Thursday, May 29, 2014

a letter to an angry child

Dearest Angry Child,

I hear you.

I hear your loud words, your cries of distress, your accusations, and your frustration with your circumstances.

I also see you. 

I see your eyes rolling, your fists clenched, your foot stomping, and your red face of ire.

I have been in your place, and I know what it's like. I do, really. I have had words that exploded from my mouth before I was able to catch them. I have lost self-control, had my pride offended, and wanted to make someone pay for the offenses that have wounded me.

Sometimes I am surprised by your outbursts, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I suppose. All God's children have to walk this road of anger to learn what to do with it, and who we want to be when the tempest of our own soul is stirred into a frenzy of fierce emotion.

So let's get down to business, sweet child of mine. I cannot walk this path for you. All I can do is decide who I will be when you engage me with your own rage.

I will not yell back at you. I will calmly ask you to lower your voice, or instruct you to go calm down somewhere else before addressing me again.

I will not take the blame. You are mad things didn't work out, people won't do as you please, or that you can't have exactly what you want. As the parent I am often the bearer of bad news for you. Even so, I can't change the rules of life for you, make people do what you want them to do, or stop the world from ruining your plans today.

I will point you to repentance. If you lashed out at people, you need to make amends. The people you hurt are God's children, and therefore worthy of love. You were not loving when you yelled, threw things, and fought with words and fists. Apologize to them and God, and ask Him to help you. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and your life can be changed by the discipline of repentance and prayer.

I will help you find a solution. When you find the self-control to have a rational discussion, I would love to talk about your options. Every problem has a solution, although the consequences of your choice may not be as appealing as you would like. Welcome to life, dear child. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I will love you no matter what. Should you choose to let anger win the battle, I will still love you. If you continue to point your finger at me or someone else, I will still love you. If you won't repent, I will still love you. But know now, anger is an unwise and lonely way to live your life. When you decide you want my help to be set free, I will be here for you.

In the end, dear child, you must learn to discern which are the battles you have been created to fight. You will learn to fight for God's goodness and His glory. Humility will regulate your prideful tendencies. You are God's warrior, created to stand firm in His righteousness, and He doesn't want you to lose your mighty calling to do that.

I am grateful and proud to be your mom. It is an honor to walk along with you as you learn to love and make peace in the midst of battle. In many ways, mothering you well has been a battle ground of my own soul, and I would not know God as I do were it not for you. When the day comes that you strike out on your own, I will raise a banner of praise to God for all He has done in both of us both along the way.

I know you are still angry, but I also know that this too shall pass. When it does, the love will remain, and all the drama will have been a worthwhile adventure in learning grace and mercy. So hang in there, kiddo.

I love you,

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." -Ephesians 3:14-19 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

no more rearview mirror faith in the benevolence of God

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
 and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you."
-Isaiah 60:1-2

"If it had been a snake, it would've jumped out and bit ya."

That's what my dad used to say to me when I was young and couldn't find an important something-or-other. The sought-after prize was always right where I had looked, and yet I couldn't see it without his own hand to point it out.

It was true, if that thing had been a snake, my hand would have needed a bandage.

Gazing backward today, I see the days of the past were always full of troubles, and the nights often felt much too long, and far too dark. I looked and looked for hope and goodness but I never found any that could send my fear fully away when the darkness pressed in on me.

But all these days and decades later, God's hand is pointing it all out to me.

In Eve-like fashion, I always seemed too busy wondering how everything could possibly work out like God said it would to notice Him standing there holding a gift that would comfort me as I waited for His good plans to emerge.

So I took the bait and missed the truth and ate the sweet fruit of fear.

Today, looking in the rearview mirror of life, I see a kind and loving God weaving the years into a beautiful display of His goodness, and I see a woman suffering unnecessarily because she refused to be comforted by the truth:

God is good and God is here.

Even when *here* is full of a restless waiting and watching for any sign of God's plan to emerge. Because *here* so often is a trying place to live by faith.

I am doing all I can to stay focused on what's happening right here:

In the past few weeks I've moved every piece of furniture and art in the living room, painted the porch, repainted the living room, baked countless treats for friends and family, bought and sold several pieces of furniture on craigslist, and have begun the process of moving my daughter's bedroom to the playroom. I've played countless games of Scrabble and Skip-Bo, taken walks, gone to the children's museum, and spun the pedals on the elliptical machine. I've submitted an essay for publication, planned other writing projects, read multiple books, worked on planning a new Mom's group for the church, sent a bazillion emails and texts, and written discussion sheets for my Tuesday women's group.

Somewhere in the middle of all this right here, God is rising. If it seems difficult to see it today, I trust that is only because my eyes are too dull to see. His goodness is so close it could jump out and bite me, but it won't do that, of course.

There is nothing to fear, dear soul. Look for His hand pointing and His glory reigning. Wait and see, the Lord is good.

Monday, May 26, 2014

when motherhood means messy gratitude and building your true home

The moon hung itself high above Austin when a little eight year-old boy crawled in my bed Friday. The stillness of 4 am lay on our house like the comfort of an old friend, finally come home.

"I can't sleep," was all he said.

I made space for him and settled myself into a new, cooler section of the sheets. The fan whirred gently overhead and all was peaceful, but even so, I couldn't get comfortable.

"I don't think I can sleep now, either," I whispered.

"Mama, I feel like I'm going to throw up," he moaned.

Then it began. Every parent in the history of the world has done this dark-of-night duty at some point. The rushing to bathrooms, the horrendous cleaning, the eager comforting, the agony of wishing you could make it all better, right here, right now. It's never fun, and it's always awful.

After about an hour of misery, he lay weak and wrung out on the bathroom floor. I sat on that odd little bench the builder put in our bathroom thirty years ago, and I stared at his golden hair, flushed cheek, and little turned-up nose.

From deep within my exhausted lungs, I felt it rise. It streamed through my heart down my arm, and flowed into my fingers that swirled endless circles on his weary back.


My mouth opened and I spoke quietly over this boy who was woven from pieces of my own soul, "I will stay with you until you sleep. I won't leave you. I promise."

It is a privilege to be the one who holds his head in her lap until the sickness passes. To have him need me, want me, and feel loved by me digs down into the difficult soil of my life and builds a home where we can all abide together in peace.

In the morning I mopped the floors, scrubbed the toilets, and washed the sheets clean while he slept. When he was better, I handed him a glass bottle of Coke and his happiness was only equaled by my own relief that the worst had passed.

After lunch I sliced juicy peaches to make a crisp and then grabbed another cup of coffee. I was tired, I was spent. I was frustrated with silly nothings because my need for sleep had left me frayed and dry. But I was home, and that meant everything was going to be okay.

Tonight, my son will sleep comfortably in his own bed. He will gently snore in the top bunk, and wake up eager for books and Legos before breakfast. In a month he will have a difficult time remembering the details of his night on the bathroom floor. In a year or two, he may not recall how he lay his head on me and sobbed, or how delicious a sip of water was when he could finally keep it down.

That awful night will melt and dissolve into the mysterious thing called the past. Its scenes and colors will bleed into yesterday and tomorrow, creating a kaleidoscope of time and life. Although the details will be forgotten, he will carry the imprint of it all deep within himself. In the hazy shadows of his memories there will be a mama who stayed close by his side, a home full of love, and hope for a happy ending.

I will carry it, too; but in a different way, I suppose. My treasure will be remembering that he was once my little boy, that I was once his whole world, and that taking care of him brought me home

I feel it now, again, rising this time above the sadness of babies that grow up and time that passes too quickly. It flows from my own messy, colorful past and into the bright light of the unknown future.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

how to have faith for difficult children

Some days there is an awful lot of growling and shouting around our house. Feet stamp as a violent, "No!" is declared. Fists curl and clench and the anger is thick enough to cut with a knife. Quiet apologies and reconciliation come (much) later, but first we must wade through the deep swampy places of emotional, angry kids.

I do my best to be patient, to be firm, and not to take it all too seriously, but a mama can only bear so much drama of this sort. There were a few weeks last month that I wondered what on earth we should do to keep them from killing each other.

Then, one Thursday night at our community group, a friend randomly mentioned this story in Luke 13,

Then [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

She told me that she had a fig tree once that wouldn't bear fruit, too. When she asked an arborist about it, she was amazed at what he told her to do.

"Dig a trench around it," he echoed the words of Jesus. "Fertilize it, and give it a year. You have to draw the roots down deeper so that it will produce figs. Fig trees are notoriously shallow-rooted if you don't do that."

She nearly fell over. Jesus and arborists both know a lot about plants, apparently.

As I listened to her story, I could hear the echo of God behind them, answering my prayers for my children. Patience, time, faithful tending will bear fruit in our children.

"Dig around your children," God advised. "Compost the mess of their mistakes, water their lives with prayer, and fertilize their souls with love. Have patience. Have faith. Wait and see what I do."

Our children need deeper roots. They must grow into loving Jesus. One decision to share or forgive or let an offense go isn't all it will take. One moment of wise counsel from a parent won't be the last one they need. But bit by bit, situation by situation, they will grow deeper roots over time.





It's all going to be okay....

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

some books for your summer reading list

Yesterday I wrote the numbers 1-100 on notebook paper titled "Summer 2014 Book List" and taped them up on the inside of the pantry door. We checked out fifty books from the library last week. The stack of books on my bedside table is shrinking at long last because I have time to actually read my own books. For two hours yesterday, I sat cozy on the sofa with all four children, a big bowl of popcorn and a new read-aloud. They begged me not to stop reading when it was time to start dinner.

The summer reading frenzy has begun. I couldn't be happier.

So, turn off the tv, ban electronic devices, go sit under a big, shady tree and disappear into the pages of a new book. Make a list like I did and have a party when you get to 100. You won't regret it. Your kids won't either. This could be the summer they learn to love to read for fun! My children have all gotten "hooked" at different ages and by different kinds of books. It takes time and exposure to lots of different literature for a person to truly learn to love books.

But once they fall in love with words, it's positively magical.

If you are looking for some new book ideas, here are a few of our old book-friends mixed with new-found book-loves. I linked them all to Amazon, so you can read a little about them to see if they look interesting to you. 

Happy Reading my friends!

Picture Books:
Blackout by John Rocco
Have You Seen My Cat by Eric Carle
Tallulah's Tutu by Marilyn Singer
Is Your Mama a LLama? by Deborah Guarino
Naughty Little Monkeys by Jim Aylesworth
Turkey Bowl by Phil Bildner
I Scream Ice Cream: A Book of Wordles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Eloise by Hillary Knight
Easy as Pie by Cari Best
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Lentil by Robert McCloskey
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
Timothy and the Strong Pajamas by Virginia Schwarz
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson 

Chapter Books (read-alouds we have done are marked with a *):
*Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgrin
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong
The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Tucket's Travels by Gary Paulsen
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
*Anne of Green Gables (the whole series) by L.M. Montgomery
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
*The Saturdays (the whole series) by Elizabeth Enright
*The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
*The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Books on my bedside table:
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Telling of the Bees by Peggy Hesketh
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith
A Million Little Ways by Emily P Freeman
Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

Books to Share with the Kids:
God's Design for Sex Series by Stan and Brenna Jones

Monday, May 19, 2014

what the words do to me

My head began to swim and all the light around me transformed, becoming a little too bright the other day as a new acquaintance and I stood and chatted. Why did this person want to know so much about the details of my life? Then she poked really hard at my vulnerable soul by stepping into the territory of my writing.

“How do you find time to write?” she ripped into my soul’s most precious deep place.

I'm asked this often, and I struggle with the answer. I must offer up my soul as a sacrificial lamb of sorts to explain myself properly.

You might as well ask me how I can care for my children or long for the feel of my husband’s arms encircling my body. Deep in mysterious places of my soul there are words that grow and multiply, rising in number, higher in my chest until they force out my breath, anchor my hope, and name my fears.

If I don’t release the words out into the world I am afraid they will suffocate me.

All day I manage the needs of others. Children need me to feed them meals, find lost items, and google “space exploration happening right now”. Friends ask to meet for coffee, email me for recipes, and stop by to drop off necessary items for who-knows-what. My husband and I go out on dates, plan trips, and organize baseball and ballet schedules.

But the words get sharper when I push them down. Stifling them so that I can attend to my responsibilities creates a jagged blaze in my soul. The words slice through my good intentions to do other things like a scalding knife through icy butter. I snatch up the computer while the chicken bakes, as kids play whiffle ball in the backyard, or after everyone has gone to bed and the walls of the house whisper that it’s safe at last to write.

Once the words are on the page I am a woman set free. But freedom can be relative and mine only lasts for a breath or two.

The newly written words are weaponized out in the wide world of opinions.They haunt me with their weakness. They are like children I have not properly tended. My inadequate parenting of them may result in a meaningless destiny should they lack viability in the critical world.

My words taunt me like bullies on the playground. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will rip you to pieces. They shout from the computer screen, they scream on the page, they chant as I drift off to sleep at night.

“Who will want to read us? What real purpose can we serve in this world? We won’t make cure what ails you or the world. We may distract for an instant, but then life will move on. You have born us for futility.”

These cruel friends of mine nag and harass until I press the truth into this darkness my own mind has created:

Life can’t move past words. Words birth life. It is not I who have make them, but they who make me. They are the fiber of love, the intangible light of life, and destiny’s breath over creation.

As I cut the strings that hold the words tightly to me, I can feel the new words begin to shape and form. 

The rise begins again and there is always more to write. Always.

Friday, May 16, 2014

baptized in community

It's Friday morning I am clearing the kitchen counters, filling the sink with clean, soapy water, and scrubbing every surface.

I am smiling while I work.

Because, if you can imagine it, while a few dozen people gathered at our house to discuss real gospel life on Thursday night, a Pepsi sprinkler of sorts baptized the cabinets and counters, vases ad canisters with its sticky sweet liquid.

A two liter bottle can cover some serious square footage when it violently explodes.

Our poor friend who was unlucky enough to open the offending container was covered in soda, and it dripped from the ceiling, splattered the light fixture, and left its mark on every. little. thing.

If the purpose of our home was to be clean and perfect, I suppose I would have been angry or frustrated by this unusual event. But that's not the reason we live here.

We live here for Him. These walls exist to be hammered with grace and to hold up an endless ceiling of His sheltering mercy. The floors that pooled with fizzy brown liquid have but one purpose: to lead beautiful feet to His will.

How could we consider the gospel to truly be good news here if a messy accident ended the joy of community?

No, this gathering of Jesus people is a true baptism. This is where we choose to love one another more than our free time, our precious possessions, and our right ignore God's voice ringing out in the lives of our friends.

"L'importnant c'est d'aimer." The most important thing is to live love. Lest we forget that, it's still written right there above the kitchen table, all strewn with appliances and odds and ends. When we live those words, they become a banner over our home, and the song over our lives.

The cabinets are open, freshly scrubbed, and drying in the new morning air. Our mismatched plates and cups, chipped casserole dishes, and old family heirlooms are visible for all to see. There are treasures and useless lids alike housed behind these doors. Some bright new morning, when this world passes into memory and a new world beckons with full and vibrant communion with God, all these trifles of our old life will vaporize into ancient history. 

We will stand before God and He will show us the truth about how well we loved Him here. It would be a shame to let our love of things come before our love of Him, and we would surely regret it in His glorious presence.

So we let people in, we open our arms to the mess and the accidents, and we swing wide the doors of our lives and expose both the beautiful treasures and the broken bits of ourselves. This is the baptism we need, the one that rids us of our selfishness and frees us from the smallness of living here for all the wrong reasons.

It's Friday morning and I am grateful for Pepsi and for people and for the love that brings new color into our hazy world. I've been baptized afresh, and I am a new woman today.

To our Thursday night friends, I just want to say three things: I love you guys. Thank you for loving us so very, very well. See you next time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

when every day is a fresh awakening

I woke up at 5 am this morning and couldn't get back to sleep.

My mind was full of projects, restless ideas, hopes unfulfilled, and dreams longing to materialize. How do we navigate this path from mind to heart to hands, and tailor the translucent fabric of faith into tents of righteousness?

In the early morning light, I settled onto the sofa with ancient words that sustain the saints and breathe hope over generations, a promise to those who feed the hungry and love the broken:

"You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
Isaiah 58:11-12 

The faithful work of living the gospel makes space for God's people to dwell in peace. 

One by one, my children emerged from their bedrooms wiping sleep from their eyes. They took the places closest to me, resting heads and bodies against mine. I am their place of peace, my presence helps them ease into the day, and accept the task of waking to a world full of uncertain prospects.

I ran my fingers through their hair, my memory trailing back to tiny sleeping bodies resting in my arms. In the early morning stillness, I used to rock infants and memorize the curl of cowlicks and the turn of ears. I studied eyelashes and traced their mouths with my eyes, storing away love in the deep places of my soul.

Treasures lie in these kinds of quiet places. In the stillness, the constancy of divine threads bind us to God's will to rebuild and restore His kingdom. 

In many different ways today, people will minister to neighbors, pray for the weak, extend their hands to the needy, and call out to the faithful with encouragement. These merciful acts of love trace our memories, and yesterday and today become links in the chain of God's eternal plan for the redemption of the world.

It's been hours since I woke up, and years since God awakened my soul. I don't know how long it will be until I am able to sleep again.

I lay my soul against His body and ease myself into the uncertain prospects of this broken world. He is my place of peace, and after the labor is done I will find rest in His love.

A new day has begun in Him again. It is full of mercy. The path is cleared for us, and the way has been made clear by His sacrifice.

We have only to follow His lead....

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

why i may never be cool

this photo makes me look cooler than i am in real life

You only get so many chances to be cool in life.

In 1993, I was seventeen years old, and I wanted a tattoo. But I couldn't decide between a dolphin or the earth (it was the early 90s), and I remained frozen in my indecision and tattooless. Missed opportunity #1.

In the midst of lovesick restlessness, I dyed my hair with pink hghlights in mid-2000. I was wickedly cool and I met all kinds of counter-culture Los Angelinos for about two months. Then Mr. Fantastic and I thrillingly admitted our love for one another on a late-night phone call. He is what's known as "square and conservative" style-wise, so I quickly went platinum before he flew in for our first date. I feared rejection too much to risk staying pink (and since he thought the platinum was a little freaky, I was right.) Missed opportunity #2.

But we fell madly in love, so I'm going to let that one go.

On our honeymoon I tried to talk him into a fun night at the tattoo parlor. He was pretty sure he would lose his job at the church if he came back all tatted up, so we didn't do it. (He was probably right, but how ridiculously cool would that have been- to be fired from a church for a tattoo?) Missed opportunity #3.

Between Boy 1 and Boy 2 (which means a few short months in the year 2004) I decided to get my nose pierced, because I needed to shake off the provincial label of "new mom". But when I discovered I was pregnant, I was so overwhelmed I ditched the idea. I decided I needed counseling and a nap before I took a day off from nursing babies to go to the body piercing shop. Missed opportunity #4.

But now everyone has pink hair. Everyone has a tattoo. Nose piercings are as common as PBJs in the school lunch boxes of America.

Last week my mom texted me to tell me about the Harley club she's joining. So basically, my mom is now cooler than I am.

What's left, really? I can't think of a single way to break the mold and rebel against the mainstream. In fact, when I look around me at the colorful skin of the people of Austin, it's possible that not bearing a tattoo is so counter-cultural that my clean skin is the weirdest thing about me.

I blame the internet for ruining coolness, really.

I keep telling all my friends who have beautiful, original tattoos to be very careful. Do not post a picture of it online. Don't let the tattoo artist pin your original artwork on his Pinterest boards. Because if he does, and some famous blogger copies it and then writes a post about her newest ink love, you will show up at a family reunion and find out that Aunt Mabel has the exact same tattoo- and so does her whole quilting circle- and then what will you do?

Dear reader, should you have broken the cool code and found some new way to be original and different, you are holding the holy grail. You are like Frodo, carrying the ring of great power. Keep it secret, keep it safe. Don't throw it into the fire of internet flame and lose your edge. Don't miss your chance to be cool.

For those of us who fear never finding the secret sweet spot of coolness, maybe there is hope after all.

Here's my plan: Jesus. I don't know anyone who is more counter cultural than He is. Consider the following:

Go ahead, just try to find a better event planner than Jesus. He made wine out of water and he created feasts from one tiny lunch. He had jokes about logs in your eye and turned funerals into resurrection parties.

Jesus also went against the grain of society's trappings. "Hey, if someone slaps you, let them slap you again." "Want to be awesome? Be the last, least, and lowest." He worked on the Sabbath. He ate with the outcasts, loved the unloveable, and was arrested for committing no crime whatsoever. Our Lord was immeasurably cool.

He was the life of the party and broke all the rules that were unfair and unnecessary. Then He fulfilled all those rules and redefined them into awesomeness. You have to be the epitome of cool to pull off that kind of thing.

So, be cool, like Jesus. Maybe I should get that tattooed on my forearm, calf, or collarbone. If I do, I'm not telling anyone, though. Because I'm cool like that.

Interrupted: Week 5 {pgs. 139-168}

Well, this is the final week of our discussion of Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

I truly believe that the health and success of God's Church is in our hands as we steward our own lives. As I read this section of the book, I kept thinking about that little rhyme we said as children. Remember how we would hold our hands and make a little church saying, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and here are the people."? Then we opened our hands and our fingers wiggled around? Or if we put our fingers on the outside, we would have an empty church and say, "where are the people?" when we opened up the doors. 

This book had been a "what can I do about the question, 'Where are the people?'" catalyst in my Tuesday night group. It's thrilling to keep exploring that together.

A lot of churches are looking around asking where the people are, and their best hope for their congregations lies in the position of their members' hearts to live on mission. There is a high call for every believer, to let Jesus work through our lives to seek and save the lost. People are seeking peace, hope, and purpose, and the gospel offers them all of that and more.

May we be a people who go in love. May we be a people God uses to heal a hurting world. May we be worthy of the label Christ follower, and may our churches become places of great influence in our cities.

Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the love of His life. Open the doors, go into the world, and make disciples, because there are all the people.

Interrupted: Week 5 {pgs. 139-168}

general summary:
This is where the rubber meets the road in Hatmaker’s story, and they begin a real church plant with real people and a real plan. They begin the grand adventure with a small group driven missional body of believers, and present a grand challenge to us as believers. Will we make the Bride of Christ more radiant? Will we sit back and let professional ministers bear the full weight of building God’s kingdom? Or will we strategically reach the people around us with God’s love?

Excerpts to discuss/ Discussion questions:

“Out of Kindergarten”
{from p. 142} “It’s not magic; it’s hard work by vested people who share a vision for God’s kingdom in their city. An influential church is nothing more than a bunch of believers who get in the game and live on mission. This principle holds at fifteen and fifteen thousand people alike.”

{from p. 144} “Missional at its core means “sent”. It is the opposite of “come to us.” So many believers have selected their pet concept of the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” but neglect the prerequisite instruction: “Go.” Going is the noble history of the Trinity. God sent Jesus to dwell among fallen humanity- not to visit, not to remain separated, not to detach, but to immerse. He was the Supreme Missionary to mankind, submerged in culture, among the people He wanted to rescue. Upon Jesus’ resurrection, God sent the Spirit from the heights of heaven to the heart of every believer, an indwelling.”

{from p. 145} “The church is one of the few organizations in the world that does not exist for the benefit of its members. The church exists because God, in his infinite wisdom and infinite mercy, chose the church as His instrument to make known His manifold wisdom in the world.”

How central is this idea of living on mission in your own life? Do you view the church in this way, or in a different way? What do you feel is the purpose of your church in your life, in the city?

“Offering a Tangible Kingdom”
{p. 149} “No one better than you can love your wayward brother. One decent sermon cannot influence a disoriented person in the same way your consistent presence in her life can. While organized religion provokes mostly skepticism for the average post-modern, a genuine relationship with a Christ follower on mission can reframe the kingdom, making a fresh perception possible. Then the person discovers the church is not a place you go- it’s a people you belong with. The building is simply the place you celebrate God together..”

Are there people you are loving like this? Who has God placed in your life to reach with genuine relationship?

“Right to Remain Silent”
{p. 152} “Paul presented the most superior posture we can assume. “I am your slave.” What if your neighbor came to understand that you wanted to be his servant? How would my colleague soften to the gospel if I set my agenda aside and became her constant slave? How would our communities be transformed if our churches became servants to our cities? If at every turn believers labored for others as if they were their masters, we could not be ignored for long.”

{from p. 157} “If we’re going to win people, then let’s win people. We do whatever it takes- within the boundaries of law and neutral practices without moral significance- to attract people to the glorious mercy of Jesus. When love regulates our liberty, we create a context to share the gospel and have it actually received. If people are offended by God Himself, by His authority, His word, His Son, His history, there is less we can do about that. They will ultimately have to wrestle with Him.But if they are offended by our representation of God, then we’ll answer for our arrogance. We can help that, and we better had.”

How can we become like servants and slaves in our communities? How do our beliefs about God and His kingdom factor in to those scenarios? How can we authentically represent Him without offending people with our own arrogance?

“In the City, For the City”
{from page 163} “If an endless array of bible studies, programs, church events, and sermons have left you dry, please hear this: Living on mission where you’ve been sent will transform your faith journey. At the risk of oversimplifying it, I’ve seen missional living cure apathy better than any sermon, promote healing quicker than counseling, deepen discipleship more than Bible studies, and create converts more effectively than events..”

What do you need most from God? Do you think that living on mission, taking the lower place and serving those around you can become the doorway to healing, favor, breakthrough, or deliverance for you? If so, what is your plan, how will you proceed from here?

Monday, May 12, 2014

what to do when you feel insecure in your marriage

A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.
Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14:25-27

After thirteen years of marriage and twenty years of friendship, Mr. Fantastic and I pretty much know our weaknesses and strengths. We know the ways we tend to fall short for the other person. Likewise, we know how to rock the other person's world.

We also know our love is securely founded on a greater Love that steadies us through the storms of life.

Even so, when confrontation comes, when I prove to be slightly to the left of exactly what he needs/wants/prefers, a trap forms and I must choose whether or not to let my confidence be ensnared in the teeth of fear.

Let's be clear: my husband loves me as I am. He accepts me wholeheartedly and can even roll with the brokenness I bear. But because he wants to see me made whole, he is brave enough to stand and fight the dragon of my insecurity. Or occasionally, because he is merely a man, careless words or mistaken meanings open old wounds. If I hold my pain and insecurity too close and precious, these moments can feel like he is purposely fighting me. 

This is how the trap grows.

Sometimes marital strife has nothing to do with your spouse, and is really all about you and the cross. In actuality, the great internal battle for my soul can only be fought by my own submission to God's word.

The vices of criticism, blame, and rejection, as comforting as they can be, can only be slain by fasting from their slanderous voice. Other words must replace them, and there is only one true source of truth and wisdom that can fan the flame of of the Holy Spirit within us.

My security does not come from the strength of my marriage, the faithfulness of my husband, or my ability to please the people around me. In Christ alone I stand secured by His choice to love me unto death. What man can ever reject me now that I have received God's favor?

One day in His word at a time, one choice to believe the gospel at a time, breath after breath of grace over our insecurity, this is how a marriage becomes founded in Christ. This is how love grows and how we become like Him.

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
-1 Peter 1:13-16

Saturday, May 10, 2014

mother's day is all about baseball and what we're becoming

Today I sat watching Boy 1 swing his bat through the chain link backstop with a grimace on his face. His left thumb is injured slightly, and this game is more about learning to play through the pain than it is about anything else. Mental toughness has never been my strong suit, and as he squared up to the plate, I prayed silent pleas to heaven that he didn't inherit my lack of grit in the face of difficulty.

That's probably a prayer I should have thought of eleven years ago, when God breathed the boy's gene pool into existence. Yes, I should have asked for gritty mental toughness and thousands of other things I didn't know I would wish my children could be blessed with, like patience, self-control, wisdom, and a knack for cleaning toilets.

When I was pregnant, I mostly just ate peanut butter and chocolate chips on a spoon and prayed my babies would slept through the night by week four. (FYI: They didn't.)

The truth is, I am just like that baseball-loving kid out there, hoping for a ball placed deliciously in the sweet spot, or a wild one three feet over my head that sends me walking to first base. If I can't have glory, I'll take a merciful back door out of the spotlight, thankyouverymuch

But life has very few of those kinds of pitches. Most of the time we get ordinary balls tossed our way and when we swing for the fences, we pop-up a foul ball instead.

The swinging changes us, though. We swing and we swing, until one day we realize we are becoming a hitter, like my son is becoming a hitter. Right now he's becoming a hitter who can swing bravely even when he's scared and hurting.

I'm still becoming, too. We all are. Life is all about who we're becoming, and because of God's mercy, we're becoming something glorious. We swing and swing through the days and we become patient and wise, kind and bold, brave and grateful, because His love changes us as we play through the pain.

Happy Mother's Day to all the becomers out there. Well done, beautiful women of greatness. 

You leave your vanity at the door, let go of your right to sleep, and potty train with brave hearts. You sing Amazing Grace at bedtime, do dishes until your hands prune permanently, and hurry home from the office and it makes a difference in the lives of your children. You sew precious lovies back together, clean up vomit, and rush out for the "right kind" of cereal when you want to sit for twenty minutes and pin pointless things on Pinterest instead. You give pep talks before school dances, wisely pray for certain boys to stay away from your daughter (or vice versa), and navigate the difficult world of the internet and teenagers with great faith and energy.

You deserve a parade, but all I can offer is this blog post. You are dazzling and your children will never realize how blessed they are until they have children of their own. But then it won't even matter to you because then you'll have become a grandmother and you will be happily holding your grandbabies.

Or so I hear. For now, I'm staring through the chain link and I'm thinking that this boy of mine has every bit of what it takes to hit that ball. And his mama is never going to stop swinging with him, because she's decided to become gritty and tough at long last.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

how to survive when your kids love to hate you

There are days a mama just can't win, no matter how well she does her job. For instance:

I cook broccoli, and they hate me.

I give her an orange bowl instead of a pink one, and she hates me.

I assign them chores, and they hate me.

I tell them they can't go play until their schoolwork is done, and they hate me.

I won't buy him an iPhone, and he hates me.

I can't make it snow like Elsa, and they hate me.

Okay, maybe they don't actually hate me, but that's how it can feel when rational, kind parenting is doled out and the immature response is either a kicking, screaming mess or a pouting, resentful wretch.

{I promise you, dear children, I did not give birth to you as a part of a diabolical Machiavellian scheme to rule the worlds of four small human beings.}

These children want unlimited access to the sugared-up spoiling comfort of an easy life. They want me to bake cupcakes daily and string a banner over their lives that says " Congratulations! Life Will Never Ask More Of You Than You Are Willing To Give".

But if I parented with the sole goal of making their life easy, they would never know what real love is.

My motto has become, "I'm sorry. No matter how angry you get, this will not change. You can be happy or sad about it, but you will have to accept reality."

Then somehow, magically it seems, they adjust and the circumstances that seemed horridly cruel become wholly conquerable.

They learn to eat broccoli.

She says thank you no matter what bowl she is handed.

They do their chores.

They finish their homework.

He reads a book or plays a game.

They sing "In Summer" and run through the sprinklers.

All their anger was never really about me. And when they smile and tell me this ended up being a great day after all, it feels just like this:

So when I feel they abhor my very existence, I remind myself of the proven truth: If a child's attitude stinks today, graciously hold the standard high and let them try again tomorrow. It will probably change.

Because they like me, they really like me. And they'll like me even more if I am kind and strong, and love them through the mess. Really.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Interrupted: Week 4 {pgs. 107-136}

A few weeks ago, as I walked into church on Sunday morning, I noticed some boxes of kolaches from Krispy Kreme sitting by a group of benches outside the church. Someone had written on them in Sharpie, "Help Yourself! Happy Sunday!"

This particular grouping of benches is the spot that many of our homeless friends congregate before the service begins. They talk and have one last cigarette before coming into the worship service.

Someone thought to leave them some breakfast that week.

I nearly burst with gratitude to be a part of a community that loves others with such thoughtfulness.

As I read this section of Interrupted, with its challenging call to make the church more radiant by living the gospel, I thought of all the wonderful people at CCC who do just that. Together we can change our neighborhoods, our city, and our world. 

If you're reading Interrupted with us, I hope it is wrecking you for a life that is anything less than remarkable for God's kingdom, like it is doing for all of us in the Tuesday night group. May we see all the places we can touch God's heart by pouring out His love in the lives of others. May the become our favorite place to live, and the longer we spend considering His great affection for the poor and broken, the more we desire to love and serve.

Long live the gospel. May our love cause the church to shine forth in glory.

Reading for next week: Finish the book! Woohoo!!

Interrupted: Week 4 {pgs. 107-136}

general summary:
In this section of the book, the Hatmakers’ new dream of missionally driven kingdom-based life becomes a reality. They leave the comfort of a stable position at a church and try to figure out what God wants them to do next, exactly. Eventually, desperate prayers and faith lead them to planting a church with a missional, post-modern strategy.

Excerpts to discuss/ Discussion questions:

“On a Need to Know Basis”
{from p. 111} “Since we couldn’t rely on our default responses- planning, organizing, mobilizing, controlling- we did the only thing left: We prayed like crazy people…. I hate that place and love it- depends on the day. There is freedom in not being in control, when something utterly imagined by God is coming for you. It’s exciting, sort of awful. It felt as if we were on the precipice of a violent waterfall and out raft had gotten sideways. My instincts told me to bail, but this was the most crucial moment to stay the course.”

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Has prayer ever been not a last resort for you, but your only tool to deal with a crisis or a change? How does one discern the difference between your instincts and Godly wisdom?

{from p. 114} “There are hot controversies about the true Church. What constitutes it, what is essential to it?....Does a church preach the gospel to the poor- preach it effectively? Does it convert and sanctify the people?.... If not, we need not take the trouble of asking any more questions about it. It has missed the main matter…. Friends of Jesus, the Gospel is committed to your trust…. You are to dig for diamonds amid the ruins of fallen humanity, and polish them up for jewels in the crown of your Redeemer.. The church edifice is your workshop.”

“Ignorance is not Bliss”
{p. 122} “Does our duplicitous representation of Jesus not only assault Him but also offend the rest of the world? Is this partly why the church is declining in America? How could it not be? When we strike others the same day we fast, we bring no integrity to the gospel. Unbelievers may not understand the nuances of our theology, but they know paying empty lip service to God is repulsive....”

Has your own cultural view of church shifted over time like it did for Jen? How does the gospel play a part in your own involvement in the Church?

“A Modern Mess”
{p. 123} “Our modern ideas include:
  • More education creates a moral society
  • We make decisions if they make logical sense
  • All knowledge is reachable via the mind
  • We can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps
  • People can only trust what is proven through observation and experimentation
  • Modernity deeply values security and protection
  • Influence is obtained through institutions, through structures and positioning. The higher up in the structure, the more power you have because modern people respect position.
  • The needs of the individual supercede the needs of the community..”

“Turn and Face the Strain, Ch-Ch-Changes”

For many postmoderns, the prominence of the individual is diminished. They say the personal pursuit of happiness should no longer be supreme; rather, the betterment of the community is a dominant value. Other variances of postmodernity:
  • Rationalism doesn’t make a better society.
  • Deconstruction reigns; there is no absolute truth that undergirds all of life.
  • Everyone’s story is part of a bigger narrative.
  • Postmoderns ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • Postmoderns have a global outlook in terms of responsibility for the ecology of the earth and its inhabitants.
  • SInce most postmoderns do not believe in absolute truth, judging is preposterous.
  • Postmoderns are marked by a deep skepticism, and the twin ideas of power and control are repulsive.
  • Answers to life’s questions are never simple or simply reduced. Postmoderns believe life is messy, not easily dissected or understood.

Discuss modernism vs. postmodernism. Where do you feel your own beliefs lie, more modern or postmodern? How do you feel these worldviews affect us personally, as families, in the workplace, as a church?

“Mission Possible”

{from page 130} “Is this the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6) This sounds like the postmodern rejection of individualism for community. Responsibility for each other is the first description of the fast God requires: abstinence from selfishness, greed, and egotism. Discipleship is not a personal journey with a few links to community; it exists to spur one another on toward liberation and execute justice for those too trapped to free themselves.”

{from page 131} “Church simply provides a nice context for us to live on mission together. It’s not about your church and how it is thrilling or failing you. Rather, what kind of bride are you helping to prepare? With the glorious addition of you and your gifts, is she becoming radiant?”

How much do you see yourself as personally responsible for the greater community of God’s kingdom?