Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sacred Spaces

As much as I value empty spaces, there is yet more that I crave - sacred ones. While an empty space creates an opening for God to work, a sacred space is one where He is already working. Both are important.

I've talked about seasons as this year draws to a close, about how they always lead from one thing into another. They're always preparing us for the next one, whether we understand how or what or why. I think that's the use of sacred spaces; they are the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built over the holy waters of today.

It's because that place where God is already working becomes the very thing you hold onto, instinctively. God comes and begins to do the very thing you hoped He'd do, or at least you recognize that what He's doing is powerful...and good. And you grab hold with all you've got because you don't want to miss this thing. It is with this firm grip that you understand the things you're able to let go of, the season you're willing to let pass. And it is with this very hold that you know you're headed toward something greater. Like a vine over the crick (that's hillbilly for 'creek,' sort of..), the sacred space is what gets you from here to there. Or from there to there. Or from wherever you've been to wherever you're going.

Sacred space doesn't have to be anything special. That is, it won't always feel so grand. It doesn't even necessarily feel different. It's not that the space itself is holy; it's that it is wholly God's. That makes is something special. That makes it sacred.

I am struggling this morning to write this. I'm struggling this morning to write anything. And I think it's because I find myself in this sacred space, and it's tough to know what to do with that. I'm in this place where God is moving and I've caught hold of His motion in my life and I'm not willing to let go. But that means I'm letting go of other things and swinging into the empty spaces (as discussed yesterday). Which is awkward because I'm a girl always looking for a place to put my feet down and right now, it doesn't feel like there's a place to land. And yet, this is a holy motion so I'm not sure I'd want to, as much as my restless soul craves such a very thing.

Nobody ever promised this dance would be pretty.

So that's kind of where I'm at - hungry for God in the midst of His feast, thirsty as He pours living water into my life. Aching to speak with Him; longing to listen. It stings, but I love it here.

As I sat to write, I thought this post might take another direction, leading into the creation of sacred spaces - those places in your lives that are set aside for one thing. Just one thing. I've been thinking about that for days, about how weird it is sometimes to live dorm-style like I do, with all my stuff crammed into one room. About how the space in which I write is the same space in which I sleep and watch TV and fix my hair in the mornings and pray and read my Bible and eat my lunch. And I've wondered what it might mean to make some of that space sacred. That is, to set it aside for just one thing.

And that is it, isn't it? That's what sacred space is - it's space set aside for just one thing. Or rather, for One Thing. God. For holy. It's space sanctified for God's presence, for God's promise. For God to be working in you and in your life. That's all that sacred space is; it's a place we recognize and set apart to give wholly to Him. That He might make it holy.

That it might, indeed, be sacred.

I don't know what God will make of my empty spaces in the year to come, or even in the years. But I have a sense of what He's doing in this sacred space. That's enough to hold onto for now. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Empty Spaces

In two days, a new year arrives with all the hope and promise of fresh beginnings. For many years, as January neared, I took some time to reflect on what I wanted from the time or season to come: things I wanted to change, things I wanted to make, things I wanted to leave behind. Quite often, I'd find myself settling on a word or phrase that I'd hoped would define the next movement of my life.

When I started that maybe a decade ago, it was a few words hidden in the introduction of a Christian comedian's DVD. The words I heard, and you had to listen hard to hear them, were "Go on your journey; be who you are." And for a year, I reflected on the journey and who I might be. Who I might ought to be.

A few years later (I don't remember the ones in between), I came upon a verse in Hebrews that was entirely what I needed at that time. Take a new grip with your tired hands. Stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong. (12:12-13) That verse hung on my dresser for a full year, and my life was defined by the first two sentences - Get a grip. Stand up. That was what I needed.

The year after that, I switched to one powerful word. A word so powerful that...four years later...I couldn't even tell you what it was. But man, at the time, it mattered. I think.

Then two years ago, for 2011, I came up with three phrases, which I spent the last week of December painting onto poster board. The phrases went like this: Live a life worthy.... Be fully that.... Let your life speak.... Each was a half-phrase meant to inspire me to fulfill the unwritten part, which would have read: ...of the calling of God. ...which God created in you and nothing more, and nothing less. And then of course, the last one, was simply a call to action. In 2012, I left those words up. In 2013, I left them yet again. I could think of nothing better to define my life.

And here we are with 2014 around the corner. After three years, I have taken those words down.

It's not that they do not represent something real in my life; they absolutely still do. But this is no longer the prominent journey I am on. This is no longer the best representation of what I want to do next. It's still an admirable way of living, but to continue to hold these words as my inspiration, I fear, may hold me back. I know it would. So late last week, I pulled them down.

Then what goes up in their place? What am I looking for in 2014? The simple answer is: I don't know.

My sacred place is filled with empty spaces right now. It's filled with open doors and blank canvases and this incredible anticipation of what comes next. Some might argue that you have to know where you're going. It might bother some people to let go of the old thing without knowing what new one is coming. Some may argue I should have kept my old words until I knew what replaces them. Not that long ago, I would have been some people

But not any more. I don't think I have to know what the new thing is to understand that the old one isn't working any more. I don't think I have to know where I'm going to know that I can't stay here. I don't think I have to know what comes next to let go of what is now. I don't even have to know that something is certainly coming. Because I think for all of us, at least for me, you reach a place where to stay would be stifling, even though the unknown is scary.

People ask me a lot these days what's next. As a product of my recent adventures, everyone wants to know where my next step takes me. You know? I'm not entirely sure. I have some ideas, some hopes, some dreams. Even some inklings of calling. Even some profound calling. But when I'm asked this question, I generally just smile that big, coy smile I've got and declare with a bounce, "I'm on to the next big thing!" Even though I don't know, for certain, what the next big thing is.

I may not know by Wednesday what's coming. I may not need to know. Right now, I've created an empty space between what was and what is coming, and I'm not in too big of a hurry to fill it. If I spend my life plugging things into the gaps, I leave little room for God to sneak in without blowing things up. Empty spaces create an invitation. They make a place for God to work, and maybe that is what I need above all. Who knows?

Friday, December 27, 2013


As seasons change, the old passes away and the new is come. Or so it seems. Or so we hope.

That's the way we think about things - that there are new things and old things. That there were once things, but those things are no more and now there are different things. That things either are or they are not and that, once broken, things can (and must) simply be replaced.

I have to say, this has kind of distorted my view of redemption.

Because I think for so long, when I've turned to God (and I'm not alone in this), what I've wanted more than anything is for God to make me new. I've wanted Him not to restore me but to replace me. With a better, newer, more whole version of myself as He's created me to be. 

I don't want to repair my broken relationships; I want to start new ones. In many cases, with the same people. All whilst I try to convince them that I'm not who I was. I don't want to carry old stories; I want to tell new ones. In many cases, with my own distorted versions of the former. I don't want my wounds to scab over and scar; I want new flesh without the signs of the hurt. I want raw, pink, perfect flesh in even my most damaged places. Something new. Please, Lord. Replace me!

It sounds kind of weird to say it that way. I would never so boldly use such a word with God, not in reality. I would never beg to be replaced because in that very word, I understand the richness and depth of what has been created in me and I wouldn't want to lose any piece of that. As it turns out, I kind of like myself as God is forming me, warts and all. And as my heart starts to cry, "Replace me!," knowing that is so often what I'm asking in not as many words, I find an even deeper pang crying, "Use me!" And in the essence of that, redeem me, Lord.

Could you imagine if every time you longed for replacement, God did just that? Could you imagine if He replaced you? You'd have to start over. Every time. You'd have to create new memories, new foundations, new faith. You'd have to discover a way to relate - to yourself, to your God, to your world. And when you failed again, you'd cry "Replace me!" and you'd have to start over once more.

My life has seen a lot of seasons. They have all brought some measure of change. And quite often, I have longed for the opportunity to start over. I have yearned to be someone new, to create new relationships and new joys and a new life. I have ached because those who have been in my life have not followed my change as profoundly as I have; they have not seen my growth, my new nature as quickly as I would like. There are people in my life who will always see me as I was seventeen, twenty-two, thirty seasons ago, if such a thing could be numbered. They will always see who they thought they saw and never anything more. That has always been a point of great agony for me. Because when I look in the mirror, I want to see who I am becoming and not always who I was and people like this always remind me who I was.

And yet in this past season, it's been slightly different. I have found some measure of harmony between who I was and who I am becoming. The two don't have to be at odds with one another. In fact, each enhances the other. That's strange to say, but it's true: who I was is a formational part of who I am and who I will be...but at the same time, who I am and who I will be lends depth to all that I was. Somehow, and I don't claim to understand, it all works out.

I don't long to be replaced any more, although some of the ache is still there. In my weaker moments, I find myself praying that old prayer, responding to that longing to just be wholly, fully, forever different without a glimpse of the past. Then I get a glimpse of my past and recognize how it plays into this place and how this place changes even my past. And in one fleeting moment, I finally understand redemption.

I look in the mirror and fully know, I am redeemed.

I am not wholly new. I am not wholly different. But I somehow make sense, all of a sudden. And that's the difference.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


We're right in the midst of a change of seasons. Last Saturday, winter officially began, although many of us got an early start with several inches of snow and ice accumulations several weeks back. We're leaving out families' houses and headed home after Christmas, the end to yet another season. By tomorrow, it will be socially unacceptable to continue to say "Season's Greetings!" The season is over. And, well, for me, I'm closing out this season of my life. My last shift as a Unit 1 Chaplain Intern (I capitalize it to make it sound more official than it really is) ended ten days ago, and I've completed all the post-unit paperwork and organizing that I needed to take care of and...here I am. Trying to figure out what this change of seasons brings.

The truth is that I kind of already know, and I'm wickedly excited for what is to come.

That's one of the things I love about life in seasons, as opposed to phases or stages or even moments. Seasons, with their own unique glories, are always preparing for the next thing to come. You're never left wondering what happens next. Not fully, anyway. There's some hint in this season of what's astir for the next one. In winter, the world lies dormant, germinating a new life for the season to come. Nobody worries about what March brings, when winter ends. Nobody cries over the last day of winter, for the first day of spring is right around the corner and with it, the promise of new life. Flowers blooming. Trees budding. Birds singing. And all this leads into the growth of the summer, where things shoot up toward the lingering sun. The world reaches its maturity in the longest of days only to bring us to the autumn and the harvest, where the earth gives back to us the very yield it's been working on since this day one year ago. And then it goes dormant, back into winter, where it starts breeding once more for the coming spring.

See, seasons lead seamlessly into one another. It's the beautiful wisdom of Creation. And it's the kind of thing I'll think about while I pack away the Christmas tree and all the decorations today.

Yes, today.

Some people might think that's a little too soon, that Jesus just came yesterday and can't I let it linger a little longer? I wish I could. To be honest with you, I feel like I missed a lot of Christmas this year. With my schedule being busier than it's been in perhaps forever, with everything just sort of changing as the seasons change, I kept finding myself suddenly taking a breath and realizing Christmas was coming. Five days...three days...two days....one day....and then Christmas was here, and I swear I blinked and almost missed it. It was just that kind of year, and part of me wants to hold on a little longer. But you know what happens when you don't let go?

You miss the transition. You miss the subtle changing from one season to another. You miss what's unfolding right before your very eyes. You miss this thing that's happening now while you're holding on to what's already been. Then when you realize where you are again, it's too late. You missed the smooth way everything transformed. You miss the metamorphosis. You look up, and where once there was a caterpillar, now there is a butterfly and it's like you're living in a parallel universe. Because you don't know how you got here; you missed the journey. Life becomes this disconnected series of events. It becomes stages, instead of seasons.

When Jesus began His ministry and called His disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John did not jump out of the boat and excitedly declare, "Hey! You're that kid who was born in a manger. Man, everyone was talking about that. Still are! That is so awesome!" No, they followed a maturing Jesus. Not stuck in the passed season of what He'd already done, they were free to witness, even to be a part of, the new thing He was doing, which flowed out of the manger and into the streets.

It's the same today. Jesus has come, and the season of anticipation has passed. The season of arrival has passed. Today, our Lord is here and if we hold on too long to His coming, we may miss out on where He's going. That's not a season I want to miss.

So I'll pack away the tree today and all the decorations. I'll let the Christmas season pass as it transforms into...whatever we want to call this new time. I'll embrace the change from autumn to winter, the harvest complete and my storehouses full for the season of regeneration, the quiet work of resetting and resoiling. I'll even let go of the incredible journey I have been on, in preparation for the new one beginning.

This has been a wonderful season - this Christmas, this winter, this journey - and I am grateful for the time. But it's all drawing me into the next big thing. It's the beautiful wisdom of Creation.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Inside of you lies the greatest gift you could unwrap this season: the fullness of everything God created when He made you.

This is the season in which we spend time with family and friends, laughing over stories, sharing gifts. Yet for many of us, this is a time when we look in the mirror and don't feel like laughing, don't feel like we have any good gifts to share. It's a bittersweet time; we love this season, but we do not always love ourselves.

There are reasons for that, as there are reasons for just about everything. It could be a long-buried hurt. It could be a wounded self-image. It could be a brokenness you've never spoken about and wouldn't dare dream of invading the holidays with. But as Jesus comes into the manger to heal the world, I can't help but think it's only fitting that we take this season to embrace His healing presence.

We need to unwrap ourselves.

That's pretty much all that's happened over the years - we've wrapped ourselves up in the things that make us look pretty, tying strings around our lives to hold us together, until the package looks prettier than the gift might ever be. Then we live our lives in quiet despair, feeling the weight of our decor. We're just decoration. All wrapped up, we look nice, but no one can experience joy through us. No one can get elated at seeing what we hold. No one can use us. And we were created to be used.

It seems like a giant undertaking, to unwrap all of this that is stuck inside, to get down to the raw creation God intended when He knit each of us together in our mother's womb. We think the process has to be systematic, like unpacking the dishes into a new kitchen or sorting the dirty laundry. This season, put systems and theory and fear aside and become like a little child - rip into the pacakge that is you. Tear into it until you get to the present. Leave scraps of past and future, of flesh and blood, of wound and worry all over the floor. Make a mess; it's Christmas!

Jesus has come.

And you know what you'll find? Just like Christmas morning, when the wrapping paper is strewn about the family floor and everyone's holding that perfectly-thoughtful, excitingly-new something, all of that paper that looked so pretty under the tree doesn't look so pretty any more. It looks like trash. It looks like it's getting in the way. After all that care and effort you put into picking the paper, cutting it to size, creasing the folds, and tying the ribbon, you furiously stand up and just shove it all into a garbage bag and set it out by the garage. There's no room for this rubbish anymore! New adventures are unfolding...

The same can be true for you this holiday season. A new adventure can begin in your life. You must just be willing to unwrap yourself this Christmas . Tear away everything down to the present - what God has created in you this day.  You are an incredible gift.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Father

Perhaps one of the most overlooked characters in the Christmas story is the Father. Not Joseph...God. Because when we think about God in the Christmas story, we think about Him in the manger. We think about Emmanuel, God with us, God manifest in baby boy and we talk about the incredible way in which He gave Himself to human form and came upon a midnight clear to stand in the mess of the world.

But Jesus clearly tells us again and again that He is not God. He is the Son, telling the story of the Father. And the story of the Father on Christmas morning is not the story of One who comes.

It's the story of One who gives.

On this day, more than two thousand years ago, God gave us His Son. He gave His Son, knowing we would mistreat Him. Knowing we would mishear Him. Knowing we would misunderstand Him. Knowing we would misinterpret Him. He gave us His Son knowing we wouldn't know what we had until it was too late, although He promised to make "too late" just the beginning.

Yes, God gave us His Son. More than that, however, He gave us His story.

From the beginning of the world, from the time of the Fall, from the first bite of apple, God had a plan to restore and redeem this world. He had a way to bring us back to Him. And, well, He's God. He could have done this any way He saw fit. He could have single-handedly controlled the redemption of the world, to make sure it went off without a hitch. He could have dominated the process. He could have imposed Himself and with a great show of power, made sure we knew just what was going on here.

Instead, He came powerless as a crying infant. He put His story into the hands of a timid virgin and an unsure man. He put His story into the hands of an impoverished womb, a family who could not even afford the preferred offering to honor this child. (Mary and Joseph had to give the back-up offering of birds.) He put His story into the town of Nazareth. Could anything good from there? He put His story into the stable - a stable with a manger, out of which cattle eat. And cattle were unclean to the Jewish people. (According to Webster's, cattle and horses eat out of mangers.) He put His story into the common folk - fishermen. He put His story into the sinners - tax collectors, prostitutes. He put His story into the broken - the blind, deaf, mute, paralyzed, infected, diseased, disordered.

He put His story in the hands of the religious, who looked for a way to fit Him into the law. 

He put His story in the hands of the rival kingdom, who nailed it to a Cross.

It didn't have to be that way. God could have redeemed the world in ways we could never imagine. He could have done it Himself and known that it would be done right. He could have informed us thusly that redemption was afoot. He could have told us how it was all going to go down.

Instead, He showed us. And He let us play a part. As flawed, as frail, as human a part as we possibly could. On Christmas morning, God gave us His story and let us be a part of coming back to Him.

And the same is true today. He's still giving us His story. He's giving it to those of us who are timid, unsure. He's giving it to those of us impoverished, who don't feel able to offer a proper sacrifice. He's giving it to a region where goodness seems scarce. He's giving it to a place whose filth is going to smear all over it. He's putting it in an unclean place and trusting us to notice there's something bigger going on here.

He's giving it to the common folk, to the sinners, to the broken. He's giving it to the religious, who think they know what to do with it (come to find out, they haven't a clue either). He's giving it to the rival kingdom, to we whose lives stand in opposition to His reign. (And that's all of us. I refer you back to the 'sinner' category.) He's giving His story to us, knowing that we'll never get it. Knowing we don't understand. Knowing we wouldn't know what we have until it's too late.

And promising that "too late" is just the beginning.

We often forget to think about God the Father in the Christmas story. It's easy to do. God Incarnate is much more enticing. But it is precisely this moment, this morning, that in a rare twist of tale, God puts His faith in us. He gives us His story, in the form of His Son. It couldn't have been easy. It can't be easy. But this is love.

This is Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Innkeeper

This Christmas season, I'm taking some time to think about the Christmas story from the perspective of characters we don't typically give much consideration to. I've spent most of my time so far talking about the shepherds and the wise men, but as the day draws closer, I want to move on to another character: the innkeeper.

Because, quite frankly, my inn is full.

We had family Christmas on Saturday, which brought an extra seven people into my home. Two of them, age 7 and under, are still here and will be for a little while longer. A third is set to join them today. And I think this is true of most of our families around this time of year - someone's inn is always full.

Full, sure, you agree. But there's still be room for one more. We'd make room. We haven't relegated anyone to the barn...yet. (Although if Uncle Larry keeps it up... (I don't have an Uncle Larry.)) Really? Then let me ask you this:

Where's Jesus?

If you're anything like me, and I hate to admit this, He's the one that's hard to find this Christmas. He's the one that you look around your inn, and suddenly, you realize He's nowhere to be seen. You're busy tending to everything and everyone else, and Jesus is the one who can kind of take care of Himself, so you don't worry too much about whether He's okay.

The bacon's disappearing faster than you can fry it. The waffle iron doesn't get a break. This kid wants chocolate milk. That one wants tea. The third has his hands in the cookies. Parents, brothers, friends, family are in various stages of passed out and relaxed all over the furniture. And oh yeah, if you get a minute, the tree needs plugged in, the dog wants to go outside, and the kid who wanted the chocolate milk can't remember where he put it but there's little drops of something on the floor that might lead you to the cup. 

And then there are the presents, the little things that make everyone feel special this Christmas. The little touches that tell everyone they're welcome. Like the innkeeper trying to make this place feel like home, you're trying to create a little home for everyone who left theirs to be in yours - by showing hospitality, by embracing love, and by demonstrating that you know them so truly well. These are the "paying customers." These are the men and women who are invested in your life, and you're doing your best to show gratitude for that by making them as comfortable, and as loved, as possible.

But let me ask you again: where's Jesus?

The answer for most of us is that He's out in the barn. He's making do with what He's got. He's good at that, right? The poor family from Nazareth, who couldn't even afford the proper sacrifice, is comfortable with the animals. They know how to stretch the hay. They know how to embrace things as good enough.

I wonder if the innkeeper thought about them. I wonder if he thought about this expectant mother and weary father crashing next to the cattle. I wonder if he stole a moment to at least bring them some fresh hay, free of livestock spittle and droppings. Free of mold and staleness. I wonder if he took out any extra blankets, if he had any or if he even thought about it. I wonder if he made an extra few strips of bacon in the morning or cooked an extra waffle and walked it out to the barn. I wonder if he even knew what was happening out there.

I wonder about us. Do we know what's happening out there? Do we know that just outside our inns, the promised King is coming into the world? Do we remember He's out there? Do we think about Him at all?

It's too easy for Jesus to get pushed out of our inns, particularly as they start to fill up. It's too easy to focus on our "paying customers," those who have come to put themselves in our homes, who fit into the space we've created. It's too easy to think the house may just not quite be big enough. But there's something special happening this Christmas, and as much as it looks like the lights and the trees, the presents and the presence, the waffles and the bacon and the family time, the most special thing this Christmas is happening in the barn.

And if all these people don't calm down for just one second and let me enjoy one tiny iota of this Christmas season, they're going to make it really easy for me to go out there and join Him for awhile.

I love loving on my family. I love giving good gifts in the holiday season. I love cherishing the time we have together, for it comes not frequently enough. But I love my Lord, too, and it's been too easy for me to lose Him this Christmas. Maybe that's because this year, in particular, I am anxiously waiting for Him. I am aching to hear from Christ right now. And I'm realizing that around the voices even of those I love, it's harder to hear what I need to hear - the voice of the One who purely loves me. My inn is full, and I am overjoyed to have it so. But there's something special happening in the barn, and I don't want to miss that for the world.

Friday, December 20, 2013


So just who were these men who came to get a glimpse of the newborn baby Jesus?

That depends on who you ask. The gospel of Matthew tells the story of wise men. Astrologers. Consultants to the questioners. Luke tells of the shepherds, simple folk.

Yet, when we erect our nativities each Christmas season, most of us remember the wise men. Just what was wrong with the shepherds?

Simply put, wise men were valued; shepherds were despised. In fact, shepherds were so low on the social ladder that their testimony wasn't even accepted in court. (Footnote: My pastor said this same thing in a lesson two weeks ago. You just couldn't trust a shepherd.) We think, then, that it lends more credence to our story (as if God needs such a thing) to talk about the wise men than to tell of the shepherds.

But this bothers me for one primary reason: the story of the astrologers mixes a little too much "black magic" within divine guidance for me. Astrologers were known to watch the stars. They were watching the stars for signs of the promised King. So they see the star and follow it - is that a sign from the heavens or a really good astrologer? An arrogant wise man could argue the second as proof of his mastery of his craft. He could fall back on his own expertise and testify that his intuition, his premonition, his ability to "see" was actually worth something. I don't think God is okay with His message could get caught up in all that.

But three men come from the east, and they are shepherds. They come, hoping to see, knowing that no matter what they find, no one will believe their testimony. Because, again, they are shepherds. Just shepherds. So they go not thinking about what it means to the world but what it means to three men who've set out on a hope. Three men longing for something glorious. Three men hoping for a peek into the Promise.

And they bear witness to the Christ child Himself.

Two thousand years later, we hardly remember they were there. We kind of mix them up with the wise men. There were some guys, and they followed a star. They journeyed, a pretty long trip. They came to see the baby. What's important to us was that some guys came to see Him. The first to arrive were the shepherds, but we talk about the wise men.

But weren't the shepherds wise?

That's what I love about the God story. From the very beginning - from Abraham, David, from the birth of His Son - He's been taking shepherds and making them wise men. From the lowest place to the highest regard, just as He promised. From men whose word would never be good enough to men whose lives are written in His Word.

I love that this Christmas. How about you?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wise Men

There are many ways to look at the Christmas story, and I think we kind of focus on the big three: from the point of view of humanity, from the point of view of Mary, and from the point of view of the baby Jesus. We talk about the others, sure, but they don't seem central. We talk about the angel, the star, and even the wise men. And when we talk about the wise men, we talk about the gifts they brought. I did a series on that last year. (See Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.)

But think for a minute about just the wise men. Not their gifts, but their journey.

We call them wise men, but the Bible tells us they were shepherds watching their flocks. A star shines in the dark of night, and somehow, all three take notice. Oh, sure, there was an angel and that probably heightened their awarenesses a little, but do you know how many millions of stars they had seen as shepherds? Too many to count. It's a wonder they even noticed them any more. But they noticed this one, and they decided to follow it.

We don't know if they were hired shepherds or men over their own flocks. We don't know what kind of animals they watched over. We don't know if they took those animals with them to the manger or whether they abandoned them in the fields. But they went on a journey, and not some short little jaunt. It took them weeks to reach the stable. Weeks! By camel! And they just kept going for the hopes of something special...

I know people who won't drive their car five minutes out of the way for a guaranteed special something. How many of us would follow a star, with nothing more than a hope?

The answer is sadly few, and I wonder what we miss when we don't.

Think about the wise men. They could have stayed in their fields. They could have read in the headlines that some baby was born in some manger. They could have heard the rumors that this baby was something special. They might have caught sight of Him thirty years later and either made the connection...or never made it at all. They could have stayed in their story, tending their flocks, watching over their fields. Certainly, they were living a decent story.

But they wouldn't have been in His.

And what is His story missing without them? Picture this: a baby is born of a virgin in a barn in a foreign town. There's no one around to witness it, no one to ooh and ahh over the baby. No impromptu baby shower. No gifts to give. The birth of the Christ Child is almost...forgettable. Except for Mary and Joseph and a few animals in the stable, nobody notices. I don't know about you, but it matters to me in this story that somebody noticed the birth of this baby. It matters to me that someone - three someones - thought it worthy enough to follow a star, to carry a hope, to bring a good gift. It matters that at least three lives were disrupted enough to take part in this moment.

It changes the story, the wise men simply having come.

The same is true for you and I. Most of us are living decent stories. We could just stay here, telling those tales. But there's a glimmer of light in the darkness that beckons us to make a journey. If we do, we find that suddenly, we're in a bigger story.

And that bigger story? It needs us, too. It needs what we have to bring. The story of Christ is the story of His people, and when we move, it shows that this is a story worth moving for. We demonstrate a life disrupted, and worth the detour. We show what it means to go out of the way for the bigger story, and we make that story bigger by being there. It changes the story not that we believe, but that we come. That is the essence of the Christmas journey for all of us being called toward the manger.

We have to go, whatever it takes. We have to get there. We have to set out with nothing more than a hope that where the light shines, there is something special. And something special there is, indeed.

It is God in flesh, lying in a manger. So close you could touch Him.

...So near, He could touch you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Once again, lottery fever has struck and persons across the country lined up to take their chances at winning the big prize.

It is with great joy this morning that I inform you that I hit the jackpot. And I didn't even play.

I never play the lottery; I always joke that my $1 is a guaranteed sandwich at any number of favorite fast-food restaurants, and why would I take the chance of 1 in millions when I have a sure thing? But it's inherent in all of us that we want to take a risk on something bigger. So I want to invite you to do just that.

What is the lottery? It's a gamble. It's an opportunity that risks that my $1 investment is going to make a bigger difference, that it's going to be worth something more. The premise is that if I spend $1 wisely, it will come back to me 656 million-fold. The reality is that 655,999,998 of those dollars go to pay the person whose $1 actually paid off. You've just invested in a multi-millionaire. And you don't have a sandwich. 


But what if you took that dollar and just gave it to someone at random? Don't worry about whether that person needs it. Don't worry about whether they are homeless or well-house. Don't worry about their habits or their hungers. Just give a dollar to a stranger, no strings attached.

It's the same principle as the lottery - you've just invested in someone else. Except now, it's likely not a multi-millionaire who just received that dollar. Now, it's your neighbor. It's the guy down the street. It's the girl around the corner you've never met. It's someone right near you who maybe needed a dollar today and maybe didn't, but now they have one and that opens a world of possibilities.

Maybe it's just me. But don't you feel magical when someone gives you a dollar? I mean, really. If someone walked up to you on the street corner, in line at the grocery store, waiting for Santa at the mall, and handed you a dollar, wouldn't you feel like it might just be your lucky day? Wouldn't you feel like you hit the jackpot? For a minute, you feel just a little richer. 

Sure, if you think about it, it's just a dollar. It won't buy much, not in today's world, but it just feels so special. I don't know why. I am completely unattached to money, but if someone gives me a dollar, I smile anyway. And that becomes a dollar that's hard to spend. I look at that dollar and think, that's a special dollar. Someone gave me that for no reason at all. Someone made an investment in me.

We don't think all that when we give a dollar, but that's the way it feels when we receive one. At least, I do. And do you know what happens when someone invests in you?

It gives you the confidence to invest in yourself. If only just a little. If only just a dream. It gives you a starting point for a new adventure. All from a little dollar.

So I don't play the lottery, even if the chance is that my tiny investment might come back to me 656 million-fold. I just don't have a need for that kind of money. But I pick numbers for fun, then take that dollar and invest in something. Invest in someone. Hand a dollar to a total stranger, for no reason at all except that it's better, to me, to invest in one man face-to-face than to throw my dollar in a pool for the next big winner. I'm creating a big winner. I'm creating a man or a woman who feels invested in, who for at least a fleeting moment, has something they didn't have before.

Maybe that's a dollar. Maybe it's something more. But it's an investment I believe in and one that comes back on the world more than could possibly be calculated.

I don't have a dollar. And I don't have a sandwich. But I just hit the jackpot, and I feel pretty good about that. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The star they had seen rising led them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were overwhelmed with joy to see the star.

Me, too.

Around this time of year, I think we all start looking at the stars a little more. We talk about the shining star that shone the way to Bethlehem, and in our mind's eye, it is the brightest star. When we show it in our Christmas plays, it is the biggest star. When we place it on our trees, it is the glory. When we place it among the other stars, it is clear that this is the star. And although the Bible doesn't tell us that this is the case - it only tells us this star was rising - I kind of like the idea of this being the biggest star.

Because I'm the kind of girl who spends a lot of time looking at the sky.

And here's the thing about the biggest, brightest star: depending on what kind of night it is, it may just guide the way to the others.

Here's what I mean. In the dark of night, I'll sometimes look up, trying to catch a glimpse of a star. Maybe I don't see any, not even one. But I keep searching, I keep looking for that little glimmer of light in the darkness. And sometimes, I find it. A strange thing happens as I train my eyes on that star - from the periphery, other stars start to come into focus. Suddenly, what looked moments ago like an empty sky is filled with the tiniest of stars, and I see every one of them. All because my eye caught the light off a brighter one, and it brought the rest to sight.

That's why I like the idea of a big, bright star over Bethlehem. It reminds me where to train my eyes. On a dark day or a black night, it's too easy to look out and not see a lot of anything. It's hard to stand in a hollow life and see much at all. It looks so barren, so empty, so desolate. Not even one star in the sky. But if you can catch the sight of the rising star, just one little glimpse of the light, then the other little things start to come into focus.

That's what happens when we fix our eyes on Jesus. A little baby, born of God, lying in a manger. Suddenly, I see. With my eyes on the God who comes into my world, into my life, in the hopes of coming into my heart, all the other little things start coming into focus. Grace over here; mercy over there. A touch of forgiveness, a wealth of redemption. That little thing that happened last week that I never could explain, that hope I have for tomorrow that I can't describe. All of a sudden, my life is aglow with these infinite specks of light that literally transform my landscape. I never would have seen them if I hadn't caught that first star, that biggest and brightest in the sky.

I wonder if the same wasn't true for the wise men. They were men out standing in their fields, as they were prone to do. Outside in the dark, I'm betting they had seen a lot of stars. I'm betting they had seen a lot of rising and falling stars. I'm betting they'd spent most of their lives looking at the stars. But this one caught their eye and set them on a journey. I wonder if it's because when they set their eyes on this one, everything else came into focus. I wonder if it's because from the sight of this one star, they saw the infinite lights coming into view. I wonder if it's because they saw how from this one star, they saw their landscape anew, filled with all of these little things they'd never seen before.

And it led them to a baby they just had to see.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Holy Place

In the season of Advent, as we await the coming of the Christ, I'm drawn back into the Temple, into the Old Testament tabernacle. Into the wilderness.

Back then, the Tabernacle was painstakingly constructed. There are chapters upon chapters describing the precise layout of the Tent of God. There was an outer courtyard, where most worshipers stayed. An inner courtyard, for a bit more intimacy. The priests were routinely welcomed into the Holy Place, where the presence of God was nearer still. And on special occasions, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was reading, and I forget whether it was the Bible or one of the theology books I'm currently digesting or I'd tell you for sure. But that text reminded me that it was the Holy Place where all the "stuff" was. The bread of the presence was there. Some lamps. Really, all the accouterments of God were kept in the Holy Place. In modern terms, we might call the Holy Place the "experiential worship center" of God. It was hands-on. It was doing stuff. It was tangible. And doesn't that seem strange?

You'd think that would be reserved for the Most Holy Place, that the further you'd go into the Temple, the closer God would be. But that's simply not the case. If you want to touch God, you need go no further than the Holy Place. It's all right there.

The Most Holy Place, separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a thick veil, contained something much less exciting - the Ark of the Covenant. In the Most Holy Place, there was no bread of presence. No table to sit around. No lamp to light, no altar to pour out the blood. Inside the Most Holy Place lay the law. Incessant rules to follow. Strict guidelines to live by. Harsh punishments for failure. And above the law, the throne of mercy, a small comfort to a law-laden people. Yet it was in this place, with law and with mercy, that the presence of God dwelt. Rather than the place where you could touch God, this was the place where He could touch you. And that is why it was called Most Holy.

So I'm thinking about today and about how comfortable we are to live in the Holy Place. We call ourselves God's people, and indeed, we have an incredible fondness for Him. But we're content to be in the place of all His stuff. We're content to be in churches on Sunday mornings. We're content to eat the bread of the presence, which has become our communion. We're content to light candles and pray prayers and sing songs, all in this place where we feel like we can touch God. We're living in the Holy Place, and for most of us, that's unfathomable. We are humbled to be in such a place. We are humbled that we could touch God.

But this is the season in which the veil was torn. This is the place that, as the skies cleared to show the stars, as the stars shone the way to Bethlehem, God invited us into the Most Holy Place - a manger in a stable in an out-of-the-way town. It seems much less exciting. No crib. No table. No altar. It almost seems like a letdown, stepping from our Holy Place into this Most Holy Place. What exactly is here?

It's the law. The law of love, and above that, mercy. It is the place where God shows us how to live, because He's about to do it Himself. And there in the manger, the real gift of the Most Holy Place - the presence of God Himself.

That is the gift of the Christmas season. From the wilderness, we're drawn into the Temple. From the Temple, into the Holy Place. And on one breathtaking silent night, into the Most Holy Place. Into the stable. Into the presence of God. So close, you could reach out and touch Him...

...So near, He could reach out and touch you.

Friday, December 13, 2013


As my first unit of chaplain education draws to a close, one of the words of feedback I have heard most often (and most emphatically) is just how transformed I have been over the course of the past four months.

I'm not sure I like that. Which is also to say I'm not sure I agree.

Oh, on the surface, I know it seems that way, that I'm powerfully different today than I was when I walked into the door of the hospital four months ago. I am more confident, more comfortable. I am more relaxed. The smile that defined me as a young child seems to be back for good; I have been overwhelmed with joy and peace. Heck, I'm even sleeping consecutive hours a night, and I can't tell you the last time I did that! (I'd have to count such things in "decades.") I certainly look transformed.

And yet, it doesn't seem all that different to me. Because this is the woman I've always been in my head, the one I've dreamed about being, the one I've known has been called to be. There are still a few bugs to work out, but this really kinda looks like her. I've just finally been in a place where I've been able to touch that. Tough this. And it's awesome.

That's one of the bad things about story, about having one, I mean. You spend your whole life telling this story you never wanted to tell in the first place, and all of a sudden, you're set free and people see that as a big thing when to you, it's maybe the biggest thing - because it's absence of story (or at least, a new story) - but it's also a little thing because this is how it should have been all along. This is you.

I've been fortunate, I think, in that the people who have taken this journey with me have known what they are seeing become is the true Aidan, the one who's been aching to live for such a long time. They understand that although I carry my story with me, and always will, the young woman they have seen unfolding before them is as God intended her to be. She is not because of her story. She is not in spite of her story. She is not outside of her story. She simply is. I have rejoiced as they have celebrated this with me.

I think that's the key for all of us, any of us who have a story, no matter what that story is. I haven't really discussed this with a lot of people, but I think in each of us in a little place where we hold the untouched version of ourselves. It's the person we dream we are, the person we see when we close our eyes and put all qualifiers out of our minds. It's the person we pray we'll one day look in the mirror and see. This person, far from perfect, feels simply natural. It feels like the person we are supposed to be.

And I think each of us needs to find a place where we can be that person. If only for a little while.

I could spend my whole life on becoming, and in fact, I have spent a great deal of it attempting to do just that. Yet the value is in the opportunity to simply be.

I went into this opportunity trying not to carry my baggage. I went in hoping I could just be in this place, that I could do the work God has called me to do, that I could do it well and to His glory. I set aside every thought I ever had of becoming anything, even a chaplain. I was just going to be a chaplain and see where that took me.

It took me to incredible places. And maybe I am transformed; I just don't like that word. This is who I have always been. This is who I have always dreamed to be. This is the woman I have always longed to see in the mirror...it's just that finally, I do. (And it's still totally weird.) 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Set-Up

You know what else I'm reflecting on as I think about Jesus in this season of waiting? I'm thinking about just how little set-up went into everything He did.

I spend so much of my life trying to make sure all the pieces are in place. Every new day, every new adventure, I waste half my time setting up and tearing down, as if this whole thing is one big stage production. As if my life only matters if I can get people to look. Not only look, but have an experience of my life the way we have an experience of a good concert or a powerful retreat or even a captivating movie. 

There's a problem with that. It's all smoke and mirrors. It's all flashing lights. Beneath it all, I'm still just simple me. Hardly worth, most days, the experience.

But Jesus...

Jesus never made a production of who He was or what He was doing. We see Him teaching on the hillsides - without a PA system. We see Him breaking bread - with His own hands. We see Him bumping into people along the way - and taking the time to interact with them. He profoundly lacked both a schedule and an agenda, as well as all of the accouterments we might associate with a "successful" public presence. For more proof of that, know this: from the very beginning of His ministry, He declares, and knows, that He's headed for Jerusalem. That's a given. But He doesn't just go there. He never just goes there. He weaves and waits and wanders as He just kind of feels this place out, doing the thing that feels right within His calling and avoiding the thing that is not who He is. Without making a production of it.

I want to live like that.

I want to live not worried about what people are thinking of me. I want to live not worried about how I'm reaching them. I want to live so confident in the truth of God's word and presence in me that I don't have to worry about such things. That's how that confidence manifests itself - in the calm and peace of spirit to simply be as God has created you to be without show, for you know that the glory of God showing through you is experience enough.

And I guess that's kind of the tension for so many of us. We want that kind of showless grace, the kind that is quiet and simple yet penetrating and resonating. In my heart, I know that's what I long for. As much as God has called me to write, to speak, to minister, I never long for people to walk away thinking about how awesome I was. I cringe at the very thought. And yet, I feel like if I don't bring a good measure of showmanship, the story of God might get lost in the all the noise. It's for His sake that I labor in such a way to make an experience of my experience of God, that you might see the extravagant dynamism of it all.

Yet He never asked me to do that. He never asked you to do that. He never asked any of us to make a production of the Christian life, or even the Christian grace, or even the Christ Himself. He never asked us to set up our tents, wire our microphones, load the canons and cue the flashing lights. He never told us if we wanted the world to see Him, we'd have to make Him a show.

Rather, He has always only said that if we want the world to see Him, we must show them who He is. We do that by living as He's created us to live, by loving as He loves, and by showering the world with grace and mercy in the same way He rains these good gifts down on us.

I probably spend too much time setting things up, trying to make them perfect for you to see His glory. I probably spend too much time thinking there has to be a gimmick, has to be a show. I probably spend too much time erecting and not enough time exalting, for if I could simply live exalting, you certainly would see Him. If I wasn't working so hard to make a show of Him, even for His own sake, He could show Himself.

Isn't that better?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Take Nothing

Jesus tells us not to take a bag. When He sends us on our mission, as He's called us, he says not to take anything with us. Most of us read this as an invitation to trust, that we should rely on God to provide for our journey when He's called us to take those steps.

I think it's deeper than that. Jesus tells us not to take anything we have to our name so that wherever we go, it is His name we depend on.

I say this as a woman who's been pretty good at taking my name with me, thinking that whatever new place I go into, I'm going to have to set my own story up before I can tell another one. I'm going to have to arrange the figures of my life to make me comfortable here. I try to make a new place look like me before I even take a second to figure out what it looks like already.

Jesus didn't take anything with Him. He didn't take that time His mother was disappointed in Him, that day she was terrified at not being able to find Him. He didn't take the rejection of the rich young ruler or the praise of the man who's been put in His right mind. He didn't take the questions of the Pharisees or the hatred of the guards. He never says another word about betrayal when Judas is out of sight.

Yet I take every disappointment. I take every fear. I carry every rejection and every praise in my bag, and when I walk into a new place, I have to figure out what to do with all of that. I have to figure out if my old story is compatible with my new story, if I can somehow weave these things together. I talked about this sort of thing a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the way Jesus called His disciples. When He asked them to follow Him, they laid everything down and went, which means when it was time to move, they didn't have to drag their old lives with them.

When He sends us out, it's the same thing - don't take your stuff with you. You don't need it. Whatever you need in your new journey is not coming out of your old journey; it's coming out of your commissioning. It's coming out of your call. It's coming out of the very word I've spoken to you, that very word "go." It's not, as we so often believe, that He's asking us to trust His provision for us, although certainly that is a part of the faith journey.

Rather, He's saying that it does us no good to be weighted down by our own things with this bigger thing at hand. He doesn't want us walking into a new town with an old life. He doesn't want us carrying His name in the same tarnished can in which we carry ours; we shouldn't have to overcome our reputation to make His known. Imagine how Matthew would have been received had He journeyed a few towns over with his tax collector's box. You think people would have looked at him oddly? Or what if the brothers ventured over in their finest fishing clothes? There's no authority in that. That's just a fisherman.

When you carry your stuff with you, it changes the way that people see you. It changes how they perceive you. You walk in, set down your bag, and say, "Here I am in my fullest glory, my dirty socks, and my fraying sandals. Here I am a vagrant in search of a bed for the night, a cup of water to drink, and perhaps a bite of bread. Here I am, and I am who I am, and if you'll have me, I have some good news for you. If you can get past the bad news of all I've ever been."

But when you go without anything, when you refuse to take your story, then you don't come in the fullness of you any more. You come in the fullness of God. You introduce yourself not as James or John or Matthew or Aidan; you introduce yourself as a missionary of the One, Jesus, whom the people have heard so much about and on His name, you notch out a new place. On His name, you find a bed for the night, a cup of water, and perhaps a bite of bread. On His name, they may have you and you share the good news of His name.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hate the Sinner

Yesterday, I talked about telling our stories with grace so that others can see simply people in our stories. Broken people, including us. (Instead of what we may have once seen in someone. We cannot tell another man's story.) In churches, we like to mask this with holy language: Hate the sin, love the sinner.

It's a nice saying, but somehow when we tell our stories, we most often tell them in ways to get people to hate the sinner. Perhaps because we are busy hating him or her in our own heart.

And we do, don't we? At least for awhile, we hate the sinner. We blame this person for bringing brokenness into our lives, and that's as far as we look into the situation. There are a few easy ways to figure out whether you're hating the sin or hating the sinner.

Do you ascribe motive or inner dialogue to the sinner? When we tell our stories and realize we're starting to say what the other person was thinking or why they were doing what they were doing, we're hating the sinner. We're ascribing their actions to the intentions of their heart, and we're making a judgment. Generally, we're hoping those listening will share our judgment.

Do you focus more on the broken relationship than on the brokenness? This one's a tricky trap, too. We'll practically obsess over whatever "Bill" did to us, to the extent that now we're just talking about "Bill" and our former relationship and our damaged trust. We can't believe "Bill" - of all people! - would do such a thing. We're hating the sinner.

Do you say any hard thing about yourself? How often when we tell our stories do we own our hearts? How often do we admit our brokenness? Not very often. When we hate the sinner, we're more likely to talk about them than the damage to us. We start to think the whole problem is them. They caused this. They meant this. They intended for this to happen. And they have to fix this.

Do you see yourself in any of these traps? There are dozens, if not hundreds, more, but these are the three that came into my head. It's too easy to hate the sinner. We do it without even realizing that's what we're doing. And sometimes, we'll even add onto the end, "Oh, but I love them. Hate the sin, love the sinner, you know..." Our actions, our words, speak otherwise.

Then how do you love the sinner? Another three points.

Realize that every man is broken. It's not maliciousness in a man's heart (most of the time); It's brokenness. It's a chain of events that's left him scrambling to put his life together in some sort of way. It's his wound that festers and oozes out on you. I've written about this before, particularly in the context of Jeremiah 29 (Pray for Babylon). When you understand that the other person is driven by brokenness, it's not about them any more. You dislike what they've done, but you understand it wasn't because they wanted to do it. It's how they're living. It's how they're coping. And you know how that is. You're living and coping, too. Mutual brokenness draws you together. You love the sinner.

Realize that it's only because of the relationship that the act matters. This is a big one. If some perfect stranger on the street calls you Snotface, it doesn't sting as much as when your best friend (ex-best friend, if she's just called you Snotface) says it. Realize that if a lover breaks your heart, it's because your heart was there to begin with. This is even true in the case of random violent crime. It hurts because the perpetrator doesn't know you. This simple realization - that relationship matters - puts your focus back on the two of you and takes it off the act committed. It's more important that that's your brother in there than whatever he might have done to you. It's more important that that's your sister than whatever she might have done. All of a sudden, you're not looking at the act; you're looking at the person. And you realize you love the sinner.

Realize that you're broken, too. I cannot stress this one enough. I've had several instances, even here lately, where persons have said something or done something that aggravates me. Deeply. Or hurts me. Deeply. Some words just sting. I have walked away hating, not wanting to see some of those persons again. I have walked away questioning the relationship. I have walked away thinking I will never again walk toward. Without exception, however, as I later reflect on whatever words or actions those might have been, I discover that they hurt because they hit a raw place in my heart. I hated them because I already had that vulnerability, and they just touched it. I'm not mad at them; I'm mad at my own broken place. Knowing this, I take their words with greater grace, just as they meant them and not as I heard them. Because I am a broken woman and some things are always going to hurt. And I value those relationships too much to let my wounds interfere. I love the sinner.

Here's the thing - we all have sinners in our stories, not the least of which is ourselves. And it's easy to talk about the sinners; it's easy to hate them. But I've come to a place in my life where I don't have room for hate. It takes too much out of the world. It takes too much out of me. I authentically love every individual in my story. That's the truth. I don't like all the details, but I love the people.

They're broken. I'm broken. But there's something there worth saving, and that is love. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


People are people. Do you get this?

It's so easy for most of us when we tell our stories to tell them through our eyes. After all, that's how we saw them. We saw them with our eyes, heard them with our ears, felt them with our hearts. That taints every story a little bit; it's unavoidable. And sometimes, I think it's too easy to tell our stories so that others will agree with us, so they will draw the same conclusions we've drawn. Or worse, so they will start to think what we want them to think or that they'll start to think what they think they should think.

It really makes a mess of things.

And then there's this - we hear stories through our own ears. We take in the information through our own filters; we process through our own heart. Which means we can often find the very thing we're looking for, whether it's in there or not.

It's so hard to tell our stories. When we dare to, we cannot account for all of the variables.

Yet in the past week, I heard a few words that humbled and comforted me, thinking that maybe at least in part, I'm getting this storytelling right. 

My story has some hard things in it. It has some truths that not everyone would agree on; it has some hard pills to swallow. If you've been reading long, you know I don't make it my platform, and it is for this very reason - so as not to cause pain to those who would struggle to digest my words. (And also because, uhm, it doesn't define me. There's also that.) But sometimes, it's necessary to say such things, and when I do, I attempt to do so with grace. It's the only way.

And the words I heard this past week were this: "But when you talk about (this person) in your story, I really just see (him/her) as a person. I don't get that (he/she) is a monster or evil or anything. You do a really good job of helping me to see (him/her) as just a person."

That's what grace does.

Any other way, and I'm telling someone else's story. If I tell a story through my lens, then you see what I saw. And if you ever see that person in the Wal-Mart, you see what I've told you to see. That's not fair. That's not what story is supposed to do. With grace, we tell our stories through God's lens. We accept responsibility for our own hearts and for our own parts, but we don't tell someone else's story. We just tell God's. And let me tell you - that's the story we should be telling. Now, if you see that person in the Wal-Mart, you have a chance to see what they might want you to see. Or better yet, what God would have you see.

People are people, and people are broken. I'm broken. You're broken. It's hard to talk about. It's hard to tell stories. It's hard not to focus on the brokenness in someone else. It's too easy to paint a perfect picture - where we're nice and innocent and someone else is guilty. But that's just not what our stories should do. Our stories should show God - in us, in the other, in the world - and nothing more. We can only do that when we tell our stories in a way that lets others see people as people. When we tell our stories with grace.

And you know what happens? When friends and family and those who hear your story start to see people as people, they start to see you as people, too. Did you know that? Back to what my friend said to me - if I told my story in such a way that she saw a monster, then what does that make me? The victim of a monster. I am now defined by someone else's story I've decided to tell. If my friend sees that person as evil, then what am I? Haunted by evil? Is that really how I want to be defined? Of course not.

But she sees people as people as I tell my story with grace, and when she looks at me, she sees people, too. And when she looks at everything, she sees God working in His people. That's what story is for.

So tell your story, and only your story. Use ample grace. And you may just find you're telling a bigger story. God's story. Where people are just people and every man is God's.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Peacemakers

I woke up thinking of this beattitude, perhaps as a reflection on the loss of Nelson Mandela.

Blessed are the peacemakers...

And it's true. Blessed, indeed. The world lost a great peacemaker yesterday, but it's only fair to mention that he wasn't always about peace. (Stay with me on this one. I'm not about to bash the man.) The truth is that for his early years, Mandela was a violent man. He came to believe, at least for a time, that the only way to combat the violence against his people was with more violence. Only after trying such a thing, and spending many many years in prison, did he realize the error of his ways. When released, he became a peacemaker and the iconic figure at the center of the black/white harmony in the new republic of South Africa. As I write, the news has just shown the image of his swearing in as president, with four white men serving exclusively as his honor guard at that ceremony.

That's peace.

It's hard to harmonize, though, isn't it? When we think of peace, we think of Gandhi. We think of Mother Teresa. We think of these men and women who don't have violence in their past, who never had an aggressive thought. We think of the gentle, quiet spirits. That's what we think peace looks like. But I would argue that these are not dynamic peacemakers. Peace-spreaders, maybe. Peace-keepers, perhaps. But not peacemakers. Not in the way Mandela was a peacemaker.

Because all of these good people, and certainly such a life should be commended, did not bring anyone together. They didn't settle conflict or bridge gaps. They didn't harmonize differences. They didn't bring people together. They brought themselves into the people as an oasis of peace, but providing a respite is very different than providing resolution. And I think that's why Mandela was so good at it - he, too, was a man looking for resolution. He would never settle for respite.

The same is true of all great peacemakers - they all have a significant measure of un-peace in their past. They have violent histories. They've know the pain. They know the fight and the separation and the struggle. Think about a man like Paul. He was one of the greatest apostles we know of, a man who spread the message of Christ - a message of peace - to an expanding region. But he wasn't always a peaceful man. He was a Christian-killer. He was a violent warrior. He was an arrogant Pharisee. Then his heart changed, and he spent his life working for peace. The peace of Christ, which passes all understanding.

And he was great at it.

Anyone who is good at making peace necessarily knows what the absence of peace looks like. Intimately. They know what it feels like. That's why they are able to appreciate peace - their very spirits are seeking it, too. They understand that respite isn't enough. They know that a cease-fire is tenuous. They won't resign themselves to something so simple as a truce because even in a truce, wounds fester. They wholly pursue healing. They actively seek resolution. Not to broker peace, but to foster it by setting in work a healing motion.

And they are blessed. And as they pursue resolution, true peace that reconciles differences and reduces distances, we see they are truly God's children, learning their Father's trade. Peace.

...For they shall be called children of God.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


You know? I don't mind a bit feeling unqualified to do God's work. After all, my Messiah was a mess.

'Tis the season where the world is holding its breath, awaiting the coming of the King. And we're all so used to the Christmas story by now that we forget that it wasn't supposed to be this way. Well, we never expected it to be this way.

Oh sure, we had all the prophecies. We had the words of God telling us what it was supposed to be like, but we didn't take them that way. A child will be born, we knew, but we kind of expected the Messiah to show up at the birth, not to be the birth. No self-respecting king flaunts his diaper years. No supernatural king would even have diaper years. And if he did, they certainly wouldn't be in the hands of an unwed mother.

No, our King would come ready. He would come fully in His glory, not in our body, and take His rightful place. His skin would be unblemished; His muscles soft but strong. Then here comes Joseph's son, the son of a carpenter, with calloused and broken hands, with strength to haul the lumber. When you take the hand of God, it's rough to the touch. That's now how the Messiah was supposed to be. He was supposed to be pure, clean, smooth.

He wasn't going to study the Scriptures; He should already know them by the time He comes. Yet here He sits in the synagogue, in the Temple, talking with the other teachers. Here He sits with the students.

He would know the Scriptures, and He would adhere to them. He'd be the ultimate Pharisee. The law would be written on His forehead. Yet here is the Son of God, breaking the Sabbath, eating without washing, extending a hand to sinners and Gentiles. He spent more time out of the temple than in it. He spent more time breaking the rules than setting them. He spent more time fighting the institution than saving it.

He wasn't going to be subject to any earthly ruler; He wouldn't place Himself under any king. Yet from the very moment of His birth, the rulers had Him running. Later, He paid taxes to the emperor. He humbled Himself to the systems of this world, though we thought He had come to overthrow them.

And certainly, He wouldn't be a man we would want to kill. He wouldn't be a King we'd want to get rid of. Heck, He wouldn't be a king who even could die.

Yet here we stand in front of the Sanhedrin, our voices fading into the crowd. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Kill the Man already!

Yet here we stand at Golgotha, casting lots for His very few earthly possessions. Dibs on His tunic. I've got His sandals.

Yet here we stand at the tomb, setting the stone in place. He's gone.

Yet here we stand thinking that for all we ever wanted in a King, this Messiah was a mess. That's not how He should have come. That's not how He should have lived. That's not how He should have died. He's hardly qualified to be our Messiah.

But that's who God sent. And that who He told us was coming. And that's why we have hope that everything else He's told us is also true.

Which is how I can keep going knowing how unqualified I feel for all of this. Because God's told me it is true, and even His Messiah was a mess.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holy Unqualified

Over the past several months, God has done some incredible work. And I am humbled to have been a part of it.

It's been more than a little awkward because, as I had suspected, this is a ministry to which God has clearly called me and created in me the gifts to do this work well. Very well. If you want to listen to other people tell it, exceptionally well. But it's been difficult to take any of those comments personally.

Because I know that the only reason I appear to do good work is because God has come before me and prepared the soil. He has entered with me, holding the tools. He has been gracious to share those tools as the situation demands. And He has been insistent I get out of the room before I start to think any different.

The thing about the pastoral education process is that it's not simply getting into rooms and getting out of them; there is a great deal of time devoted to personal growth, both in individual sessions with a supervisor and in whole days spent with a peer group. Over this time, my story has been blessedly revealed and enriched, as I have come to see more clearly how I am knit together and how my story works in God's story to make some good things possible. I see how the experiences I have had, the personality I've been given, the presence I continue to develop may be tremendous assets in this type of work, but here's the key:

I still feel wholly unqualified.

I think that's important, and I would say that must be true for any effective ministry. The minute you start to feel qualified, you aren't any more. Because it's in knowing your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, your incapable places that you understand how truly what you are doing is God's work. That keeps you coming back to Him, and He fuels both your work and your heart as you do that work. And everyone remembers exactly what's going on here. It's God.

It's hard. Sometimes you leave a thing and you think, how holy was that! but if you try to take holy with you, I'm telling you, it rarely shows up. It's the unexpected, the unanticipated, the unplanned-for moments that become holy because those are the ones that rely on the Spirit. If you walk in thinking it must be holy, you're also thinking you're about to make it holy, and you have never made anything holy. I have never made anything holy. God has always made everything holy. It's important to remember that.

So everything right now kind of has this unreal quality to it, and I treasure that. It's real because I know I've been here; I know I've been doing the work. And yet, I cannot escape that on my own, there is no good reason I should be able to do such good work. It feels like I have been there, and I have not been there. I have done it, and I have not done it. I am good at it, and I am not good at it. I was created for it, yet I am wholly unqualified for it. It is holy, and I am so decidedly not holy.

I've settled on a synthesis: holy unqualified. And I kind of like it that way. If ever my ministry, or my attitude toward ministry, or my belief in myself regarding ministry, is something else, I should think I should not be doing that ministry. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Tension

The more fragile a thing, the easier it is to break it. Right? 

That depends. How much tension is said thing experiencing?

I do a fair amount of woodworking, and when I want to hide as much hardware as possible, I skip the metal and turn to wood. Dowel pins, to be precise, although I frequently make my own out of twigs. It's strange - these little tiny things that you can so easily break with your bare hands are strong enough to hold even the biggest project together. In fact, my entire headboard (rather elaborate - you can see the design on my Art page) is held together exclusively by dowel pins and glue. That's it. And for the past 7 years, I have bumped, banged, leaned against, slammed into, and generally abused this thing and it is as perfectly intact as when I first attached it to my frame.

It still amazes me. But there are two forces at work here: size and tension.

Size matters because the smaller a thing is, the harder it is to get a good grip on it. Start with a 2-foot twig. Break it in two. Break it in two again. Eventually, it gets so short that you can't quite get your hands to hold it well enough to break it again. Now, it's small enough to be a pin. 

Then you take that pin and put it between two larger pieces of wood as an attachment device, and you can't even break it there. The tension creating by holding the two pieces keeps it together. I don't know how it works.

Except I know it works, and the same is true of us. Size and tension matter.

We all face trials, big troubles. We face things that are sure to break us, or so we think. We feel fragile, like this world could just pick us up and break us. Or maybe we'll break all on our own. It's a tough spot to be. And for most of us, we try to fix this problem by growing larger. If we're big enough, strong enough, confident enough, then we will be unbreakable. But just the opposite is true.

We must make ourselves smaller. We must realize our human nature, our fallen selves. We must realize the limitations of our creation, that we simply cannot always prevail. We can't always win. We can't always stand. We can't even always stay whole. As we embrace that we're not the bigger thing, we find that we are the smaller thing - smaller than God's glory, smaller than His grace; smaller than the evils that try to overtake us, smaller than the temptations, even those that are common to man. In every battle we fight, we are the smaller thing.

And that's good! The smaller we are, the harder it is for this world to get a grip on us. When we realize we are powerless, we find a place in something. Hopefully, that something is Someone. Hopefully, it's God. And we find this place He's carved out for us, this small place, and we slide right in. Then there's just no way to get a hold on us. Nothing can break us.

And firmly in this place, in this small, special place, whatever tries to break us - whatever grabs our exposed side - only creates tension. It puts us between two bigger things and somehow, rather than breaking us, this makes us stronger. It makes us strong enough to hold together. It makes us strong enough to be immovable. It makes us strong enough to stand. No matter how bumped, banged, leaned against, slammed into, and generally abused we are. We'll hold. Because we're a small thing in a special place - a place of tension.

This probably only makes sense if you know anything about woodworking or the general process I'm talking about. You can try it for yourself if you want. But this thought has been playing in my mind again and again for the past several weeks. I can't get my little thing out of my head. Nor can I fathom how the tension makes me stronger. It just amazes me. Every day.

Especially when it doesn't feel like strength at all.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Neither Death Nor LIfe

Paul writes that he's convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor life, angels nor demons, the present nor the future,the powers of the world above or forces of the world below, or anything else in creation. (Romans 8:38-39)

It's an encouraging verse, to be certain. Yet when I read it, I think my default is to lean toward all the dark things that feel separating - death, demons, the unknown future, the uncertain presents, the powers of the world below... These are the things we're really afraid will separate us from the power of God. Dark things. And in a fallen world, it's easy to understand why.

But Paul says the good things won't separate us either, and this takes a little more thought. Because how true is this statement! It's far more likely that the things that might be most separating in our lives are the good, or at least the neutral, things we encounter simply by living. Life, Paul says, will not separate us. Life as we know it, I can only assume.

Life, as in the trips to the grocery store on a Saturday morning, the family dynamics around the dinner table, the busy work schedule, that last-minute deadline, the realization that Christmas is coming and you're not ready (I'm not ready), all the little things that simply are, that simply must be in order for us to have life..or a life...cannot separate us from the love of God.

That's comforting, especially for a woman like me. It seems, at least in my experience, that it's more likely life than death that would threaten my connection with God. In times of trouble, as a woman of faith, I go running to Him. I lean on Him in death, knowing there's nowhere else to turn. I crumble into His arms (in theory - not perfectly in practice...yet) because there's no other safe place to rest. But in life, in simple life, I am far more likely to forget that He's there. To forget that I need Him. To forget that I want Him.

The same is true for angels and demons. Under attack, I'm going to run to Him. The demons that haunt my spirit drive me toward truth and freedom. But blessed by good things and graced by the protection of a presence I cannot see, it's all too easy to forget that there's a God out there.

The present is easy to get lost in; at this very split second, I may not need God. I may not consciously think of Him. But as strings of this very split second come together, all of a sudden, I can realize it's been a long time since I've thought of Him. As a song on the radio says, "It's been like a whole day since I stopped so You could hold me." Because time passes, and if I am unaware, I simply don't notice until the separation is painfully great.

And who among us can plan their future? How can we imagine where we will be with God tomorrow or the day after that or the years to come? Life is a dynamic force; it's always changing. We just never know, so we don't consider and then when we realize how long it's been, the separation has already taken hold.

I never stopped before today to think much about the good things. Whoever thought that simply being would be enough to separate us from the love of God? Or at least, to make us feel separated without our even knowing? Paul did. Thousands of years ago, Paul included this very thing, likely knowing the human nature might only comprehend half of his words. Knowing we would read, thinking it must be death or demons, but understanding that if we take the time to notice, we will realize it is also life and angels. Understanding, as only God's man can understand, that it's all too easy to get lost in simply life. And to remind us, powerfully yet gently, that though this is true, even this can never separate us from the love of God.