Friday, February 28, 2014

Better Together

I am a big Survivor fan. And I haven't missed an episode. Ever. This week, a new season of the show premiered, this time with three tribes: Brawn vs. Brains Vs. Beauty. It's an interesting social experiment, to say the least. On the surface, you'd think that Beauty would be at a significant disadvantage, based on our notions of what beauty means. And yes, many of them are models and beauty queens.

But the group at the real disadvantage, as anyone who watched the premiere knows, is Brains. That might come as a shock. You might be trying to figure out how that happens. You might believe a half-dozen smart people could figure out the game. There is one missing ingredient from the Brains group, however, that has them struggling fast:

Most of the brains have never learned teamwork. They don't know how to work with each other.

For the beauty group, this is not a problem. They are used to using their looks to get others to do what needs done, all while having some measurable ability to do it themselves. They are socialized to work with other people, even if it looks like they are using them at times. Which means that when one throws out an idea and tries to get someone else on board, that person then tries to get someone else on board, and all of a sudden, we have a team of beautiful people working together to accomplish a goal. All because they know how to deal with one another. They encourage one another, as well. Beautiful people are used to hearing affirmation, and they are not shy about sharing it.

For the brawn group, this is not a problem, either. They like doing things together. They understand that strength is only magnified when there is more of it put to use. They know that two people lift more than one. And to be honest, they work hard for their physical ability because they understand how that can be an asset both to them and to others around them. Here is a group of people all trying to be assets, so they are working together for the good of everyone. They're pooling their strength because they know how to work it.

For the brains group, the story is different. They've always been the smart ones. They've always used their intelligence to lead. And to be right. They are used to other people following them because they tend to have the best, most well-thought-out ideas. They are in a place now where not everyone can lead; some are going to have to follow. From the first episode, you can tell this is going to be a difficult adjustment. At every juncture, they are butting heads. They think it's personalities, but it's really socialization. Everyone is trying to lead. Everyone has an idea. And everyone thinks they are right. In the end, that makes nobody right and nobody immune. Someone is going home. The brains tribe is

You just cannot overestimate the value of knowing how to work with people and doing it well, whether on Survivor or on the subway. And I say that in full admission that I am a recovering loner. Around here, we call that the brain-brawns - I know how, and I'm going to do it without you. 

But even I am growing conscious that I absolutely need community. This world is a much better, and a much calmer, place when you learn how to interact with it, how to share your strengths and how to lean on someone else's. As I write, I am thinking about all the people without whom I would not be in this very place today, and they are too numerous to count. I am thinking about how little I've accomplished when I've struggled for eternities in solitude, and how quickly those same impossibilities come together when I have invited someone else in on them.

Impossibilities like Beauty beating Brains.

Life is just better when we do it together. If we can't learn to lean on each other, we may find ourselves too early out of the game. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Provision for Fear

God is pretty big on fear. Or rather, on not having any. It is one of the most oft-repeated commands in the Bible: Do not fear. 

And yet, fear is one thing that most of us are exceptionally good at. From all-out petrified to mildly timid to nervously anxious, we are a people pretty big on fear, too. Do not fear is a pretty tall order for a people like us.

Which is why I was encouraged anew by one of my favorite characters in the Bible this morning: Gideon. I've loved this guy from the first time I read about him, but I am almost ashamed to admit that until this morning (many moons from that first meeting), I had missed this part of his story - God made provision for Gideon's fear.

Gideon was not really known for his courage. When God first finds and calls this man to be a leader in Israel, he's hiding from his enemies in a wine press, beating out grain in secret so no one can find it and take it away from him. The messenger of the Lord shows up and says, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" and Gideon looks around the otherwise-empty wine press to figure out who this crazy character might be talking to. It certainly couldn't be him!

A short time passes and God builds up an army around Gideon. Or rather, God whittles one down. As He prepares His new servant to go and take possession of the Midianites, He flat-out tells the young leader that his army is far too big. He weeds out the scared first, sending them home. (This is interesting, considering the word that is to come.) If a man is scared, send him home, the Lord tells Gideon. So he does, and he's still left with "too many men." The fledgling forces walk down to the river, and God separates them again by the way they drink water. Now that there are a mere 300 of them left, they are ready for war.

Picking up the story in Judges 7: 

That night the Lord said to Gideon, 'Attack! Go into the camp! I will hand it over to you. But if you're afraid to go, take your servant Purah to the camp with you. Listen to what people are saying. After that, you will have the courage to go into the camp and attack it.' (v. 9-11)

Here again, as I've been talking about all week, we have God saying "Go" and a hesitant man on the other end. But instead of saying, "Go anyway," God makes provision for Gideon's fear. He says, "Ok. You're scared. I will add another step for you. Just go and listen, if you're not yet ready to attack." Notice that it's a provision - a bridge from here to there - and not an excuse note. God doesn't say, "If you're scared, you don't have to go." Rather, He presents this sort of middle ground that will help get Gideon past that fear and into faith.

Now, there's an argument to be made here, and it cannot be overlooked. The middle still for Gideon to go into enemy camp. He's lulled into believing it's a smaller thing because he's not fighting, but isn't it in fact a bigger thing? He's walking unprepared, unready to fight into enemy territory, where he could be discovered at any second and, well, taken out. He's only taking one guy with him; that''s far less than the 300 he'd have if he'd just go as God asked. Yet in the next verses, we see Gideon and Purah heading off into Midian camp to build their nerve. It seems like a good deal God's put on the table. 

The truth is that once they come out of there, it won't be what he heard that strengthens him as much as what he experienced (although he heard some pretty encouraging news). One day in the not-too-distant future, Gideon is going to really think about it and realize that the middle thing was really the bigger thing, and after you've done the bigger thing, what looked so big yesterday seems so much easier.

This is an encouragement to those of us who wrestle with fear, and I'm going to take a leap and say that's all of us. We know that God tells us not to be afraid. We beat ourselves up over fear. But the story of Gideon is a reminder that God's not beating us up. Rather, He makes provision for our fear. Never excuse, but always provision. He adds a step between here and there, something to get us over the hard part. So it doesn't seem like such a big thing.

And the added truth is this: It's not such a big thing. The middle thing is the big thing. The provision is, arguably, the hard part, but it never really seems that way until you realize what you've done. Until you realize what God has done. Then neither thing is really big. It seems almost too easy.

The hardest thing you did was put foot on that stepping stone. The hardest part of all of it is finding the faith. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Go Anyway

One small, obedient, faithful step in a holy direction may seem simple enough, but what if you're not sure it will work? What if it doesn't feel right? What if there are too many questions and too many roadblocks and too much speaking against that step?

Go anyway.

But what if it doesn't work?

Ask Moses.

I love the story of Moses, and for so many reasons. But one of them is this: God repeatedly tells Moses to go and tell Pharaoh this or that thing, and in the same breath, God tells Moses that it won't work. "Tell Pharaoh to let My people go into the wilderness to worship Me, but I will harden his heart, and he will not let you go." And Moses, as reluctant as he was to be God's spokesman in the first place, as much of a fight as he put up at the burning bush, as repeatedly as he needed God to reassure him of, well, everything...goes anyway! God tells him to go. God tells him it will be fruitless. And Moses goes anyway.

That's obedience. I was going to say faith, but I don't know that Moses really saw or believed in the end game. I think at this point in his journey, he was just doing what he was told because he couldn't think of any other reasons not to. Although if you ask me, "Because it won't work" is a perfectly valid reason.

You have to stop for a second and think about this because we, in the 21st Century, have the benefit of hindsight. We know what God did when what He sent Moses to do didn't work. We know about the flies and the frogs and the locusts and the first-born. We know about plague after plague after plague. We know how God showed Himself and how He worked things out for His glory. Moses didn't have that benefit. Moses heard go, and he went, and it failed, and there were frogs. He heard go, and he went, and it failed, and there were locusts. He heard go, and he went, and it failed, and there was the Passover. Eventually, they make it out of Egypt and Pharaoh comes after them. With one eye over his shoulder, you know Moses is thinking, "This won't work," even though God hasn't said such a thing about this moment. 

Every now and again, I've heard God ask me to do something. Some small, obedient, faithful step in a holy direction. He's never been kind enough to tell me which ones are going to work out, though. And I've had my fair share of steps in faith that seem to be fallacy. I've had my share of things that don't work out the way I thought they would, or the way they seemed they would. Or the way that it seems "holy" would mandate that they should. I don't know really what to say about those times, except that in hindsight, it's easy to see God's glory unfolding. 

Easy to see, but hard to describe. Because I can look back over my life, particularly in a season like this, and see obviously God's glory. But then you start to think about things, and you think, "Couldn't today have happened without yesterday? Couldn't today still be possible without yesterday being as it was?" And the answer, in most situations, is yes. You could have found true love without that first fancy and painful divorce. You could be in your dream job without having been fired from the burger joint many years ago. You could have the life you have today without having lived the life you had yesterday. But something would be missing. And that something is different in every story. I don't know what it is in yours. I'm not even sure I know what it is in mine.

I think about the small steps I've taken in faith. I think about the times I've responded to God's voice in my life. I rejoice in the times that it's all worked out well. I mourn the times when it didn't. But I see the glory in those times. And I'm glad I don't have the benefit of Moses. I'm glad God doesn't tell me whether it's going to work according to my fantasy or not. I'm glad He doesn't say, "Do it anyway." Because I don't know that I would. I don't know that if God told me to go and in the same breath added that it would be fruitless, that I would be able to go. Which is maybe why I've never heard Him say, "Do it anyway."

He just says, "Do it." Who can argue with that?

And it turns out...that it turns out. Every time. Sometimes, in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On Faithfulness

Life can be kind of a crazy journey. Ok, a really crazy journey. My life is no exception.

Eleven years ago, I was a young girl with a story, headed off to college to make sense of herself and her world. I had my bags in one hand and my baggage in the other, which necessarily led me into the psychology program at the local Christian college. I loved the intricacies of the human mind, loved digging through people's stories to get to the heart of the matter, and loved figuring out my own demons in the process. At the same time, I wasn't entirely sure what I had to offer someone else out of the whole mess. I wasn't confident in my ability to be a good therapist or counselor. And I really didn't want to spend my life fixing people. Or even helping them fix themselves. (And as a therapy regular for 12 years, I knew that nothing I would ever do as a therapist would matter if the client wasn't just as engaged in the process. That's hard to come by.) 

Thankfully (and painfully), life stepped in and stopped me. After a change in course, I wound up at the college just a few blocks from home. I wasn't impressed with their psychology program - it was mostly theory, and if there's anything that drives me bonkers, it's trying to deal with people using theories. Life is more dynamic than that. So I went with my back-up plan: journalism.

I had a few journalism awards from high school, including some of the highest honors. I had a fearlessness and a knack for story that lent itself well to the field. But from day 1, I trudged through that curriculum. I hated every minute of it. I still loved writing, but not necessarily reporting. I enjoyed storytelling, but not really interviewing. It's a very intimate, yet hauntingly impersonal business and the incredible amount of politics involved in simple reporting is amazing. For what it's worth, I don't fall on the right side of politics. I was still good at the work, but I was miserable and wondering what I would do with that degree. 

A smattering of coursework in magazine production and visual communications made things a little better, and I broadened out to more a "professional communications" approach. Public relations, graphic design, community relations, media, spokesmanship. Creativity in communications (and I still have an idea that will win the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest, if anyone wants to help me pull it off). That answered some of my questions, and a few opportunities started opening up by accident. When I graduated six years ago, I hard-core pursued the communications path.

And never held a job in my field.

Oh, I picked up some freelance work here and there. Not enough to really be anything. I worked one two-week contract for an organization, but there were some serious leadership issues and that never quite panned out. It was only temp work anyway. For five years, I beat my head against the wall, trying to explain to potential employers that I was both gifted and dedicated to do their work. In the meantime, I even applied for "scut" jobs (no offense) - retail, food service, labor. Nothing. I began to wonder if I was ever going to find anything. And the more I watched my bank account dwindle, the more I started to worry about tomorrow.

You know, kind of, where this story is headed. Last July, I found the chaplain education program I recently completed. Within a week of applying, I had an interview. Within a week of my interview, I had a spot in the program. Within a week of that, I had a rejection letter for every other job I'd applied to in the past six months. All communications jobs, mind you. And within a week of that, I began. That experience, those four months, were incredible.

It wasn't easy. For those five years, I admit: I had read every chaplain job description I'd come across. I had thrown a half-hearted application at a few. I had despised that they all seemed to require this special education. I had even applied to similar programs a couple of times, only to be told I didn't meet their minimum qualifications. But at each of those moments, I was throwing that out there because it sounded like something fun to do, something I could do. I was looking at communications and thinking I could land in chaplaincy until something "more up my alley" came about. Once God put the work fully on my heart, though, and I gathered the courage to take an honest, diligent, disciplined step toward it...things moved quickly.

After finishing the program in mid-December, I started submitting my application materials to seminary to move toward the profession full-time. I have already received acceptance to one of my top school choices and am eagerly awaiting to hear from another. I took the rest of December to deal with some family situations that came up. Then in January, I reworked my resume and got back into the job market, hoping for something less than another five years' waiting. 

This week, six weeks from day one of the job hunt, I begin my new position. It's in the activities department at a senior living community, which means I get to spend my days engaging the residents. We get to play games together, watch movies, go on trips (they're going to train me to drive the bus), and just chat. It's very similar to chaplain work, albeit without the frequency of crisis. It's a really good position for "now." And all it took was for me to finally start taking small, obedient, faithful steps in a holy direction. And God has shown His faithfulness. 

It all goes back to what I said about my calling, and about the presence ministry and what it means to me. Unlike psychology, I am not out to "fix" anyone; I'm out simply to be there. Unlike journalism, I'm not out to tell a story; I'm there to help them tell theirs. It's about being there, letting people lean on me, and being a part of a community that needs someone like that. So it's really cool, and I am so blessed to be in this place right now.

I tell this story in an effort to offer encouragement. Life can be kind of a crazy journey. And sometimes, it's agonizing. And it doesn't seem like things are ever going to work out. We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what to do, where to go, who to be. We spend our days beating our heads against the wall, getting nowhere, all in pursuit of this thing that we think we want, or at least that we would settle for in a time like this. 

But life is not about settling. It's about taking small, obedient, faithful steps in a holy direction and watching God unfold His faithfulness before you. It's about doing what you should do, even when it doesn't seem possible or doesn't make sense, and finding out all you will do as time goes by. It's about being engaged in the now and knowing the steps to come, not necessarily fifteen years from now, but the steps for today. The ones that get you to tomorrow. The ones that lead toward something holy. Life opens up when you do this, and it's amazing the places it might take you.

So I ask you, as I take another small step that still seems so big, what little, obedient, faithful step in a holy direction do you need to take today? And what might that mean for your tomorrow? 

**Note: Someone really famous, and I think spiritual, said something about taking small, obedient, faithful steps. I have seen it quoted on Twitter many times in the past six months, but I cannot for the life of me remember who said it. All I know is that I am in his debt for the words to this thought, and he is absolutely right in his wisdom.**

Monday, February 24, 2014

Speak Life

I have to admit: I have, in my life, been a little bit prone to anxiety. Not really anxiety as much as a small case of the nerves, for any number of reasons (most of which are ridiculous; some of which would surprise you). I don't know why. I've always considered it a part of the way I'm wired, but come to find out, anxiety is a learned behavior. At least, in large part, it is. And as such, you (and I) can un-learn the nerves.

One of the groups I was honored to be a part of recently set a series of rules for ourselves near the outset. Among them was this, and we scribbled it across the dry erase board in green marker and left it there for four months:

Let go of the outcome.

Uhm, I can't. And I can't fathom how you can. And if we all let go of the outcome, then whatever are we going to accomplish and how will we know if we've accomplished it? (You see, my anxiety didn't like this very much. My nerves started shaking over the unknown.) In the context of that group, I'm not sure I ever learned this lesson. I still shook with nerves every time we met together.

Then in the past couple of weeks, I think I've got it. For me, it was a two-step process. 

The first step came when I preached two services at one of the local senior care facilities. After a few years of speaking routinely at my church, I have to say that I still get junked up on those Sunday mornings. I have a ritual, a routine, that gets me through it, a process of giving it back to God and purposely working myself up to mask nerves with excitement. But as I drove across town, parked my car, walked into the building, met my liturgist, rode the elevator up to the first service, and set my Bible in the pulpit, there was not one bit of anxiety in me. Not one bit of nerves. I was perfectly relaxed, confident. My stomach was growling because it had been far too long since a meager lunch. It turned out to be a really cool afternoon.

Then step two came last week, when I had some business matters to take care of in the next town over. I woke up early to get my things together, and I was nervous from moment one. From the second my eyes opened, I could feel the anxiety in me. Even though in the cosmic scheme of things, this was less significant (I think?) than the pressure of bringing God's Word to a community of people. This was just a little thing, but here I was in old patterns. Nervous. 

Until I stopped myself and said, "Wait a minute. What makes today different than Sunday? Why am I letting myself get worked up over this when I know how well the last thing went?"

And the answer is this: It turns out I get nervous about things that I think are going to speak into my life. I'm betting I'm not alone.

You see, I was putting too much emphasis on what this business matter was going to say about me. Either I was worthy of the investment...or I wasn't. Either I was a good prospect...or I wasn't. Either the world was going to say yes to me...or I was going to hear a big resounding no. (I could get more specific if I were to tell you the venture, but the details are neither here nor there. The point is that this was bringing up in me questions about myself, based on what was about to happen.)

Contrast that with the preaching opportunity, where I walked in with excitement at the opportunity for something new. And at this season in my life, when I feel so endowed by God and blessed by the Spirit and both confident and a little nerv-cited (nervous-excited) about where life is going, I knew God had invited me into this opportunity. It was He who was going to speak, not me and not this opportunity. So I was able to relax, stand in confidence, and enjoy the experience.

I think that's the truth for most of us when we get nervous or anxious. It's that we think whatever's about to happen is going to say something about us. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty weary of letting other things speak into my life, particularly when the voice of God is exceptionally clear. And when we build our lives around what God has already spoken into them, and what He continues to say, then whatever adventure we enter next is not a place that's going to speak into us; it's a place where we are going to speak. (And, of course, God through us.)

I realized all this in the few minutes between getting dressed and hitting the highway, and you know what? I instantly relaxed. I walked into the day perfectly myself, in my imperfect glory. Calm and comfortable. And above all, confident. God has already spoken into my life. Whatever this is, it has nothing more to say about me.

And the venture itself? I've let go of the outcome. I finally figured it out. And the funny thing is that it was hanging on my wall next to my bed for many years before I ever really understood.

Be fully that...which God has created you to be, and nothing more. And nothing less.

Live a life worthy...of the calling of God.

Let your life speak...

Then you don't have to worry about what might speak into it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Faith and Betrayal

For awhile, I've been thinking about betrayal. Specifically, the betrayal of the mirror. 

I don't know if this is everybody, or if it's just me, but I seldom find what I expect to see in the mirror. This is true regardless of what kind of day I'm having. If I'm having one of those days where life is good, laughter abounds, and I just feel really good about things and totally free, it's not uncommon to look in the mirror and wonder what the grumpy, frumpy girl is doing staring back at me. Such are the days when I don't look as beautiful as I feel. On the other hand, if I'm having a terrible day, nothing is going right, I'm knock-down, drag-out tired, I might look in the mirror and see just this incredible life in my eyes that betrays my sagging heart. Those are the days when I don't feel as beautiful as I look.

I've been thinking about such things because back in November, I got a new haircut before attending my friend's wedding out of state. And for the first time in perhaps my life, the stylist NAILED it. My hair looked so good. The nail in the coffin was in early December when my new glasses arrived. And then it wasn't long after that I accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, "There she is!" There is the girl God created. Now, granted, this all came around a time when I was experiencing a spiritual renewal and awesome confident faith in my life. Probably no coincidence.

But now I see her, and I've been trying to make sense of, well, so many things. I have wanted to share some of this (because I believe we ought to share our journeys more than our destinations) but really didn't want to draw it back to me. I wasn't really sure what God would have to say about all this, though, except what He's whispered in my spirit and my personal relationship with God is, well, personal. I thought about that Scripture in James where he talks about the man who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away, forgetting what he looks like. I identify with that in all those years of betrayal, and I think I'm not alone. I think most of us are surprised at what we look like on any given day. But as good as that concept was, in itself it sort of betrayed this experience I've been having.

And then, this morning, there was this. From Romans 12:3:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

It's not a translation I normally use, but it popped up on my Facebook feed from a friend at church in just this text. And you know what? I think that speaks to what this experience really is. In the Aidan translation, the text reads this:

It takes a measure of faith to see yourself the way God sees you, not as better or worse than you actually are, but with honest eyes and sober judgment. In faith, you see in the mirror what God sees in you.

I think this is the exhilaration of it all. I think this is the very understanding my heart has been coming to over the past few months. When you know God and believe what He says, you see yourself the way He sees you and discover that's enough

That's what sober means. It means not under the influence. Not under the influence of a world that says you have to be prettier. That you have to look different. That you have to be different. That today, as you are, you are somehow less. And not under the influence of a world that tells you you're fabulous, that you couldn't possibly be any better, that you're awesome just how you are. As long as you can keep that up...

Under sober judgment, there is no influence. Things simply are the way they are. You are the way you are. And with faith that God is who you believe Him to be, and who He promises to be, there's no pressure. There's no stress to be anything other. There's no worry about whether you feel more beautiful than you look or you look more beautiful than you feel or if neither is the case today. You look in the mirror and see what God sees.

The cool thing about that is that in faith, there is no longer betrayal. You can be less than what God has hoped you to be, and the very same faith that you gives you the eyes to see that also shows you His grace. So you're not defeated by your appearance; you're humbled by His grace. You can think more of yourself than what God sees in you, but the faith that reminds you what God sees also tells the story of His provision. You realize all you have is God's, and you tone it down.

Faith keeps betrayal in check. It gives you eyes to see, even to see yourself, as God sees. It lets you see the potential, the beauty, the promise, the calling, the createdness, the very preciousness that God has woven into your being from the very womb. You believe in God, and that gives you the vision to believe in yourself as His beautiful creation, His beloved daughter, His precious child. 

Then one day, you're fetching something out of the bathroom vanity and catch just a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you're turning around, and you stop dead in your tracks. The image is caught in the image of your eye, and you take a second look. Slowly, you smile and think, peacefully, "There she is!"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Male and Female

As we talk about women in ministry because, why not?, I think we also need to take an open look at the devotional materials and Christian texts that sort of set us up for this distinction between men of God and women of God.

Here's what I mean: Right now, there is a men's small group and a women's small group meeting at my church. The men's study is "Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood." The women's study is "Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food." See what I mean? This is always the case, too. Material written for men is about courage, strength, leadership. Material written for women is about beauty, service, and cravings. We had a women's retreat last November. Do you know what the theme was? "Chocolate."

We teach men that the way to be God's man is to be bold. We give him strength. We call him to be a leader, in his family and his community. We teach women to be better servants, to guard their "treasure," to remain beautiful but also pure. 

I'm not saying any of this is bad or wrong, necessarily. My problem is that if we're going to paint men and women into these boxes throughout our Christian culture, then of course it's going to be difficult to see much in a woman as minister. It also paints an incomplete picture for both men and women as to what we ought to be in God's eyes.

Because let me tell you something about being a woman after God's own heart, which I try to be and hope my Father would say that I am - I need more than beauty and chastity and satisfied longing. As a matter of fact, more often than you might believe by looking at our literature, I need courage. I need strength. I need permission to step up in my own life and be a leader. Not in any masculine form of the words, but in the fullness of a woman, I require these things.

And men? You need to be servants, too. It wouldn't hurt ya'll to learn about humble service and the kind of quiet behind-the-scenes stuff we women are always encouraged to. You need to learn to be beautiful, to respect yourself in your own eyes. You need to learn how to stay pure and how to fill your desperate desires with God. Trust me - I've seen you guys rolling around in your status symbols. It's no different than what the world tells us about beauty; you just have different outlets. How about "Rev Your Engines: Drawing your power from God instead of cars"? How about that for a book title? How about "Read Meat: How the Bible Fills Your Manliest Hunger"? 

I'm being overly stereotypical here, but I kind of have to be. That's the box our Christian market seems to have painted us into. And it's why so many women are struggling and so many men are hungering - because we're taught the opposite things! (Women are taught how not to hunger; men are taught to lean on strength.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman after God's own heart, what these traits I've mentioned would mean in my life. I've wondered what it takes to find courage. And please don't point me to the story of Esther. *rolling my eyes* Esther doesn't answer all my questions. I mean real, consistent courage that stands beside faith, not circumstance. I've wondered what it means to be strong in the Lord. Not the "Proverbs 31" woman, but truly strong in the Lord. I've wondered what it would be like to feel like I have the authority to step up and lead my life - and to lead with my life. These are the things we're not talking to women about, but as a woman, I'm wondering! I'm thinking about these things! I'm longing to figure out how to incorporate them into my life. I'm looking for a way to bridge the gap. 

Not because beauty and purity and service aren't important to me. They are. There is a place in my heart that responds powerfully to that; it's wired in my womanhood. But there's more to me, and there's more to God in a woman, than that. I'm just not satisfied settling for less.

Anyway, like I said, I've just been thinking about this kind of thing for awhile and wanted to throw it out there. It is an invitation for us all to think, male and female, about what it means to be wholly God's and what messages we're hearing, which ones we aren't, and which ones we desperately need.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Man Up

A large church on the north side of Indianapolis, Indiana came out recently with a statement about why, in this season, they have changed their stance on women in ministry. I saw that story in my Twitter log - retweeted/shared by a minister far on the other side of the country. This is an issue that, for obvious reasons, is close to my heart, and it's one I have been discussing fairly frequently recently with other women aspiring to ministry.

My issue has never really been women in ministry or not in ministry, the authority given or not given to women by the church. I guess not growing up in church, I never bought into most of that doctrinal/cultural mess anyway. Paul says, "In Christ, there is no male nor female..." and I know the words God whispers to my heart.

Rather, my issue has always been the kinds of women I meet in ministry. That's been the rub. Because as much as I want to pursue what God has put in my heart, I do not want to be most of these women. That's changing a little bit as time continues to pass, but the overwhelming reality remains. There are two types of women we see in ministry roles, at least, two types of women I keep running into.

The first is the masculinized woman. The women I have met in ministry have sacrificed their feminine nature for the chance to serve. They even look butch. The women I have met who have pastored or co-pastored churches have had buzzed haircuts and cargo pants. They walk with almost a stomp and really work to declare their strength and authority on the outside. Oh, they are friendly enough. They smile. They laugh. Some even wear wedding rings. But a conversation with them feels more "woman trying to make it in a man's world" than "woman after God's own heart." That saddens me, even as a woman who once had her hair buzzed. For far too long.

The second is the women's minister in the expanded role. This doesn't work either. When I got to college, my campus pastor was such a woman. Because I was highly esteemed within the Bible department, she and I had several occasions to meet. After our very first meeting, over lunch, she sent me an email explaining that I did not eat "enough" during our lunch meeting and therefore, she had strong concerns over my "obvious eating disorder" and that any woman struggling against her own demons in such a way was not fit to be a voice on campus when other women might be listening. Girl...never mind. This was only one of many complaints she had with me, but it became the only way she knew to relate to me. And it wasn't just me. Many of her interactions centered around women's issues - eating disorders, sexual health, beauty, etc. - even when she was dealing with male students or a co-ed crowd! This is not good. No woman with a heart for God wants to get into the ministry to talk about anorexia and curlers and tampons to a larger audience, not to mention it shuts the men out entirely and no wonder men aren't too keen on women in ministry!

We are starting to get good examples, starting to see women in ministry who don't fall into either of these two categories. But they are still few and far between. Joyce Meyers, for instance, is right on the border. She fits a little into the first stereotype, of the masculinized female preacher. She adorns herself with the jewels of a woman, but her overall look still says "male authority," as does her manner of speaking. (I love her, though. Right? Sometimes? She's hilarious.) I'm looking right now more to women like Shauna Niequist, who is a growing name. She loves what she loves, does what she does, speaks God, and is universal in her message. She loves cooking and presents messages a great deal in that context, but never about a "woman's work in cooking"; it's about her personal love for cooking and what food does to the human spirit. Men hear her and relate, but not in that uncomfortable awkward way they try to pretend to understand a woman. She's still a little on the women's minister side, but hides it well. I think such may always be a problem for most of us trying to bridge that gap.

Because we are women. God kind of made us that way. And if you look at the way a woman functions in the regular world, it's hard to believe we can't be better women in ministry than most of us are. Just look at any mother. She knows how to press her husband's dress shirt just right, and that if she lays his keys next to his coffee cup, he'll probably still ask where they are. She knows how to put her daughter's hair in a ponytail and dot the "i love you" note in her lunchbox with a heart. She knows how to take her son's little car and transform it into a monster and back again, and how to clean inside the play fort without invading his privacy. A woman knows how to care for everybody in her family - male, female, young, old, peer, parent, progeny. And she does it beautifully as a woman, neither masculinized nor issues-oriented. A man...well, yesterday I saw a video of a dad using a vacuum cleaner to put his daughter's hair in a ponytail. They have great leadership abilities, but in terms of tender care with a personalized touch...there's something just wired in a woman.

A couple of Sundays ago, I stepped up to the pulpit to preach my second service at a community here in town. It was less than an hour after my first service, during which I was too focused on the newness to notice much of anything. I'd been wondering for days how I would feel when I said my first words, and when I said my last ones. There is a certain special way I feel when I am speaking in public in general; there always has been. Something in me comes alive in this very unique way. As I think back on that afternoon, on that second service, in the very formal set up of the memorial chapel with its matching pulpits -for the preacher and the liturgist- and candles behind and baby grand piano (drool....), I am overwhelmed with how much in that moment, I felt like a beautiful woman after God's own heart in the very place God had chosen for her in that afternoon. 

I didn't feel like I had to be one of those women I'd met before, one who masculinized herself. My hair is finally super-cute; I got it cut a couple of months ago, and this stylist NAILED it. My new glasses complete the look; I look in the mirror and see the contemporary, strong, but beautiful young woman I'd always hoped would be looking back at me. I was wearing these slightly flared slick brown dress pants (and snow boots because, have you seen this winter in Indiana?), a soft long-sleeved pink shirt, with a silky pink and brown dress shirt over the top. I had on just enough jewels to be adorned but not distracting. I looked beautiful. I felt beautiful. I set my feet in the place God had marked for them, and I stood there feeling like a woman.

And no pressure at all to talk about eating disorders, make-up, or tampons.

I firmly believe there is a place for women in ministry. Every day, I come closer to knowing exactly what my place is. But as we work our way into this position, we have to stand up and turn away from the stereotypes we've too long been pushed into. I want to see the feminization of women in ministry, and I've been saying this for a long time. I want to see us do what we love to do - bake cookies, go biking, play with our kids, play with our pets, work on our cars, work on our hair, whatever it is that we love to do. I want to see us paint our nails with silly little patterns, compare our latest jewelry, play the pelican-leg game with our shoes to see which one matches our outfit. And then I want to see us step into our ministries and refuse to give any of that away and refuse to dwell on it, but rather to stand there and be ministers after God's own heart. Women...after God Himself. The way He's wired us to be.

I guess my interest is, with all this talk of women in ministry these days, I'm longing to see women in ministry. I'm be one.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For God and Man

The absolute best thing you can do for person is not to introduce the idea of God into his/her life, but to introduce that person to God.

I'm working my way through the Old Testament, as I usually am this time of year, and Moses is about to die. He's written a song to help the people remember what it's like to be God's people, but let's be honest - they don't really know. How could they? Generations of Israelites (at least two generations) have spent their lives looking to Moses so that he could look to God so that he could come back and tell them what God says. They only know God through Moses, despite the fact that God has so tenderly, and miraculously, cared for them and shown Himself among them. 

They know what it looks like when the Red Sea parts. They know what manna from heaven means. They don't know how, but they've seen water pour from a rock. They're familiar with the cloud of fire and the pillar of smoke. They have a vague idea of God from these sorts of things, but they decided long ago that whenever they needed to hear from God, He was going to speak through Moses. Now, Moses is about to die, and he warns the people to remember, although even he knows they can't. Their hearts have already started corrupting, he says. They have already begun turning away.

As I read these words, I also think about how many other times that was true for these people. In the wilderness, of course. They didn't think they had God among them, so they started looking elsewhere in a span of less than 40 days while Moses was on the mountain. They could see the smoke and hear the thunder, but without someone bringing the word to them, they had nothing. After this generation, there are many, many more. The book of Judges, for instance, is a series of "It's been awhile since we had a prophet, and we forget, so we turn our hearts away and then God gives us a prophet and we turn our hearts back because we can hear Him again." God is endlessly patient with His people as they turn away from God for lack of a man, and then He graces them with a man. Until that man dies, and His people turn away again.

It's heartbreaking. And...cautionary.

It's cautionary for those of us who would be seekers. Who are, perpetually, seekers. It's easy to get attached to the way this or that pastor preaches, to start looking to our preachers to answer our God-questions. We tie ourselves to a man who gives us an idea of God, and we love him for it. But one day, that man dies, or moves on in the ministry, and we're left wondering what of this God we actually know. Our hearts feel empty because the man left and took the God with him. I've heard of this far too frequently, and seen it with my own eyes. A preacher builds up a reputation in his church for being a man of God, and then he is called to serve elsewhere. In his wake, he leaves a congregation desperately searching for God with no idea of how to find Him. That, my friends, is called a "cult." It is a faith based on a human leadership, and it survives only to the extent of that man and never beyond it. It's agonizing for those caught up in it; it's incredibly painful for those watching on the outside. 

It's also cautionary, and perhaps most so, for those in the ministry. As always, it doesn't have to be an official ministry, although it could be. Whether you preach from the pulpit every Sunday, serve meals to the homeless on Thursday nights, walk across the street to share coffee with a neighbor...wherever you go that you take the name of God with you, the story of the Israelites is a cautionary tale. Take not just the name of God, but His very presence.

Because what people need is not to know that there is a God but to know who that God is. They need to meet Him. They need to be introduced. They need to understand that there's a way to get to Him that doesn't require a middle man, that doesn't take some prophet or pastor or preacher. Isn't that the message of Christ?

Christ had His voices in the world. We call them disciples. He had people who could have spoken for Him, who knew Him well enough to know what He might say, who could guard His scheduling book and be gatekeepers to His presence. Yet only once in the Gospels do we see evidence of this ever happening (the little children), and not once do we see the people asking for it.

No one comes to Peter and says, "Please talk to your Lord for me. I am in need of His healing touch." Blind men were not lining the roads crying out to James and John, requesting to speak to the Master. The bleeding woman did not push through the crowds and tug on Bartholomew's coat. Jairus did not bow before Andrew, begging for his daughter's life. No. People came straight to Jesus. Blind men called out His name. The bleeding woman touched His coat. Jairus fell at His feet. A whole group of friends grabbed their paralytic buddy and dropped him through a stranger's roof right in front of Jesus Himself.

As easy as it would be to think otherwise, the people don't want a prophet. They want a presence. We who bear the name of Jesus have to figure out how to do that.

On the surface, it's simple: We don't bring God to the people; we bring the people to God. In reality, it's a touch more difficult (or in some cases, ridiculously hard). It's a lesson I take with me into chaplaincy. The more I meet with families in tough times, the more keenly aware I am that I cannot put them in a place to build a relationship with me. I cannot let them get attached to the chaplain; I have to bring them to the Christ. Because the day is coming when life moves on, when they are no longer in this place, when my shift ends, when two paths diverge and I may never see them again. They may never see me again. If they look back at the wonderful chaplain who got them through such a tough time, that's as far as it goes. If they look back and see Christ at the bedside, that's the beginning of something else entirely. In the former, they have nothing to hold onto. In the latter, they have everything they need. That's the goal of ministry.

There's a catch, and it's a tough one to swallow. Some people are just not open to the presence. They aren't. The people of the Old Testament saw the power of the Lord. They saw the seas parting. They saw the fire and smoke. They heard the thunder when He spoke. And they decided they wanted no part of it. They begged for a prophet to stand in the middle. People today are no different. While they long to stand on the sides of the roads, as in Jesus' time, they also harbor the fear of the Old Testament and cower in the presence of God. There will be people who are so afraid of the thunder that they will never take another step closer. That's a shame. It is not, however, permission to be the prophet. It does no one any good for us to stand in the middle, regardless of our motives. The more we stand between man and God, even under the guise of bringing the two together, the more we build faith in a man. And that faith is sure to crumble.

It doesn't surprise me that the Israelites turned away again and again. They knew of their God, but they never truly knew Him. It doesn't surprise me that there are so many among us today in the same heart. They know of their God, but they never know Him. But I think those of us who bear the name of Christ in this world have a good deal to say about that, and the sooner we start introducing more than the idea of God, the sooner we get our friends, family, neighbors, community to shake hands with the God of the Universe, the better. It is our mission, our calling, the very purpose of our lives, to teach people to have faith in God alone.

That doesn't start with a prophet; it begins with a presence. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Blood Splatter

One of the things about the Old Testament that has always offended my sensibilities is the liberal use of blood. When I read about the sacrifices offered in the Tabernacle, I can't help but instinctually think to myself, "Ew." And subsequently, "I can't even imagine how that smells." Because God's people went through all of this trouble to make all of these ornate things precisely according to His holy direction, and then drained, splattered, dipped, and brushed blood all over it all.

This was true of the priests, too, which is an even harder pill to swallow as a woman beginning my journey into ministry work. (Well, official ministry work.) Skilled craftsmen made elaborate garb for the priests, particularly for the chief priest. Robes. Tunics. Ephod. Breastplate. Jewels set in extravagant settings. A turban. Holy underwear. The priests had to wear holy underwear so that everything on their bodies was "clean," in the ceremonial sense of the word. And the first thing Moses does when the men actually become to take "..."some of the blood that was on the altar, sprinkled it on Aaron and his clothes and on his sons and their clothes." (Leviticus 8:30)

It just seems so foreign to me. They spend all this attention to detail getting things just right, getting them absolutely perfect, everything is spectacularly new, and they sprinkle blood all over it. They throw blood against the sides of the altar. They put some on the horns of the altar and let it just run down. The Tabernacle hasn't even been used yet, and it's covered in blood!

And I, in the Lord's presence, am always trying to clean up...

What my mind says is that I should go before the Lord without blemish. Without stain. That if I've got some kind of mess on me, it's best to clean it up before I get to the altar. That if I'm planning on doing good work, I better look the part - I better look like the Lord's immaculate servant if I'm about to be so bold as to do His work among the people. His people. I spend much of my life trying to look like I can take care of myself, trying to look like I can take care of this holy thing God's given me. That is, if God has made me these holy clothes and called me to wear them, I want to keep them looking as pure as the day He gave them to me. I want to do justice to the Crafstmanship that has gone into this preparation.

Yet through the story of Aaron, I see that this is simply not the way. For a long while before this moment in Leviticus 8, God has made it clear that He has chosen Aaron to serve as priest. He's minced no words about the calling He's created in Aaron's life. Aaron will be His priest. But it is not until this moment, until the blood has been sprinkled, that Aaron is acceptable to serve in the presence of the Lord. And as the years go by, the holy clothes he wears will only continue to show blood as he works in the Tabernacle, as he offers the sacrifices of the people, as he comes before the Lord. More and more as the years go by, Aaron will be covered in blood.

If you've done much laundry in your life, you know there comes a point when blood just doesn't wash out. There will come a day when the holy robes are more blood than linen. And as much as I cringe at the thought of looking so impure, at the very idea of "ruining" this holy thing, I kind of hope the same is true for me.

It's not until I get a little blood on me, the sacrificial blood of the Lamb, that I am acceptable to do the Lord's work. He can put as much of a calling on my life as He wants, but until Jesus covers me, I am nothing. I am not worthy to be in His presence. And as time goes by, as I begin the work of the Lord, as I serve in the community in which He has placed me, that splatter is only going to get worse. I hope. I hope that the more I work for the glory of His name, the more I come into contact with the blood of the Lamb and the more it gets all over me until one day, I look up and discover I'm more blood than linen, more Christ than flesh. I think that's the mark of a tremendous ministry.

So I don't worry about going before the Lord without blemish; blood is no blemish. It's a mark of honor. It just depends on whose blood you're wearing. Are you wearing the blood of your own diligent work? Are you wearing the blood of others you've wounded along the way? Or are you wearing the sacrificial blood of the lamb that makes you worthy, in God's eyes, to serve? Have you got some kind of mess on you? If so, is it a mess you'd better clean up before coming to the altar or is it the kind of holy mess that qualifies you to be there in the first place?

The story of the Tabernacle still makes me cringe. I want things to be clean and crisp and pure. I like the idea of the lampstands and the altar and the table; they're harder to conceptualize as holy with blood all over the place. Yet it has always been God's plan that the blood is what makes them holy. Apart from the blood, they could only ever be beautiful. 

The same is true today. It is the blood, and only the blood, that makes us more than beautiful. It is the freely-given, poured-out, love-laced blood of the Lamb that makes us holy. And if that's what it is, splatter that blood all over this place. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Love

I'm spending Valentine's Day with my love, and it's kind of a cool feeling.

Now, those of you who know me are probably raising an eyebrow right now. You have a love? Why didn't I know about him? Yes, and no. I do, and not really. Read on, and you'll see.

And those of you who have been reading for long enough are probably rolling your eyes, if you haven't already browsed elsewhere, thinking This is going to be one of those cheesy single girl posts about spending the day with Jesus. Hardly. Those are cheesy. More importantly, they are misleading. I don't like the idea that God should just fill every vacancy in our lives, that we can pacify ourselves with more of Him. There's a very real longing, at least in me, there is, for love. And while God is all-loving, and I have a certain thing for my Savior, it does not satisfy this created longing. Let's not pretend that it does.

Yet God is in the very midst of it, as He always is.

I'll admit this is kind of a new thing for me. I've never had a valentine until this year. Have never really given much thought to it. There won't be any flower deliveries gracing my doorway. There won't be any chocolate waiting on the table. (Good thing, too. I'm allergic to chocolate.) For yet another season, my hands remain bare of jewelry. And still, I'm spending Valentine's Day with my love.

You see, I woke up this morning thinking about the empty spaces of love in my life. Thinking about the boys who have come and gone. Thinking about the ones I kept looking at who never gave me a second look. Thinking about the silly things I have done to turn some of them away. (Two years ago, as I wrestled to get my new bicycle in the back of a borrowed SUV, a tremendously cute, ring-less young man dropped his bags in the parking lot, right on the pavement, and came half-jogging over to help me. And I, in my incredibly independent, all-capable womanhood, said, "Naw. I got it. It's okay." When he persisted, so did I. "Really, I got this." He walked away, and I instantly kicked myself. Did I mention he was tremendously cute? I have got to learn to play a little more damsel.)

Anyway, I was thinking about these things and it's depressing. It can be, anyway. It brings back all the things I've ever told myself about why I'd never have a valentine. It brings back the messages I've believed that I wasn't worth loving, could never find love, could never be loved, because there is nothing lovely about me. Lies from a distant hollow. But I'm a girl, with this kind of emotional response built into me. It is what it is.

All of a sudden, though, before I could head down the singles' familiar road, before I grew violently angry at the news anchors on television for reminding me every five seconds what today is, before I decided to crawl back into bed and shut today off and wait for Sunday, a little flitter of something captivated my heart. And I was taken. Head over heels, absolutely in love love.

I caught a glimpse, in my mind's eye, or perhaps in my heart, of the man God has chosen for me. The man God is right now building up to be my husband, to be my better half. To have and to hold. To treasure and to cherish. To love. To be mine. The glimpse was so real that I could almost feel his hand holding mine. I could almost feel what it would be like to adorn these hands with jewels. I imagined what it must feel like to really get roses today, although any man of mine would know I would be torn between the traditional gesture of love and a more captivating flower, like a tulip or a lily. I imagined what it would be like to share a quiet dinner, a bit of dessert, and a still evening with one another. In an instant, I knew what it would be like to have this man in my life. So I smiled, and I reconsidered today. a day for love. I don't have one...yet. Not really. I don't have a love who will take me out to dinner tonight. I don't have a love who will leave work early to surprise me with a tender gift. I don't have a man who is going to kiss me goodnight or hold my hand for what seems like forever. But I hold the idea of this man fully in my heart, and so today is a day for love. I celebrate by making myself lovely. I celebrate by embracing the love to come in my life and by living today worthy of that tomorrow. By keeping myself pure, first and foremost; not soiling myself with an unworthy love. But also by keeping myself hopeful and open, I guess you might say. By refusing to let my mind, my heart, or my life turn away from the ache for love and poison this day before it even has a chance to be something. I'm using today to celebrate the love that will one day be mine, and by preparing myself to let him love me and to love him in return.

I celebrate today by remembering what love is, and dreaming of what love will be like. By knowing the loveliness God has created in me and reflecting on those qualities, all that I might grow them (and not diminish or dismiss them) in the waiting. I celebrate today by honoring the love that is to come in my life, by letting my heart be captivated by it, by letting it sweep me away. I celebrate by preparing myself for what is to come - in body, in heart, in spirit. In love.

So I'm spending this Valentine's Day with my love, for the first time in my life. And I can't wait to meet him some day and tell him this story.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I've been talking for the last couple of days about sin, confession, and apologies. But is it enough to simply say you're sorry? And in the same vein of that question, what about "Thank you"? Is it enough to just say thanks?

Yes and no.

Yesterday, I said it's not enough to show a changed life without an apology; it's also not enough to issue an apology without a changed life. You have to have the behavioral evidence that matches your words. Do you live like you're sorry? Or beyond forgiveness, do you live like you're changed? The same is true for thank yous. Thank you is enough when you live like you're thankful. And beyond the season, like you're humbled.

I'm one of those people who has struggled with this. Still do, if you want to know the truth. I always want to add that extra little touch to an apology or a gratitude, to show that I really mean it. To show that I really understand. For instance, I have recently found myself in a situation where I have needed people to say good things about me. (In the professional world, we call this "references.") It's something I've not really had to ask for before, and it was awkward. When those references paid huge dividends, I was immediately filled with gratitude (and attempted to make such known). I was also immediately filled with the desire to find a nice gift for these individuals to express my gratitude.

And then I stopped myself. Something felt instantly...wrong...about it for the first time in my life. I started thinking about the message I was really believing when I thought I had to reciprocate or go the extra mile. The following may or may not be true for you, but it is for me, and it's a pattern I want to stop. There are two messages I was listening to that steered me toward the extra mile.

First, that I cannot live in a lopsided world. I wanted things to balance out! For the most part, I live by the opposite side of this principle - I always try to give more than I receive. For the most part, that works out. So it offends my sensibilities when I seem to have received more than I have given. Hence my desire to quickly "settle the score." This is a problem because it leaves no room for grace. If I find an equal measure for all I am given, where does that leave me in the sight of God? I might start to think something so foolish as I have deserved my mercy. I might start to think there's a way to pay it all back. I might start to think it's as much, or more, about what I can put into it than what has been given to me. So I started thinking about a life without grace, and as much as it humbles me to consider myself in need of such a thing, it's an incredibly beautiful gift that I don't want to live without.

The thing about grace is that it is in grace where we feel the most love. If I don't allow you to give me beyond what I imagine, then I have simply bought your services. I have made a market exchange for them. That says hardly anything about you or I, except that we can be bought and sold. I don't like to think about people that way. I don't like to think about myself that way. (Although there have been times....never mind. That's another story.) That was the first message I was hearing as I considered what more I could do than a few simple words - that I was keeping myself from grace. And in that, from love. And I decided to pull back, say thank you, and let some people love me. As awkward as that feels.

Second, and closely related, I was hearing the message that maybe I don't consider myself worth that love. All of the messages of my life that have told me I'm not worthy came flooding back, and I found that I wanted to give a good gift to show that I am capable of awesome loving and therefore, somehow, worthy of what might look like the same. I didn't want people to feel like they were throwing their time away on me, or like it was a pity gift. I didn't want my heart to feel like it was a pity gift, with all of these feelings of unworthiness coming back over me. So I wanted to find a gift to show that whatever you invest in me, I can pay it back tenfold. Beyond your wildest imagination. And you won't feel bad loving me because I do have some redeeming qualities. 

Those are the thoughts I had with thank you, but they easily translate to sorries, too. What are the messages that sorries give us that make us want to do more than just apologize? Maybe it's the feeling that our words are not enough. That they have no merit to them. That falls back on what we think about ourselves, or maybe know about ourselves, that we are not the kind of people who have words that mean something, so we have to go above and beyond. Forget all that - let this be the time that your words mean something and be okay with that. Maybe it's a realization of lingering temptation. We know that whatever we did still lurks inside of us, maybe as a still viable option. It's hard to say we're sorry when we know we might just do the very same thing again. Forget that, too - let this I'm sorry be a reminder to yourself that this choice wounds people. It wounds us. Make your I'm sorry genuine by making it your own reminder.

There are a lot of reasons we're not content with merely our word. I don't know what yours are; these have been some of mine. Do you notice a common theme? They're all lies. They're all defensive. They are all guards against a heart that's wrestling with a bigger issue. I think that's why God tells us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. He knows when we start adding qualifiers, all we're doing is avoiding a heart-question we'd rather not answer. That's a dangerous precedent.

And you know what? I think the gift I give with simple words does not go unrecognized. I think it's greater than anything I could purchase from a store, or any investment I could make. It's the greatest investment - it's an investment in the relationship.

When I choose to say thank you and accept grace, I humble myself. It's something authentic, and whoever is on the receiving end of my thanks sees a softer side of Aidan. They see a more human side. They see a side that doesn't barter in a level world but can bow to grace and accept love. That makes it easier to love me again. We're building something here. When I choose to say thank you and not worry about my worth, I run with the gift. When I run with the gift, someone sees their investment pay off in real dividends, not in returned favors. When you see me doing the thing I've asked you to help me do, and succeeding at it, and loving it, and thriving, and able to give back from that place, that's a return on investment anyone will accept. That makes it easier to believe in me the next time. Again, we're building something. And when I make it such that you can love and believe in me, I open the possibility that I can love and believe in me. That's a pretty cool moment.

The same is true with sorries. When I choose to say I'm sorry and let my word stand, I show myself faithful and trustworthy - the very things I'd want you to see in me. You start to see that, whatever I've said and never meant, I meant this thing. And that makes it easier to trust me again. When I say I'm sorry and let that be enough, I hold myself to a higher standard. You see that higher standard. And you don't think less of me, at least not as much as you did, because you see that I"m working on it. And when I make it such that you could trust me and not think less of me, I open the possibility that I can trust me and not think less of me. That's cool, too.

Like I said, this only works if you have the behavioral manifestation to back it all up. If you're really sorry, say you're sorry and let that be enough. If you're really thankful, say you're thankful and let that be enough. A simple, honest word maximizes healing on both sides of the equation and invests in the relationship. We're building something here.

And that's very cool.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Yesterday, I began publicly what can only be a long season of confession and I argued that many of us have spent our lives trying to figure out (read: justify) our behavior, rather than repent of it. For me, I know I have a lot of apologies to make. Starting with God, and then myself, and then to the many people who have in one way or another been the object of my sinful indulgence.

That begs the question - how does one even apologize? How do you say you're sorry, especially when years have passed and lives have grown apart and you don't even talk to half of these people any more.

I used to think (or hope) it was enough to get my life on track, to make positive changes and be a better woman. The hope is that when you run into someone from your past, someone you owe an apology to, you can explain the incredible growth and change you've experienced, hold your present life up as an example, and sort of shove all the negative former things under the rug because look! You made something of yourself. You're a better man. You're a better woman. You're "okay." So all that other stuff? Forget about it. No need to worry.

The subtext here is that you want the people you've hurt to feel better about you. You don't want pain to cloud their memory, so you build a better story and make sure they know about it, so that when they think of you, they think of who you are today. And they're kind of proud, right? 

Yes, and no. It's dismissive and bordering on arrogant to concoct such a scheme. Because it leaves open the question as to whether you understand what you've done, or if you even care. It is a second offense because it tramples on the wounded heart in front of you, the very one you're hoping to abate. You boldly declare, "I don't care what I've done - look at who I am!" when the aching heart of the wounded still weeps over what you've done. And now, weeps all the more because you don't even acknowledge it.

It's not enough to change your life. You still, as hard as it may be, have to say you're sorry. You have to apologize to people. Without reasons or excuses, you have to own your mistakes and the significant hurt they may have caused. You have to look people in the eye and say, "I know. And I'm sorry." It doesn't have to be more profound than that. Try to make it so, and you risk devolving into bigger stories, which aren't helpful. It may feel better to pull people onto your side, to share your justifications and help them see why you did the things you did, but that just means now both of you have to carry your justification. (See yesterday.) It's just a mess. Stick with a simple "I'm sorry." Acknowledge what you've done, acknowledge your role in the event, and repent.

There is, as always, a caveat here: be careful. There are people who have successfully stuffed your wounds into their closets and are quite content to leave them there. They are prepared to be cordial, even friendly with you. They are prepared to forgive. As long as you don't bring it up. There are people who are unaware of what you think you've done to them, and to apologize might open a can of worms. In short, only apologize if the situation still exists between you. (Not in that it is ongoing, but in that is ever-present.) If every time you see this person, the tension is tangible, apologize. If neither of you have mentioned it in 20 years, find another way.

It is not your right, it is not your place, it is not your prerogative, even under the best of intentions, to lay open another's wound. Even if you're trying to heal it. Even if you're trying to soothe it. You do not have the right to re-open the injury.

Then how do you begin the healing process? How do you apologize when to do so would be injurious to the other party? 

Here's a technique that I appreciate: wrap your apology in gratitude. Everybody loves to be thanked. The person you've injured was likely trying to do something good in your life at the very same moment. They thought they were working for you, only to be met by your resentment or rage or refusal or whatever it happened to be that you met them with at the time. Think back on the season of your life in which you sinned against this person - what were they trying to speak into you? If you think hard enough, you'll find it. And start from there. Start by telling them how you recognize what they were to you in that season, what they were trying to do for you, who they were trying to be for you. Figure out how that affects you today, and share that insight with them. Take them back to that time by focusing on their role. This does two things:

First, it begins your apology. It demonstrates that you recognize that time for what it was, or what it was supposed to be, or what it could have been. It shows that you were just as engaged in what was going on as they were, and that you recognize them being there. It shows that you understand what was going on and that you were active and present, and that further, you understand them in that moment and are appreciative for their love and participation. 

Second, it invites them to gently enter wounded space. Maybe they don't want to talk about it. Maybe if you'd opened with, "Hey, remember that time I ______" they'd have tuned you out. But now, you've opened the door with the focus on them, and that allows them to re-enter that time, too. If they harbor any pain or questions about your role, this frees them to bring that up, without requiring them to do so. And when they do, stick with this. "I know. I was wrong. I am sorry." And if they don't? Drop it. Simple as that.

This approach works even if they were wrong, too. You don't have any high moral ground if you sinned "in the right" because you still sinned! They don't stand on lesser ground if they sinned, too. Aren't you approaching the subject precisely because of your sin? It doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. Maybe you're both wrong. Who cares? Go into an apology knowing that you were wrong, and don't expect to come out of it being right. 

I know. It's a lot to think about, and there's so much more I could say on this subject. But I think for now, I want to leave it at this. Although now that I think about it, I may have one final word on words for tomorrow... Stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Do you ever think about why you are the way you are?

Something a little different today, I guess. What follows is merely the beginning of my confession. (The majority of which, you may not be privy to.)

As years go by, I've spent a great deal of my life trying to figure out why I am the way I am, why I feel the way I feel, why I do the things I do...why I have done the things I've done. Everything starts somewhere, right? And the more I've thought about it, the more brokenhearted I've been by the foundation of so many things Aidan. Some things should simply never be. On the one hand, it is an invitation to grief, and I suppose I've done my fair share of that, although I am keenly aware of more grief to unfold in my rather young life. It's too great a burden some days to even mess with, so I've kind of been putting it off. I'd rather be broken than breaking, and that's the difference. If I just am how I am, I'm broken; to go any deeper than that is to break. It's awkwardly uncomfortable, and who has the time?

On the other hand, it's an invitation to justification, and I think I have accepted this with much too much complacency. I think, like most of us, I've been tricked into believing that figuring out why things are the way they are is enough. I think like most of us, I've believed that once we know why, we can let some things rest. Because I understand that this is the foundation of the grace we have for one another.

There are people in my life who have wounded me, to varying degrees. We all have them. The single greatest influence in my being able to forgive and to love them has been my understanding of their brokenness. When I trace back and figure out what it is that made them do the thing they did, from what pained area in their heart they were speaking from through word or action, it's easier (though not necessarily easy) to cut them some slack. From one broken soul to another, I get it.

And I have been on the receiving end of such grace, which I think is why it's so easy to cut myself that measure of slack. People with whom I have dared to dig around in the depths of my soul have come to see my brokenness, have shown me in story the way pieces fit together, have helped me to see what it is that causes this thing or that thing, and they have been gracious to write it off, declaring such a thing as "You had to. It was the only way." 


And no thanks. It is this same measure of grace for ourselves that keeps us from knowing true grace, from the One who will not merely write off our errors but will both release and redeem them. When you walk around with the baggage of your life and the justification, however solid that may be, that "that's just how it had to be. I had to," you forget the role you've played in your own story. You forget the brokenness that runs so deep you don't even see it any more. You start to live your life by justification, and if we're being honest, there's a reason to do just about anything. It's just no excuse.

When you live your life by justification, you're dragging around a lot of weight. Most of it doesn't have anything to do with you. You carry around the way things are, ready to show anyone who questions why things have to be the way they have to be. You carry around a world that's always making you do this or that thing that you don't really want to do. You have to carry it around - you have to carry every reason around - because if you don't, you make no sense. You're just a sinner. Just like everyone else.

How do you know you're living a life of justification? It's not so hard. If the more you tell your story, the more you leave yourself out of it, it might be a story of justification. If you find yourself in deep distress, lamenting the way things are but drawing the conclusion that it has to be this way, it might be a story of justification. If you live your life as everything the world has made you and can't see how it could be any different, it might be a story of justification. But here are the big two: if you tell your story without talking about the things you've done wrong and if, on the rare occasion you admit your faults, you feel no remorse, no regret, and maybe even laugh a little at your craftiness, you're living a life of justification.

And I promise it's eating you alive.

I don't want to spend my life carrying the rest of the story. I don't want to live in such a way that I have to justify myself, no matter how solid that justification may be. I'm tired of saying this is how things are, then spending my breath to convince the world this is how they have to be. And I'm tired of pretending I'm blameless. My sense of justification is keeping me from being justified. The measure of grace I want to have for myself is prohibiting His grace from falling down.

I'm not blameless. That doesn't mean I played a part in all the things that have happened in my life. That doesn't mean I caused, invited, or welcomed them. What it means is that in my daily life, in my reactions, in the evolution of my story, in the way I have responded and chosen to live, I have made some bad choices. I have made some errors. I have fallen short. I have sinned. And for far too long, I have let myself be okay with that because, hey, "I had to."

Screw it. I'm a sinner.

I have, in my life, chosen the lie over the truth. I have, in my life, chosen hate over grace. I have misdirected my anger and my rage at persons who deserved only my best. I have failed to try when I knew I could succeed, and I have failed to succeed when I have failed to try. I have sabotaged myself. I have sabotaged others. I have cursed, railed, and raved against things which I didn't even take the time to understand. I have hurt people who have only wanted to help me. I have turned away from the good things that were all but given to me. I have hated others. I have hated myself. I have hated my God with a venom that would shame a cobra. I have harbored bitterness. I have used people instead of loving them. I have taken instead of asked. I have subverted the system in favor of anarchy. I have been selfish. This is but a mere word vomit list of the failings that haunt my heart.

And to what end? I have caused others tremendous pain. I have hurt them emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. I have caused men and women to stumble. I have coerced them into loving me, or at least into playing into my drama. I have used up their reserves. I have drained myself of energies, of vitality, of life itself. I have sold myself short. I have let my voice be the loudest, not only in my head but in my heart. I have let the broken things define me, and as result, I have orphaned myself. I have given myself over to a place of isolation, without guidance, without care. I have abandoned my God. I have forsaken His grace. I have labored to remove myself from His story and turned my back on His will.

In short, I've made a mess of things and wrecked many, many people along the way. All while feeling justified about the whole thing because, hey, "I had to."

I'm not alone in this, which is why I dare to use this space today to share. There are so many among us who walk around with stories of justification, giving a bit too much grace to ourselves and shutting out the grace of God in the process. There are too many of us ready to excuse our own failings when we've yet to repent of them, saying, in essence, that it is we who forgive and not God. And we're miserable for it. Right?

My heart's been wrestling with this. I've taken my fair share of what the world has to offer; I'm not fond of it. But I've dished out my fair share, too, and I've been too ready to overlook all the evil I've done in this place. All in the name of the grace that I'm still looking for, despite all that I've given to myself. I owe a lot of apologies. To friends. To family. To people who have come into my life and back out of it, scarred by what I have done in those fleeting moments.

But I start with an apology to my God - for forsaking my need for His grace, for defending my fallen ways, for neglecting my broken heart, and for refusing to grieve. I apologize not for my brokenness but for my broken ways, and I beg for Him to break me.

And then, an apology to myself - for forcing this young woman to carry too big a weight for too many years, for fooling her into believing she could justify herself, for selling her short, for holding her back.

There's a lot of work to be done. That work starts now.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Holy Things

When God divided the tribes of Israel into their groups, He selected the tribe of Levi to be His most chosen men. It was they who would do the work of the Tabernacle - carrying it from place to place, setting it up, tearing it down, making sure that each time, the Tabernacle met the holy requirements of God's dwelling place. It sounds like an honor and yet, not really.

The Levites were not allowed to own their own land. They lived on God's land, on God's provisions. They couldn't build a camp for themselves. They couldn't leave a legacy on their own name. Everything they had was God's, and in a world that was suddenly becoming wealth-oriented, it was a tough spot to be. On top of that, the Levites did the work of the Tabernacle, but none of the work in the Tabernacle. Only a select few - the line of Aaron - could do the work in the Tabernacle, namely offering sacrifices, burning incense, coming before the Lord, entering His presence. The majority of the Levites? They couldn't even set eyes on the holy things.

As God lays out His law for the Tent, He provides very specific instructions for the way things are supposed to go. When it's time to pack up and move, it is the priests who go in and meticulously cover, in multiple layers, all of the holy items. The priests secure the holy things under blanket and leather and wrap to the apparatuses on which the holy things are to be carried. The priests make sure the carrying poles are set in perfect place. And when all is well and hidden, the Levites come in and do the heavy lifting. When they come to a new place, the Levites bring the holy things to rest, but it is the priests who uncover them once all common men have left the premises.

Kind of a tough pill to swallow. You spend your whole life toting 15,000+ pounds of Tabernacle, and you never get to see what lies inside. You know it's important. You know it's special. You're close enough you can touch it and yet, if you do, you will die. It's right before your eyes, but you never get to see it. And when you go home, you have only what God has given you and that can only increase the frustration you feel over not being able to see more of Him. Right? It's not a great gig. 

But today is not really that different. Not for most of us. Oh, there are times in my life I have seen the holy things. It's really cool; I'll just be honest. Hopefully, you've had those moments, too. You catch a glimpse of something of God, and it's overwhelming. Every ounce of your body feels it as the vision hits your eyes. Holy is an ache that I can never quite describe.

Most of us, though, have these moments few and far between. It's much more likely that we're spending our lives toting the Tabernacle, doing the work of the Tent and wondering what that little holy thing is like. We're setting things up. We're making sure they're right. We're carrying, caring for and creating a holy place without so often, if ever, seeing what's actually going on in there.

I remember thinking something like this when I compiled some of my final stats for my chaplain program in December. In the course of four months, I had contact with 440 patients, which does not count family members, community members, colleagues, and staff. That is 440+ opportunities for holy, and you know what? I cannot quantify or even qualify one overtly holy thing in all of that, even though I know such things were there. Even though I sensed their presence. Even though that's what I was working toward. I was carrying the burden of making a place for God. I was caring for the opportunity of His presence. I was creating a space in which God might be able to work. Something holy was going on, but only God knows what that is.

That's the place where most of us spend our lives - laboring for the holy with such limited experience of the holy. We just don't get to see all the things we do for God's kingdom. We don't get to see all the fruit. For those of you in ministry - formal or informal - you kind of understand these moments. You do something totally normal and routine, completely blah, for the hundred millionth time, having never heard a word about it. Then you get that one little voice that tells you what it meant to them. It doesn't seem anything to you any more; you've had so many of these moments that you almost forget them. All of a sudden, however, it's holy again. And you start to wonder what other holy things you've allowed for without knowing it, just by carrying, caring for, and creating a space.

It's no easy burden. It's a heavy weight. More than 7 tons of Tabernacle. Hundreds of miles. Thousands of steps. Nowhere to go but where God has led you, nothing to have but that which He has given you. Nothing of yourself, everything of God, and aggravatingly, the holy things so often remain under wraps. Like I said - it's not a great gig.

But it's incredible.

To those who wonder what their ministry means - again, whatever you ministry is, formal or informal, obvious or a little obscure - take heart. Work diligently. There's a reason God has put you in the service of this place. Labor for the Lord's presence. Create a holy space. We are God's chosen people. You are God's chosen person.

We all want to do the holy work. But the truth is that most of us have been chosen only to work for the holy. We may never see what it is of God that's just under our noses, but we know it's there. And that's enough. We make space for Him to do the Holy, and what an incredible gift that is to the community of God.