said, "I am with you always." He's the only one to ever say that, as much as we tell ourselves that the devil is here and God is somewhere else entirely. As much as it seems that every day, we have to battle our adversary and our Advocate is already heaven-bound. As much as it seems we're feasting on apples instead of Bread. As much as the echoes of Eden haunt our hearts and say, "One day, you will need this apple because Knowledge will be far away from you. And today is that day." Today is not that day. Yesterday was not that day. Tomorrow is not that day. Knowledge, and Life, are right here.

We give our enemy way too much credit. We give him way too much power. We give him way too much control over our today when the truth is that for most of us, the last time we saw him was a weak moment in the Garden. He deceived us in the perfect tense, and still today, we are perfectly tense. But we have a Friend who promised to be here. And He is here. Today. Tomorrow. Forever. He's the one we should focus on.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The past couple of days have been pretty tough. As you may know, I'm starting a new adventure on Monday and it feels like Monday's never going to get here. ...Or it's going to be here too soon. The truth is that I don't do well in the waiting, whether what lies ahead is good or bad, exciting or exhausting, promising or painful. It's the waiting itself, and never the thing, that is agonizing.

Because somewhere in the waiting, the worry begins.

I don't really have a reason to worry, except that there's really nothing else to do. I have my stuff prepared. I've spent this week working hard and knocking out a few projects and starting a few more (and an unexpected one last night popped up that will take me the rest of today, since God loves to keep me busy). I'm ready for Monday. And it feels like, even though they aren't here yet, all the pieces will be in place. For instance, I found out this week that my expected gas bill to get me back and forth may as much as double...while I'm sitting on just enough cash to get me through two weeks. I have no reason to worry. The way God's drawn this whole thing together, I trust that the money is going to be there. But in the waiting, I think we start to think of all the things that could still go wrong. Or have gone wrong.

Which is why worry is its own unique emotion. I've been racking my brain since making this realization last night, and I can't think of another single emotion we have both forward and backward. I can't think of another thing that draws us both into the past and the future without an encouragement to balance it out.

A few examples: we regret something we've done in the past, but a promise of redemption draws us forward. We never have a promise for the past. We harbor uncertainty over the future, but our past provides a foundation for truth. We're never uncertain about the past. We lament what happened yesterday, but we hope for tomorrow. We never hope for yesterday. There's always something in the opposite direction to balance out what we're feeling toward either the past or the future. Except with worry. We worry for tomorrow and we worry about yesterday. We worry about everything!

That's why I think worry is so insidious. Because there's nothing to draw us out of it. When I worry about having enough for tomorrow, I simultaneously worry about what I spent yesterday. When I worry about missing a moment tomorrow, I worry about all the other moments I might have missed. When I worry about what a person will say to me tomorrow, I am also worrying about everything they've ever said to me, wondering if I missed something subtle somewhere that changes everything.

Worry makes us worry, and there is no hope or promise or redemption that draws us out of worry the way they draw us out of other emotions. That's why I think Jesus was so concerned about worry. It's a trap. Once you get in the worry warp, you can't get out.

Then what's the answer to the problem of worry?

It is bold trust and confident assurance. I say that full knowing that neither takes away worry. Instead, they take away worry's power because you already know the truth. You put your trust in what you know and step courageously into the new horizon, trusting despite worry. It's not easy. It doesn't feel like it's working. Ever. But a few steps down the road, you realize that you took control of your worry and got out of that vortex. You find yourself on solid ground, on a bedrock of trust and confidence. On a foundation of faith.

I have no reason to worry. I know that. But that's not enough to stop me. As the next few days continue to pass, I will keep thinking of all the things that could still go wrong and all the things that have gone wrong. It's natural, and I can't seem to get out of it. But it doesn't control me. When the time comes, I will step boldly forward in full trust and confident assurance, knowing what I know: this is every blessed thing God intended it to be. And it's gonna be great.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


So many of us spend our lives searching for affirmation. We want someone to notice who we are and be ok with that. We want someone to tell us that who we are and what we're doing is a good thing. That's all we really want, we think. But I want to tell you a story.

Jesus told this story first, and I am going to tell His version and then change it a little so you can see what affirmation looks like. The story is the parable of the prodigal son, as told in Luke 15:

A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons. After a few days, the younger son gathered his possessions and left for a country far away from home. There he wasted everything he had (his share of the property value) on a wild lifestyle. He had nothing left when a severe famine spread throughout that country. He had nothing to live on. ...Finally, he came to his senses. ...So he went at once to his father. While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son, put his arms around him, and kissed him. (parenthesis mine)

I love this story, and I know what you're thinking: what does this have to do with affirmation?

Nothing, really. I'm setting this up; stay with me. Because we are a people who think we want affirmation more than anything. We think affirmation answers that empty place in our spirit that questions everything we are. Consider your own need for affirmation as you read the story again, the way I'm going to tell it.

A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons. After a few days, the younger son gathered his possessions and left for a country far away from home. There he wasted everything he had on a wild lifestyle. He had nothing left when a severe famine spread throughout that country. He had nothing to live on. ...Finally, he came to his senses. ...So he went at once to his father. When he reached the property, he found his father in the barn, tending the cattle with his brother. He apologized for his reckless ways and begged his father for mercy, and his father responded, 'I already knew that's who you are. I already knew this is what you would do. I expected this of you because it is perfectly in tune with your nature. And I love you for it.' And the son wept.

And I kind of cried a little.

This is what affirmation looks like. It's people expecting of you just what they expect of you. It's people holding you to a lower standard because that's simply "who are you." It's people letting you be however you want to be and telling you it's ok, and loving you anyway. When you really think about it, is that what you want for your life? Affirmation?

I want the embrace. I want someone to come running to me, to meet me where I'm at instead of applauding me for who I am. Because if you want to know the truth, I'm not really anything. And the story of affirmation leaves no room for the greatest of things.

There's no room for grace because the space is filled with the full satisfaction of expectation. There's no wiggle room in who you are, so there's no place for grace. There's no room for forgiveness because if you just are what you are, you can do no wrong in doing what you do. There's no room for passion. In affirmation, the father doesn't come running out of the barn. He has other things to take care of, and affirmation doesn't tell him he has to meet you anywhere. It just tells him he has to wait for you to show up and be the way you've always been. There's no room for love...because affirmation, as pleasant as it seems, is stagnant. There's nothing dynamic about affirmation.

But embrace...that's where it's at. Embrace is that thing that makes the father come running for his chance to meet you here. It ignites passion. It inspires movement. Embrace makes room for grace because it's about the place and there's room here to wiggle a little. Embrace makes room for forgiveness because neither one of us is on our own turf. We meet in this mutually new place and you can't help but break down barriers to be there. Embrace is love. It is dynamic. It is powerful. And it moves you.

So many of us think what we need in our life is more affirmation, more people noticing what we do and praising us for it. More people seeing who we are and holding us to it. But I think if you understand what affirmation truly is, you'll find you don't need it any more.

What most of us are really after is embrace. Thank the Lord we have a Father who comes running.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


As another school year dawns, many of our young people will face the inevitable torture of a bully. It's a growing news item over these past few years, and I doubt the 2013-2014 year will be any different. I want to use this space to say a few words to those students on the receiving end. Because it wasn't so long ago that I happened to be one of you.

You get all kinds of advice on how to deal with bullies. Some people will tell you to ignore them, although I personally found it rather difficult to ignore someone who was punching me in the face or who took every passing in the hall to whisper a derogatory term about me. Some people will tell you to sit there and take it, never fight back. There's some of kind of seeming wisdom in this because you'd think if you never fight back, you couldn't possibly get in trouble when they finally get their due. That's not, unfortunately, how the world works. In a climate of zero tolerance, the bullied may be punished as much as the bully. Take this from a girl who spent several days in-school-suspended for getting beat up. There are still other people who will tell you to fight back, to stand your ground and get a few good punches in. They'll tell you to go down fighting. It's supposed to be empowering, but it's rather defeating. One day, you fight back and you look in the mirror and discover you're the bully and that doesn't feel good. That's not who you are.

Jesus tells you to love a bully. This is where it gets kind of tricky, but not if you understand what a bully really is. A bully is someone without power who is using their strength to feel powerful. A bully is an insecure individual trying to secure his or her place by brute force because they don't believe they are capable or worthy of anything.

Are you watching Big Brother this season? (Don't judge.) One of the players on the game is Amanda, who is a bully by every definition of the word. She threatens people into doing what she wants. When they don't go along, she blows up and makes a huge show of it and thinks she's making the other person look like a jerk when, in fact, it's quite obvious who the real jerk is. She's highly controlling and seems like a force to be reckoned with, but she's a farce. She hasn't won a single competition in nearly two months of being on the show. In fact, she cried and threw a fit worthy of a two-year-old when her on-screen "boyfriend" didn't throw a competition on purpose so she could win. Then he threw the next one and she still lost, at which point she had another meltdown about how incapable and stupid she is. And when another player on the show called her out on some of the scheming she'd been doing and on some of her annoying habits - this other player actually called her a bully - Amanda fired back, her voice growing louder, a series of hurtful names and derogatory comments. It's all she knew to do. She can't handle questions. She can't handle truth. She can't handle failure. So she creates this persona that's above all that while her hollowed spirit is caving in on her.

Here's the truth about bullies, though it's hard to believe some times: they are some of the weakest, most insecure, most broken individuals among us. They aren't vicious because they're mean; they are mean because they are hurt. Which is why I think Jesus is right. I think we need to love them.

It's hard. It's hard to love somebody who is breaking you down. It's hard to love somebody who hasn't said a nice word to you, who hasn't smiled in your direction, who wants to play petty games in an effort to get under your skin. But when you think about their brokenness, when you think about the questions they ask themselves every morning, consciously or unconsciously, for which they have no good answer, you can almost kind of relate to them. Then you look at them with compassion and realize as much as they want to get under your skin, the best answer for a bully is to get into their heart. They need someone to know them, not as they appear to be but as they are. They need someone to create a place for them so they don't have to make their own any more. They need stop being afraid of them so that maybe, just maybe, they can stop being afraid of themselves.

It's tough. It doesn't always work, especially not right away. I've lost contact with the gang of girls who labored to make my middle school years hell. I never threw a single punch back. I never shouted, or even muttered, an angry word. I never even tattled on them. When they came after me, I went about my business because I knew that I would have to look in the mirror and more than anything, I wanted to see me. I didn't want to see what they thought of me, and I didn't want to see who they wanted to make me. I wanted to see me. So I kept my head. And the truth is I don't know whether my grace made any impact at all. I don't know what they think today about so many days for so many years that they were scared and hurt and broken and fighting for something they couldn't even name. I hope they found it. I hope they figured it out. I hope they found peace and wholeness. I fear not all of them have.

Because here's the hard truth: even as a grown-up, this world is full of bullies. Follow politics or Twitter for any length of time, and you'll see that. Watch Big Brother tonight. You'll understand what I mean. There are people in the sixth grade, the seventh grade, the eighth grade with incredible insecurities that make them mean because they don't know what to do with themselves, and there are people in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who are just the same way. It's sad.

And it's not a problem we're going to fix with all these worldly words of advice. You won't break a bully by standing down to them. You won't break one by standing up to them. The only good thing to do to a bully is to stand beside them. Let them know you see past their hurt, past their ache, past their brokenness. Let them know you see the answer to their questions in more than their biting tongue and shaking fists. Let them know you love them. And continue to be who you are.

That's what Jesus says to do.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I put in a hard, long day of work on Saturday replumbing the sump pump. (Don't even ask. What. A. Mess.) I unplugged the pump at 7:30 a.m. and finally got to plug it back in at about 7 at night. It was a long day of knee-high wading boots, thicker-than-I-care-for mud, clogged pipes, general mess, and a little bit of chaos.

Saturday night's shower felt good.

Which led me to this thought...there are really only two things in the world that feel good in the way that shower felt good. The first is, of course, a refreshing shower (or a nice long bath) after a hard day's work. The second is climbing into a welcoming, cozy bed. Those are the only places you let out that long sigh, that exhausted "ahhhh" and that simple little smile that says this is good.

It is good. Did you know you were created for this?

It's too easy to lose in our world today. Somewhere, we bought into the idea that we were created to work hard, to work incessantly, to exhaust ourselves for the sake of doing. We are told that we are what we do. We are told that we have only what we work for. We are told that if we're not working on something at any given moment, we don't deserve anything. We work 80 hour weeks because there's always something more to do, and we forget that we were created for rest.

Work wasn't hard until Adam ate the fruit. Yes, Adam. With Eve, we got the whole childbirth pains and things. With Adam, toiling and pointless labor. You might even say....fruitless. God created man to tend the earth, but it wasn't until the Fall that tending the earth really became work. It wasn't until after lunch that man became busy. Before that, life was, shall we say, a walk in the Garden.

Then work got hard, and we started to think we had to be working hard all the time. We got the words backward. We have to be ready, and willing, to do the hard work - that's the curse. That work will be hard. But we don't have to work hard all the time. That is, we don't have to push ourselves to always be busy. We were still created for rest. We were created to have a place to unwind and relax and simply rest. That place is in Him.

We don't get a lot of Adam's story after the expulsion. We don't see him outside the Garden. But we continue to see rest set up as an example for God's people. For six years, you work. In the seventh, you rest. For six seasons, you harvest. In the seventh, you rest. For six days, you toil. On the seventh, you don't. Rest has always been part of God's design for man. We just get a little less of it now.

Dirt, too, was not a part of man's story until the Fall. Not that the Garden wasn't messy; just that man didn't care. There was no dirty or clean; everything was naturally as it should be. A little dust here, a little dirt there. It wasn't bad. It just was. Then Adam and Eve discovered they were naked, they saw for the first time what they looked like, and they started to understand imperfection. They started to understand unclean. But it seemed they were always unclean, always soiled by their toiling.

Kind of like we are. We're always dirty. I know I am. I'm always covered in some mess of my own making. But did you know I was created to be made clean? Did you know that some of the dirt and the dust is to be expected and it's ok, but that at the end of the day, I was meant not to know about my dust or my dirt? I wasn't meant to know "unclean." But through the grace of God, I am being made clean.

Yes, I had this entire thought in the shower on Saturday night (too much information?). After a long day's work, I couldn't wait to have a few minutes to wash up and a nice night to rest. But there in the running water, it hit me...

This was more than just well-deserved or long-awaited or fantastic-feeling. This was more than just a simple pleasure. I was created for this.

It's too easy to forget that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tough Love

Friday, I wrote about where love stands.  I told you about the people in my life who have stood in front of me, saying they love me but blocking my view of anything but their encouragements.  Then I told you about those who, in the past few weeks, have come to stand beside and behind me.  I argued that this was love.

I would like to partially retract that statement, now that I've got you thinking.  

What I should have clarified on Friday is that encouraging love stands beside and behind.  If you love me, stand behind me and be my confidence.  If you love me, stand beside me and be my strength.  These things are true; confidence, strength...these are encouraging loves.  Now I want to add one more:

If you love me, stand in front of me and be my accountability.  This is tough love.

One of the problems I'm seeing more and more is a lack of accountability.  People don't take responsibility for their own lives.  They are waiting on someone to answer their questions, solve their problems, fill in their gaps.  They always have an excuse for being messed up, and that excuse is always what someone else did or did not do to or for them.  This is especially true in our younger generation.

Somehow, we have this idea that a "good" life falls into place when you put all the pieces together.  Life is less about hard work and making choices than it is about accumulating those pieces.  You have to find a mate, and this will fill in a part of your puzzle.  You have to find a job.  This is another piece.  You have to have this financial stability and that kind of car and yet another kind of schedule and all of these things that are tangible and obtainable, but if you don't understand why you're going after them, you never appreciate what you're getting.  And you never understand why it isn't working.

I know some young men who bounce from relationship to relationship.  When they find a girl - any girl - she's the best thing in the world and becomes their life.  When that girl turns out to be as immature as you'd expect any teenaged girl to be (as she rightfully should; she hasn't lived yet and, unfortunately, has no accountability in her own life), their world falls apart and they have nothing.  They don't know what to do with themselves and they get "emo," for lack of a better word.  It's not because these girls are anything special.  Trust me.  It's because these girls are a piece of their puzzle, and when that space opens back up, a young man who is trying to put together a life feels empty.  He feels the pain of that gap.  Then he tells you his life is never going to be anything because he doesn't even have a girl.

It pains me.  It absolutely pains me.  And it's so hard to show this kind of person what's really going on because when you point out truth - that your life isn't built on your pieces but on your peace - they just fire excuse after excuse after excuse and it's not long before you realize that they aren't taking an active role in anything.  They're waiting on their life to fall together while agonizing that it's falling apart and acting out because they don't know any other way.

The other way is accountability.  It takes someone standing in front of a man (or woman) who is running and forbid them to go that way.  It's blockading them into their emptiness without turning away, but instead keeping your eyes locked together as you teach them to fill their own empty spaces.  It's about helping a man find peace within himself instead of scrambling to put all the pieces together.  It's about helping one another know that life never just falls into place; you have to work for it.  You have to make decisions.  You have to ask the questions and not move from that place until they can answer.

When a man goes chasing after another piece and love stands in front of him demanding an answer, it is that necessary pause that forces him to think.  You stand there and wait until he's got a better reason to go than because he's missing that piece in his life.  You want the girl?  Why do you want the girl?  What empty space does the girl fill for you?  What else could you do to fill that space?  You want the job?  Why do you want the job?  You want to move?  Why?

We need to be willing to stand in front of one another and put our foot down, demanding an answer to the deepest question: what empty space are you trying to fill?

Then we have to be able to help a man fill it with himself, with who he was created to be, with the outpouring of his Creator, with Love.  If we can't do that, the man will always run wild.  He will always be chasing.

And he will always be empty.

In tough love, I've said it to a few people here and there: until you feel complete within yourself, none of this other stuff you're chasing will ever complete you.  You have to love yourself before you can ever love, or be loved by, another.  You have to work hard if you want to do the hard work.  You have to set your feet in something solid if you ever think you're going to stop running.  Life doesn't just fall together; you have to build it.  Start with one solid thing that isn't going away.  That solid thing is you.  (In best circumstances, it is God, but I'm watching a generation that above all needs accountability and I don't want to shove Christ down their shaken throats.  But ideally, a man knows that all he is comes from God and turns Himself back to God to find that one solid place to start building.)

In tough love, a few people have said these things to me.  And I love them for it.  My struggle hasn't so much been putting the pieces together, but rather a battle with fear or holding back.  But there was a time in my life where I was still running and it took people standing in front of me, demanding answers, rejecting excuses, refusing to budge until I could give an account of my mission.  More than "what."  Why.  And it changed me.  And I am so grateful.

If you love me in encouraging love, stand beside me and be my strength.  If you love me in encouraging love, stand behind me and be my confidence.  But if you really love me, know when to stand in front of me and be my accountability.  Block my eyes from that thing I am chasing and turn them back to who I am.  Or simply to I AM.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Where You Stand

It wasn't until this past week when I came face-to-face with grace that I really understood the nuances of love.  That is, it didn't occur to me that your love means something different depending on where you are.

It matters where you stand.

I grew up loved and encouraged.  By family, by teachers, by acquaintances.  One of the most common phrases I heard growing up was, "You're incredible.  You're gonna do great."  In a variety of contexts, of course.  (For the record, they were right.  I am incredible.  *mock arrogance*)  These people always made me smile.  They always made me think greater things.  They always inspired me to go after what I was going after, to do more, to be more, to achieve more.  I have tucked many of their words in my pocket, the way Mary kept the treasures of Jesus in her heart, but it wasn't until this past week that I fully realized what the lingering emptiness in these flattering word was.

The emptiness is space.

It's because all of these people who have loved and encouraged me over the years, all of the things I used to hang my hat on, the words I kept tucked away for a dreary day, were words spoken in front of me, face-to-face with a world that thought they were encouraging me.  (And they did.  I don't fault anyone, ever, for standing in love.  Even if it is dysfunctional love.  Most love is.)  But the problem is that when people stand in front of you and encourage you, it's hard to see where you're going.  All you can see is...them.  Standing there.  Telling you that you can do it.  Obstructing your view of what "it" is.

I think this is why for so long, I struggled with affirmation and felt stuck by encouragement.  I couldn't have named it or even recognized it at the time, but everyone was telling me I could do "it," that I could push forward and be but forward only held them.  They were standing in front of me, and if I moved forward, what I was really doing was trying to move toward their affirmation...instead of toward anything worthy of my life.

I think this is natural.  I think we want to be seen when we're loving.  I think we want people to notice that we're there, that we're right there, that we see straight into them and understand who they are and what they're doing and that we want to support and strengthen and encourage them.  I think we think love needs to be seen.  But so often, I think this kind of love is standing in the way.  If the only way forward you can see is straight into the eyes of the one affirming you, you start working toward them and what ends up happening is you're not working toward you any more.  Then one day, you're standing there affirmed and obviously loved, but you don't know where you are any more, you've completely lost sight of your road, and you've completely lost sight of you.

In the past week, nobody's standing in front of me.  Everyone, without exception, who has come to help me into this new journey I'm taking, is standing either beside me or behind me.  People are backing me, putting their faith into what I'm doing.  You know what that kind of love does?  It's confidence.  When there are people behind you, you feel like you have a place to fall.  You feel like you have a place that will catch you.  And suddenly, you're not afraid of falling any more.  You're not afraid to fail.  Because there's love back there.

Some are standing beside me, taking this journey day-to-day with me.  One woman I love dearly, who has always been the kind of person to stand in front of me in love, has in this circumstance come beside.  She started in front, the way she always does, but I recognized it without knowing how to put words to it.  I saw that she wasn't in a good place, and I pushed back.  Trying to be tender, I denied her offers again and again because I just had this overwhelming sense that the space between us wasn't going to work this time.  It didn't feel supportive; it felt pressuring.  After a few weeks of her insistence on loving me, just a few days ago, she came beside.  She stopped pushing so hard and quietly told me, "If you get stuck, I will help you."  And you know what?  I love having her here.  She's not blocking my view any more, but she's still here and we get to love on each other.  She's beside.  You know what that kind of love does?  It's strength.  It's two people blazing a path through the underbrush.  It's someone to help you when you get stuck.  Ecclesiastes, I think, says blessed in the man who is not alone when he stumbles because there is someone to help him.  That's what people beside you do.  They keep you going, through good times and bad.  There's love over there.

It's so easy for us to stand in front of one another.  We want our love to be seen, and we feel like this is the best place to show it.  We feel like eye-to-eye, face-to-face, toe-to-toe is the best place to love.  But I don't think so.  I think if you love me, stand behind me.  Be my confidence.  Give me a safe place to fall.  I think if you love me, stand beside me.  Be my strength.  Be my brother or sister that takes the thorn out of my side, the thistle out of my foot.  

I think if you love me, get out of my way and let me see where God is leading me.  He is the one who stands before me.  He is my guide.  When I look up and try to figure out where this path leads, I want to see Him.  Not you.  (Sorry.)  I want to see what He has for me.  I want to see the love in His eyes.  I want to hear the tenderness in His voice.  I want to take in the incredible view of there from here.

And a last little bit of truth?  I have been loved and encouraged my whole life by people standing in front of me.  But in this past week, I have never felt more loved or more encouraged with people standing beside and behind.  It's a great place to love.  With room for the Lord to lead.

I think if you love me....

I think you love me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Grace and Vomit

I know at this point, you're all weary of hearing about my new opportunity in chaplainism.  (I coined that word.)  But it's what I've got going on right now, and this is how God is revealing Himself. I think it's worth sharing.

The money is there.  Not all the gas money yet, but the tuition is covered.  I hated asking for it; it goes against everything in me.  But I also realized that I would rather ask for financial help with this program than to go this program alone and then ask for financial help to pay my car insurance, Christmas presents, grocery bills...because that's where my money would have had to come from.  Still...

If you know me at all, if you've been reading for any length of time, you know that I love giving.  I take great joy in giving good gifts.  I'm not, however, incredible at the receiving. (Because I'm tough. I don't need nothin' from nobody...except in those cases when I actually do.  And I wouldn't tell you if I did.  Most of the time.)

Which is how I found myself this past Sunday doing all I could to not puke in my church service.

People had been coming up to me all morning, congratulating me on the opportunity, talking about what was coming, pledging money to help me cover the costs.  There was a general buzz of excitement over the next step in my journey, and it was just overwhelming.  I'm the kind of person this kind of thing just doesn't happen to.  I hadn't expected even a small trickle (not because I doubt my brothers and sisters, not because I doubt my God, but entirely because I still so often doubt myself) so to be completely covered in this incredible outpouring of support and well wishes and good words and took me.

It dropped my heart into the pit of my stomach, and I had a gut reaction to all that this was.  It hasn't stopped all week as the calls and emails and Facebook messages have continued to come.  It's like...I know I'm rambling, forgive me as I struggle for the words to describe this...something in me emptied.  All at once, vacant.  This light, open place where once there was this heaviness that I didn't even know about, could not have defined.  It was, I guess, this place where for so long I have held so many of my questions, my doubts and my insecurities.  My fears, maybe, in part.  It just happened to be in my gut.

I have so long felt like such a wretch that when God's grace and goodness penetrated my shadowed places, I kind of really wanted to retch.  And almost did.  And maybe still could.  From the now-empty place inside of me, God's grace gnaws on my raw flesh and it's a little nauseating.  Like an ulcer.  

I'm not really sure what to do with this place.  My flesh says Pepto.  My heart says Prayer.  My entire being calls out Praise.  So probably a mix of the above.

I am grateful for the people who have come to stand beside me and behind me.  I am humbled by their generosity and, if you know me as a giver, know this: I am doing my best to give even more right now.  I don't have money, but I have other things and I'm doing what I can to give it all away.  And trying to fathom how a girl like me comes to a place like this, with the goodness of God and His awesome people all around me.

Tomorrow, I want to tell you more about this place and show you, I hope, from where I'm standing what it means to really love people.  Being on the receiving end has completely changed the way I think about this...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


A few weeks ago, I wrote about Balaam's donkey and the things you can learn from an ass.  Well, I'm kind of in a similar place right now, although in the reverse.  Let me explain:

I don't know what to really write today.  It's been a long, crazy day and I've been out making a mess...then a bigger mess trying to get out of the secret mess I was making.  I got up early and read my Bible like I always do, but my Bible's been dry, which is why my to-write list is kind of drying up.  (I still have a few things on there, but my brain will not cooperate with my notes today.  So here we are.)

It's not that the Bible is in itself dry.  In fact, I am currently in one of my favorite books - Jeremiah.  I love this prophet and the way he phrases certain things.  Like when He says, "His Word is shut up in my bones like a burning fire. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."  I smile and nod my head.  I know that feeling.  I love, of course, the same verse so many of us love - "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future."  I like another verse in chapter 29, which says, "Pray for the peace and prosperity of Babylon, where you are in captivity, for when Babylon has peace, so will you" because it reminds me to pray for the people I don't really like in any given moment, those who are holding my heart captive.  Jeremiah has a lot of good things to say, and I love his heart.

But reading his book, I find that we're maybe too much alike.  Our hearts are maybe too akin.  Because I love Jeremiah, but I don't really learn a whole lot from him.  I don't read the passages in his book the same way I read the rest of the Bible.  I don't stumble upon verses here and there that I go...oh!  That's obviously something!  I read it instead and go...yeah. This guy gets me.

There's a place for that in our lives, I think.  There's a place for people who are enough like us that we're just sharing the journey.  There's a place for people who sort of walk the same paths, who share the same hearts, who understand kind of how we think and how we feel and how we love.  I treasure people like that.

I also treasure people completely different from me, whose words and hearts and love I have to appreciate for who they are...not how much they are like me.  Because it is from these people - and only these people - that I really learn anything.  It is from people with different eyes that I learn to see new things.  It is from people with different hearts that I learn to love more.  It is from people with different footprints that I come to understand another path.  It doesn't mean they change who I am or what I'm doing.  They just change how I'm doing it.  For the better.  They set me free into a new space that isn't just mine (because they are there) and isn't just theirs (because I am there) but is this shared space that creates just this incredible journey.

I think that may be why a prophet isn't appreciated in his hometown.  I think that's why Jesus had to get out of Nazareth.  Because I think the people who are too much like you can too easily see things the way you see them, and then you're not challenging.  You're not teaching.  Which is kind of the point of being the Teacher.  I think when you're around people who are too much like you, you can too easily see things the way they do and then you start to question all the creative energy that flows through you.  You start to wonder if you have a gift, if you're doing anything special.  You start to see all the secret treasures you once held dear to your heart as something common...and it sucks something out of it.

It's crucial, then, to keeping the fire alive in your heart to surround yourself with strangers, to be around people who aren't so totally like you.  It reminds you that you've got something unique, that you're doing something, that you're gifted and creative and created to be that way.  I know that's how I feel when I read any other author in the Bible and I get the giggles over the way my brain (or my heart) twists this or that word into something completely crazy and yet, still absolutely true.  I know this is what God created me for.

I don't get that from reading Jeremiah, and so this stint in my study always makes me a little hesitant.  A little nervous.  A little questioning.  It's weird the way that every year, I hit this place, this book of the Bible, and my brain just sort of stops.  For as long as I'm here, I don't get anything.  I don't get the inspiration that so easily flows even from Isaiah, just a few pages back.

But I get Jeremiah.  I get his words and his heart and his understanding.  I get beautiful phrasing that I could easily see myself saying if, of course, he hadn't gotten to it first.  For awhile, I get to be around a guy who reminds me I'm not the only one.  I can just imagine him giggling when he stumbles on a good and beautiful word, laughing over the way his mind wraps around that thought.  I appreciate that.

It's easy sometimes to stay with the people who are just like us, but we're not learning anything.  We're not growing.  And I, for one, still have a lot of growing to do.

So I don't linger here too long, as cool as it is to see this place.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Good and Perfect

Yesterday, I told you how all the little details of my new opportunity are coming together in such a holy way, you might even consider it perfect.  But anybody who's been around for any length of time knows that when you start to think things are perfect, that's when they start to fall apart.  I'm not worried this time, though, and here's why:

Because I know that good and perfect gifts come from God.  (Pretty sure it says that somewhere.)

And I know what you're thinking - isn't that the problem?  All my perfect gifts seem to fall apart.  I can hear you whispering it right now, stomping your feet and wondering how I'm so confident in "perfect" when your "perfect" isn't so good.

I'm not confident in perfect.  I'm confident in good and perfect.  This, I have found, is the key and it's a bit of discernment I can generally rely upon to know whether something is from God or somewhere lesser.

This world's got perfect down.  Whenever this world wants to make you do something or get you to do something or get you to buy something, they make it perfect.  They take away all obstacles, set all the stones in place, make everything come together so awesomely right that you couldn't possibly refuse.  It looks like the whole package, everything you thought you wanted.  They lay out gold pavers on the muddy road and make it look like the brilliant way, and you're drawn to it.  It's easy.  It's simple.  It's perfect.  Of course it's right.  Right?

You know as well as I do that when you step on that first golden stone, you start to sink.  What seems perfect is anything but, and as soon as you commit to going that way, things fall apart.  Money falls through.  Disease strikes.  Disorder hits.  Disaster and dysfunction define your way until you feel like you've been walking forever, haven't gone anywhere, and can't remember what exactly it was that looked so perfect in the first place. far from perfect.

And this world is pretty good at good.  They use good to keep you where you are, to keep you from thinking about going anywhere.  Have you ever wanted to make a big change in your life?  Something maybe you've come close to going after?  Then out of nowhere, you're hit with the overwhelming sensation that what you've got now is working.  It's getting the job done.  You're comfortable.  It's not perfect, but it's good.  So you settle in.  Good is good, and nobody wants to mess good up.

You can't help but wonder, though, all you've missed out on for the sake of what seems to be good.  A few years down the line, it doesn't look good any more but now you're stuck.  Good is good.

Yes, this world is perfect at perfect and good at good, but you know what's missing?  The and.  This world will never give you good and perfect.  It's one or the other, to lead you astray or hold you down.  And what you discover eventually's neither.

But what God gives is good and perfect.  There are some things that fall together, like this opportunity, and you have to go after them. There's no reason not to.  The difference is that when God pulls one perfect thing together, not everything's perfect.  Some things are still just good.  This opportunity for me clicked.  But my whole life didn't just fall into place around it.  There are still some obstacles, still some hassles.  There are other areas of my life that haven't changed at all.  There are places in my heart that are facing this new reality in the same way they always have, with the same questions I'm always asking.  Mostly, these things are still good.  I have the means and the abilities and the opportunities to face them head on, take care of them, fix them, embrace them, whatever I have to do.  Some things are not good; that's life.  Certainly, not everything is perfect.

That's how I know the perfect thing is God.  It's surrounded by good, a little bit of not good, and all the strength I need for the good, perfect, and not perfect things.

I know this world is out to fool me.  I know it thinks it can dupe me with wholly good or wholly perfect, but the holy is a delicate mix of both.  So when the perfect comes along, I ask myself what I'm asking.  If the answer is nothing, it doesn't seem so perfect anymore.  But if I'm asking good questions, this may be the thing.  This may be the very good and perfect thing God has for me.

In this case, I'm pretty sure it is.

Monday, August 12, 2013


You've probably heard it said that when God closes a door, He opens a window.  But what about when God opens the door and shuts all the windows?

It's happening to me.  Right now.

I kind of mentioned this opportunity a couple of weeks ago in my post on ministry - it is the opportunity, finally, to enter a chaplain education program and start working my way toward the call on my heart.  Well, here's the thing: it's no longer just an opportunity; it's an open door.

I'm the kind of person who's been hanging out in the hallway, still asking some questions.  About myself, about my God, about my circumstances, about my life, about my fear, about my faith, about my everything.  Over the past many years, there have been a few doors cracked open, a few windows to peer through.  And every now and then, I've played with one or two of them only to be too hesitant, or too dissatisfied, to make any bold moves.  I've always had a reason why I couldn't or why I shouldn't.  I've often been waiting on the next door to open, that other enticing thing down the hall.  I've often been holding back, never sure whether this is the right or the wrong move to make.

This time, it's not really up to me.  (Of course, it is.  I could stand here for the next 20 years if I wanted theory.)

The door for this opportunity has flung wide open.  Less than a week after I sent in my application materials, I was contacted for an interview.  The next day, I was interviewing.  The same day, they were talking to my references.  *pause* A couple of my references were out of town and there was a slight typo in an email address.  Still, a week later, my references were in.  This past Saturday, three or so weeks after my application, three weeks and two days after I even found the opportunity, a large brown envelope of acceptance materials graced my mailbox.

I should have known.  For five years, I have searched through more than 10,000 jobs per day, six days per week (I do not use my computer on Sundays because every good girl needs a Sabbath).  I have my resume splattered everywhere.  In the past two weeks?  Not one hit.  No one has looked at my resume.

I have an ePortfolio of some of my writing and design work.  In the past two weeks?  Not one hit.  My total hits number has not changed.  No one's looking at my communications/creative side.

I have a number of applications floating around, a few I have even interviewed with recently in various stages of their process.  In the past two weeks?  Rejections.  En masse

As you may or may not know, I despise money more than anything in the world and this chaplain program costs money.  Not a lot, but more than I have right now.  (Who knew I was going to need so much money so quickly?  I would have started saving long ago.)  But I need the money soon, and some of  On Saturday, just after reading through my acceptance packet, I sent an email to my church requesting private financial help from my brothers and sisters, knowing there were some who would step up.  Less than twenty-four hours later, as I walked out of Sunday service, I was already halfway to tuition with a few other individuals mentioning their pledge, although without specific dollar amounts.  Now, I am the kind of person who doesn't do things unless I can pay for them.  It's why I don't have a Masters.  It's why I drive a 12-year-old car that I just fixed with a junk part.  It's why three weeks ago when I ran a drill bit through my finger, I makeshifted my own skin graft and took care of it myself; emergency medical care was not in the budget.  Knowing all this about me, my God has clearly said - you don't have the money.  But I do.  It's going to be taken care of.  And though I'm not quite to fully-funded for tuition and gas money (and am still taking odd jobs, carving things, and selling junk to try to make it), I trust the money is going to be there.

I'm not normally a person to trust such things.

Two days from now, I am going to the hospital's department of associate health to verify my health clearance to begin working around patients.  After more than 5 years of being seriously ill, I'm flabbergasted that I am in a place where I could actually get a health clearance!

What I'm saying is this: Sometimes, when God closes a door, He opens a window.  And sometimes, when God opens a door, He shuts all the windows and you get sucked up in this vacuum of holy breath that just carries you into the next thing.  It's a holy thing.  And it's a good thing.  And it can even kind of feel like a perfect thing.

I know you're saying - be careful about those perfect things.  There's a trap in there somewhere.  A circumstance you don't foresee.  Something coming to trip you up.  Maybe.  But I'm going to tell you tomorrow what I think about good and perfect things and why I'm not so worried about this one.  In the meantime, I am mostly excited.  98% stoked and excited and ready to go.  2% nervous, but such is to be expected.  And 100% humbled to the point of tears, blessed beyond measure, and speechless at the way things go.

And trying to figure out what to do with my hair.  Because this holy wind that's blowing has it lookin' a little messy... 

Friday, August 9, 2013


Do you remember twenty years ago when all this new technology started coming out - cell phones, personal computers, televisions with remote controls and without bunny ears - and everyone promised that as innovation improved, these items were only going to get smaller and cheaper?

What happened to that?

When I was growing up, we had a bag phone.  The battery was twice the size of today's smart phones, the handset was Zach Morris big, and you had to take the whole bag with you, plug it into your cigarette lighter, and stay in your car but it was mobile!  We had a mobile phone!  ...for a mere fraction of what today's phones costs.  They got smaller, but not at all cheaper.

Televisions cost  a pretty penny back then, even for the smaller models.  For what our old 25" set cost, you could get a larger one today.  Not the largest, of course - those things are monsters.  People are putting full-size theaters into their homes now, on a budget!  They got cheaper, but not really smaller.

And it seems the smaller the computer you're buying, the more expensive it is.  I'm not sure how that works.

It seems the promises of twenty years ago are a little muddled in the Twenty-First Century.

Unfortunately, so is the promise of God.  Jesus seems to be the only thing these days that is both smaller and cheaper.

How can Christ be cheaper? you ask.  Grace was always free.

Yes and no.  Grace has always been free, but the grace of God has also had power.  It's still free, but it's virtually powerless.  It's because we've taken away the mandate that grace changes you.  Instead of offering you grace as this beautiful gift in the hopes that it will strengthen, empower, and humble you in awe of the incredible mercy of God, we throw grace around like it's nothing, like it doesn't do anything but wipe your sins away.  This bothers me.

We tell people not to worry about what they do wrong, not to concern themselves with falling short because God's grace is there.  God's grace, we tell them, covers you and it doesn't much matter what you do as long as you keep asking for grace.  That severely cheapens grace.

Grace is supposed to change you.  It is supposed to transform you.  It is supposed to make you aware of your brokenness and repentant of your misdeeds.  It is supposed to bring you back to God in relationship, not a revolving door of asking for grace.  It's not supposed to excuse the things you do; it is supposed to redeem them.  Grace doesn't do that any more, not in the way we think of it.  Grace

And unfortunately, this very diminishment of grace also diminishes God.  It makes Him look smaller.  It makes Him just a tiny part of what you do, a small fraction of the way you live.  If His grace doesn't change you, His mercy doesn't define you.  If you aren't humbled by what God does in your life, then you don't look any smaller.  And if you don't look any smaller, God doesn't look so big.  If God doesn't look so big, how incredibly small He has become!

Consider the way the people in the Bible knew God.  They knew Him enough to run to Him in times of trouble.  They knew His character enough to pray to Him.  They trusted His strength enough to lean on Him.  They trusted His heart enough to rest in Him.  What about us?  We are a generation that knows Him enough to go to His church *most* Sunday mornings and kind of sort of think about Him every now and then.  In His story, He is everything to His people.  To us....don't you see how He is much less?

I used to look forward to the days when things were going to be smaller and cheaper.  Some days, I still do.  But if a smaller, cheaper promise leads to a smaller, cheaper God, that's not a deal I'm willing to make.  God takes my everything.  He deserves my everything.  Because I want Him to be my everything.

Which means I have to be smaller and let myself be changed and humbled by His grace.

Which has always been free.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

For This Place

Yesterday, I showed through the words of Jeremiah how God is willing to unravel Creation if you're not satisfied with it, if you rebel against it.  Because He created this place for you.  And if you don't like it here, none of this beauty and grace and majesty matter to Him.

On the other side of this coin is this equal truth: As much as He created this place for you, He also created you for this place.

He created you with the physical body to live this close to the sun and not burn up, this far away and not freeze.  You have eyes that can tolerate the range of darkness and light on this earth, ears that respond to a siren of warning or the warning song of the swallow.  Your tongue can not only taste, but appreciate everything from caviar to cupcakes.  Your nose knows whether that's rancid garbage or an enchanting rose.

God created this beautiful, wonderful, mysterious place just for you.  And then He formed the mysterious you to put in it.  Not just to put in this place but to be in this place, perfectly designed for all the nuances of Here.

Have you ever thought about it?

Think a little deeper.

He also created you with the personality, the gifts, and the abilities to do something.  Not just something, but something here.  He made you to fill this space in the universe that He left open just for you, this you-shaped hole in all of creation that He formed around His idea of you and then created you precisely to fill.  By shape and form and substance, you fit right in this place He has for you.  If you don't wake up every day and realize that, then maybe you're in the wrong place.  Just sayin'.

Sometimes, I look around at people who don't seem to belong here.  They stick out like sore thumbs.  They don't have the right image, the right status, the right whatever to fit my definition of this place.  Often, I find the same thing in the mirror.  I mean, where do I fit?  Where do any of us fit?  It's a question I think we spend much of our lives asking, and most of our energies trying to answer.

But then I look at what those very same people are doing here, and I get it.  They're here because this is their place.  They were created for this, even if my eyes don't always see the them-shaped holes they are filling.  Sometimes, you have to look and I mean really look at people to understand their place in this mess.  When you figure out what it is they are doing's beautiful.  It's so awesome to see the way God shaped this place around them and formed them to do something good in this place.  So precisely.  So perfectly.  You start to understand how it all comes together.

And at least for me, I start to hope that others can look at my life and see the same.  I don't always fit in; I know that.  I don't always look like I belong.  I stick out like a sore thumb and probably don't meet a lot of expectations people have about a person in this place.  But I hope for anyone paying attention, for anyone looking, for anyone watching, they can catch a glimpse of what I'm doing here and that somehow this all makes sense.  I hope that someone else can see what I already sense - that I was made for this place.  Perfectly, precisely, wonderfully made to fill an Aidan-shaped hole in the universe.  Right here.

We were made for this place that was made for us.  We were formed to fill the void in the form of who we would be when God created Creation with our creation in mind.  It's incredible.  It's so cool.

Do you feel like you were made for this place?  If not, is it time to consider somewhere new?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

For You

The God of the Old Testament is, shall we say, a bit of a vengeful God.  If you've ever read these stories, you can't help but walk away with that impression of Him.  His people offend Him by offering sacrifices to this or that other god.  They upset Him by breaking this or that rule.  They defy Him, deny Him, and dishonor Him...and God won't stand for it.

We often see Him promising destruction, articulating a curse that involves some form of mass death where wild animals of various species will eat the flesh of the deceased, where bodies will lie rotting in the streets for lack of graves, where bones will disintegrate to dust.  It's gruesome and kind of harsh, but this is what He promises.  (Although, to be fair, I'm not sure I have seen any instances of this actually coming to pass, any times when God has not, in His mercy, changed His mind.  Jezebel, of course, was eaten by dogs, but I think the en masse slaughter and subsequent eating by birds and beasts of the nation of Israel never happened.  I'd probably remember that.  Even when He promised not to let an entire generation into the Promised Land after their rebellion in the wilderness, He let them wander and die of natural causes and even buried Moses and Aaron.  So there's that.)

But what strikes me is that, as often as this is the God we remember, He is just as often the God of a different curse.  If you read through the Scriptures, even the ones that promise destruction, what you find is that just as often as God is promising the destruction and death of the people, He is promising the destruction of the land and their home and their crops and their food.

Take this passage from Jeremiah 4:

My anguish, my anguish!...I see the earth.  It's formless and empty.  I see the sky.  Its lights are gone.  I see the mountains.  They are shaking, and the hills are swaying.  I see that there are no people, and every bird has flown away.  I see that the fertile land has become a desert, and all its cities are torn down because of the Lord and his burning anger.  This is what the Lord says:  The whole earth will be ruined. (19, 23-27)

There are other verses that say the lands will lay barren, the fields won't produce, the crops will rot, there will be no rains, etc.

In His anger, the Lord completely undoes creation.  He undoes this place He created.  He takes back Eden.

Isn't that what it is?  Look again at the passage from Jeremiah and compare that with the creation story in Genesis.  In the beginning, everything was formless and empty.  And here we have the earth, formless and empty.  Then God separated the light from the darkness...  And here, the light is gone.  It's just darkness again.  He created the lands and separated them from the waters.  The mountains are shaking; the hills, swaying.  He filled the waters with creatures and the skies with birds.  All the birds have flown away.  He created vegetation to cover the earth, plants to grow and food to harvest and so on and so forth (in case you haven't noticed, yes.  I am paraphrasing Genesis).  The fertile land has become a desert.  And He created man.  There are no men.  There are no women.  There are no people.  Creation is completely undone.

The story of Genesis is the story of Eden.  It is the birth of a place, culminating in the formation of people.  It's easy to think that maybe Eden was missing something, and that something was man, but the opposite has always been true.  It was man that was missing something, and that something was Eden.  God created this place for you.

And if you're not going to appreciate it, He says, then what's the point?  In one moment of burning anger, He proclaims a curse that undoes His creation.  That's anger.  That's righteous fire.  That's a powerful and passionate God right there.

It just strikes me as I read these kinds of verses how willing God is to let us keep going, to let us have whatever it is that we think we want to have, and that He has these other ways of dealing with us.  It's easy to destroy evil people.  It's simple, at least to our minds, to wipe out the offender.  But it's not love, and at His core, that is what God is.  He is love.  So in love, He can't just destroy us.  He can't write us off.  But He can shield His investment.  We don't want Him?  Ok, that's cool.  Then we must not want Eden, either.  We must not want our fields and our flowers and our food.  We must not want our mountains and our molehills.  We must not want our sun or our stars.  Because these things are from Him, special gifts created just for us, and well, if we don't want that, then God is willing to show us what life without Him - fully without Him - is really like.  That is the essence of this curse.  It is God telling us that He's created this beautiful, wonderful, awesome place for us and if we're not interested....good luck creating for yourself.  See what you can do in a formless, empty place.

God is not pick-and-choose.  We don't get to take this part of Him and not that part.  We don't get to have just a piece of Him.  It's all or nothing.  The fullness of God or the formlessness of godlessness.  There is no in-between.  This place we're blessed and honored to live in, it was created just for us.  This place, it was created just for you.  Do you get that?  This is part of the incredible gift God is giving to you, this very place.  He's not as attached to it as He is to you.  So if you don't want it, He'll destroy it.  If He can't have the one thing that matters - YOU - then none of this matters.  He will take away the entire work of creation for the chance to spare that maybe one day you'll come back to Him and rediscover this place.

So maybe one day, you'll discover Eden.