Wednesday, July 30, 2014

the saving of our souls

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:6-9 (bolded words mine)

On a pale sunlit morning I woke up in the California desert, opened the curtains to the view of the pool and the craggy mountains, and I had to check my phone to find out what day of the week it was. After a few weeks of our sabbatical, time began to run together in a most wonderful way.

But even paradise has its problems. One of the kids was irrational about hotels and beds and pools. Another seeped wounded irritation that grown-ups call the shots. Two more fought over chair selections and other inconsequential matters. Someone was mad we have to go out to eat. Later someone else was mad we couldn't go out to eat. Mountains of laundry and dishes loomed in that little vacation apartment.

I flipped the pages of this new book I'm reading about the tending of our souls and God struck me again with the same song He has been singing all summer. How many times will He need to prove it to me before it is tattooed on my soul in an ink that can never run or fade?

The words shout at me from the page."...though you have not seen believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious are receiving the end result of your faith...."

We walk by faith and not by sight, and that is how our souls are being saved.

I woke up this morning to Texas sunlight and the sound of sprinklers in the backyard trying to save the parched grass. The kids have a nasty cough and can't seem to get off of California time. Mr. Fantastic and I are trying not to be buried in emails and phone calls. Radiant Moms meets next week, school starts in two weeks, my two community groups begin in three. The bathroom sink leaks, the bedroom floor needs to be repaired, the backyard needs a few days of tending, and we have company coming in this weekend.

This is where my soul needs to be saved.

My will and my joy need to cross right here, and I can't write that word "cross" without thinking of the word "death". The years are teaching me that living is more about learning how to die than anything else. I'm not sure my flesh likes that very much. It sounds poetic and dramatic, but it feels like hell to lay down frustration, fear, and embrace the forlorn knowledge that we control very little of what happens here.

And yet His love leads right to where the cross awaits. This must be the right path after all.

Oh, soul, awake to a new kind of rejoicing, that the genuineness of your faith might be proven. Taste what can't be seen, step out on the invisible path, and receive the end result of faith in the great God of all.

Salvation awaits.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

7 unethical things that {probably} happened at grammie's house

A few weeks ago, Mr. Fantastic and I went to Florida sans the little people.


We left our kiddos in the capable hands of their grandparents.


When we got back, the whole lot of them were smiley and had suspiciously very little to report. At first all they said things like:

"Everything was great!"

"We missed you! Glad you're back!"

"We had so much fun!"

Tiny, slightly suspicious details have occasionally surfaced, though. It's difficult to get a good hold on exactly what went down that week. What happens at Grammie's house, stays at Grammie's house. But I think I can roughly sketch out some of the action.

To all the grandparents out there who go to super-human efforts to care for your grandkids and give your children a break from the weight of parenting, I salute you. You are amazing and your wonderfully lenient ways spoil our children. We will gladly wean them off getting their way constantly when we get back from our trip. Because sleep is good. Because getaways are fun. Because life is easier without our kids, and we love easier lives every once in a while.

Here are 7 things that {probably} happened at Grammie's house:

7. Time robbery. No bedtimes. No naps. (Most likely no sanity.) My kids said things like, "I'm so excited to be at your house that I just can't sleep at all!!" and delighted their grandparents with adoration. My poor in-laws will probably have to sleep for a month straight to regain the energy my children robbed them of that week. But they had their week of glory, and I know they wouldn't trade it for the world.

6. Kick-backs. My kids and my in-laws were very happy to give all their love to each other and they all enjoyed the kick-backs that came along with the deal. "What's that, Grammie? Do I like to bake cookies with you? Yes. Everyday. Then I like to eat them while we watch movies with Granddaddy. These are the memories I will treasure when I go off to college." This is called a win/win situation.

5. Safety Not First. Okay, maybe one of my little rascals didn't actually say, "My parents always let us set fire to stuff in the driveway." But I bet they came close. To our faces, they say we never let them do anything fun. To their grandparents, they claim we are practically devoid of rules. It's all about perspective.

4. Bribery. The treats and privileges enjoyed at Grammie's house help ensure that what happens at Grammie's house stays at Grammie's house. "I miss my mommy. But gummy bears and visiting arcades when I should probably take a nap help me cope.... By the way, you're the best grandparents ever." Cha-ching, little ones.

3. Child labor. I don't think my kids lifted a finger to help that week. They batted their eyelashes and "didn't hear" a lot of requests to clean up, despite the lecture I gave them about helping out before I left. This proves two undeniable truths in life: Kids never listen to lectures and my mother-in-law is a saint. 

2. Theft. The kids stole their grandparents' sleep, food, sanity, patience, and hearts. The Lady also stole an old cell phone from the toy box. I just found it in her suitcase yesterday.

1. Breaking antitrust laws. Most days, there were four children demanding the attention and help of only one woman. Boy 1 wanted her to shoot baskets, Boy 2 wanted her to bake cookies, Boy 3 wanted her to play water gun war, and the Lady wanted her to play Barbies. She had a monopoly on her grandchildren and there was no escaping the consequences. 

It's been two weeks since we retrieved our kids from the heavenly land of the grandparents. They are doing chores, practicing piano, and eating vegetables. But I'm sure they are already pining away for their next visit with their grandparents, and plotting more unethical glory. Bless it....

Monday, July 28, 2014

a good passover for homesick souls

Last week, I hiked up California hills, ocean breezes welcomed me with the scent of eucalyptus trees and fresh cut lawns, and I was happy, happy, happy down in my soul. I saw my old elementary school bus stop, the front doors I knocked on a million times to ask friends to come out and play, and the sidewalk where I once left my footprints in wet cement in the early 1980s.

I was home.

Some places belong to you like charms on a necklace. You wear them and love them and enjoy their beauty and wonders. But home lives in you and you wish you could stay forever.

Even a lifetime on this California coastline would simply be a lovely place to dwell for a minute, though.  Life is one grand celebration of Passover before we head home. I don't know how I missed that truth before.

Eat in haste, friends. Don't get too comfortable, we are headed for glory any moment now. A Lamb has been slain, and His spilled blood covers us. Our exodus awaits.

It would be less bothersome to mindlessly find jobs, pass the time, enjoy the temperate weather, bear the occasional storms, and dwell right where we are. Staying is bondage, though. Clinging to an earthly home means surrendering our rights as God's children and the call to live for Him alone.

We have a few friends who are homeless. Like all people, their lives aren't easy for many reasons. They are quirky, funny people who are pretty much just like everyone I know with roofed houses and HVACs. They are lonely. They need grace and truth in equal proportion. They need to know they have what it takes to rise above their circumstances. They love to laugh and forget their troubles. Homeless people are less comfortable than I am most winter nights, but we share the promise of a heavenly home, and our suffering doesn't have to be eternal.

We are all trying to find a place to hide beneath the blood covered doorpost for the long night. Heaven is a home running with fountains of living water. It lives for us, through us, in us, and to us.

We flew back to Austin on a great big metal bird yesterday. A friend picked us up at the airport and helped us drag our luggage up to the turquoise front door of our passover house. Mr. Fantastic turned the AC on when we got inside. The kids scattered to find beloved toys and favorite spots on the sofa. I began to make a grocery list.

I looked at those five people who are of infinite value to me. I thought of the church full of gorgeous faces who are God's beloved. There are thousands more souls awaiting exodus here in Austin. This is the way home. The trail home leads right alongside the lives of the people God mercifully adores. We serve and love one another and God leads the way.

Death passes over us. Provision falls from heaven. There will be some uncomfortable nights in the desert. But one fine day, a new sun will rise and we will all fly home. To that, we cling.

Monday, July 14, 2014

god is not a lesson to be learned

There are a million ways to do this Jesus thing wrong.

Prodigals, perfectionists, hypocrites, know-it-alls, sloppy grace guzzlers, stumbling cynics; we have all done the math at one point and ended up with irrational numbers and faulty solutions.

Lately, I keep adding it all up only to find the lessons lead to more questions. 
This discontent has haunted me for months. It nags at me when I read books that offer the same advice that doesn't really seem to help. It breathes over my shoulder when I hold brokenness up to God and He whispers to forget everything I know and have heard. It sings mournful spirituals as I hear stories of abandoned children, fractured marriages, and loss in others' lives.

My soul needs new water, new wine, and new rivers sweetened with milk and honey to run through it.

Take off your shoes. This needfulness is holy ground. Here the bush alights with glory and is never consumed. This is where the cynics fall down, the prodigals give up at last, and the power of God sets His people free. It's time to erase the voices that offer empty answers and run to God.

Because God is not a lesson to be learned. We must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

I long for what can never be taken away from me, to soak the Person who loves me most of all into my skin and let Him seep through and erase the questions that really can't be answered here in this broken world.

God can't be boxed up, written out, and memorized. It's not always the same answer with Jesus.

He is an unexpected blaze of color flaming across the sky. He is open arms that emanicipate the hardest heart with tender mercy. He is rain that falls and never rages into floodwaters. He is the whisper of mountain songs and the tremor of earthquakes that raise mankind upward.

For the next two weeks, this blog will be a place of silent communion. I am taking a short break, a timely fast, and I am confident that in my silence I will hear what I long for most of all: His new words of faithfulness. 

Have a great two weeks, and I will see you soon!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

made to shine

I slowly folded my clothes and things, placing them in a suitcase under the watchful eye of my two youngest children.

"I don't want you to go," one said. The other stood silent with fussy bottom lip protruding from a mournful face that shot daggers into my heart.

I smiled sadly and replied, "I know. But you will have the best time and then I'll be back, better than before."

They didn't believe me. But I know it's true.

Because I know they need a rested mama. I know Mr. Fantastic and I need to give each other the best of who we are for a few days. Parenting can chew you up a bit, and love does not grow properly on table scraps.

We need time together to thrive.

In my suitcase was a silly satin jacket alá the Pink Ladies in Grease, and I was less excited about the costume party than any other part of our getaway.

I've never really liked costumes. Too much social discomfort and pressure to be what I'm not, I guess. I prefer to blend into the crowd and just be.

But last night we put on our 50s attire and headed to the party. There was a basketball and football competition and I happily sent Mr. Fantastic over to win for us.

But then things went a little crazy and he nudged me over. One thing led to another and I won that football thing. It's ridiculous, but true. I never would have even signed up if he hadn't talked me into it.

We celebrated over hot fudge sundaes.

Several hours later, we sat in comfy sweats playing cards. Just the two of us.

"It's the same story again and again," he beamed at me. "You don't think that you can or that you should, but I know it's true: you are meant to shine."

I sat and let the blessing of this man I married seep into my pores and asked God to help me remember his love. I thought of all my single friends and prayed they would find spouses who see more in them than they may see in themselves.

There are times that putting on what is uncomfortable and unfamiliar brings out who we are truly meant to be. Ministry, marriage, motherhood, they have all been hard to wear at times. And yet, they make me better and more radiant.

That's why I decided to organize a class for moms at our church. The world needs women who will shine brightly as moms, so Radiant Moms begins in August. Moms of all ages and stages are welcome. You can click here for more information.

Tomorrow I will pack up my suitcase and return to those little faces that long for me in such a precious way. When I hug their necks, I will shine over them with a well-rested heart.

Because it's true, I am meant to shine. We all are. It's time to become more radiant.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

we are all a woman in need of a champion

Once upon a time, in a land closer than the blood in her heart or the breath in her lungs, there was a woman who thought she wanted to be loved.

She was a princess, she was a poor maiden, she was a popular girl, she was an outcast, she was less beautiful than she wanted to be, and she was heavenly glory encased in the softest silken skin anyone had ever seen. She was all of this, because she is all of us.

She searched all through the land, seeking a fight she could win, a place she belongs, a home to draw her close, a valley running with milk and honey, and she cried when her hands held less than she knew she needed.

We are all very fortunate to start out like this woman. This groomless bride, longing for love and for someone to ask just the right question.

Can you see past the pain to know what is true?

We say we want to find our true selves, we cling to dreams and hopes, or we sit down in defeat because our skin isn't quite the right fit, our parents are from that less desireable place, or because everything is just too easy and we forget how to walk on when we are too comfortable in our inferior situation.

But what this woman really has is a grand opportunity, can't you see? She is flesh soon-to-be-branded with a story crafted to make her glorious. She is choice and grace intermingled into the sweetest cocktail any lips have ever tasted.

It's no fairy tale, it is the song we are made to sing, the one that booms from the lungs of victors when guns are laid down and hands are held and peace rings out over the whole earth.

We all begin here, like a woman in need of a Champion.

We are the oppressed, the weak ones tangled in the web of satan's silly game, born to believe the lie that we can be satisfied by less than God's own Son.

Rise up, sweet bride, and wear the spotless gown your Lover offers. There is one glorious law that overrules all others that try to ensnare you with their burdenous nature, and it is this one:

Mercy triumphs when Love covers your needfulness.

Jesus can do for you what earthly fathers, mothers, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, and friends can only wish to do.

He can win for you. Your Champion can make the desert into a spring of living water and you can thrive where others have failed.

We will all live happily ever after, and it will be better than we can possibly imagine.

Breathe His love deep within and lay down your defenses before the God who loves you most of all, and follow your Champion forever.

Monday, July 7, 2014

sabbaticals are not for the faint of heart

During the insane-o busy week before our month-long break from all things ministry, I thought I might be going a little crazy and I spoke these words to my husband:

"I feel like we're not talking about everything really important because we're just trying to make it to Monday."

"Probably," he answered.

I nodded, resolutely accepting this reality. Then we went to sleep.

Aren't we just the cutest couple ever? The way we skirt confrontation, procrastinate potential conflict, and grit our teeth is adorable, like memes of puppies and kitty cats asleep in the laps of babies who are eating popsicles on the beach.

Our precious, messy life is bananas.

In our defense, the month off loomed somewhat ominously. Or maybe the sabbatical was the prize luring us at the end of big race, like the chocolate milkshakes my dad and I shared after my races ended and they turned off the stadium lights at my high school track meets.

"Do your work, then enjoy your reward" isn't the worst motto in life. Except life isn't a race and the lights over the church never get turned off. Like- never, never, ever.

Also, this sabbatical is less like a chocolate milkshake and more like a post-race ice jacuzzi bath: It is shockingly needed and agonizingly hard to plunge into at first.

Our usual church and kid-schedule workload doesn't leave a lot of space for emotional focus on our personal lives. This time off is like soul rehab. As the deep tides of our hearts well up and thaw out in the light, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with this process.

Put simply, "all the feels" keep surfacing. (Apparently I am full of some complex "feels".) This rehab requires untangling a knotted mess of emotions that's been growing for five years.

I know now that it is easier to be too busy to talk about what's important than to actually deal with what's important.
Sabbaticalling is good, but it takes internal work to detox like this.

Suddenly there is time to care that we have unfinished relational business. We have time to feel offended and we also have the time and emotional focus to sort out the offenses. There is time to feel hungry and tired, and we actually have the energy to do something about it. There is time to feel mad, talk it out, make up, and still watch a movie before we go to bed. There is time to leisurely mention things God has spoken to us without the added stress of scheduling an appointment or hiring a babysitter.

Frankly, I was a little afraid of this sabbatical. Yes, I knew we needed it, but I wasn't sure we had the chutzpah required to endure a sustained time of rest and internal growth.

Working to build space for others to grow is always easier than working to build space for yourself to grow. It's the truth, and it's the reason so many pastors burn out too early in life.

We don't want that to be our story. So we are doing the hard work to strengthen our family for the long haul. Where God leads us, He also meets us and empowers us to live for His glory.

We are eager to love and obey Him. We hope to even delight the Mightiest Almighty with our devotion and obedience. He has given us a marriage that is adorbs in a slightly wacky way, and a gaggle of children who are the best thing in our lives. As we rest and recover, we are realizing that our lives are full even when our schedule isn't.

Everything important for today is right here in front of us, and I think we will sit and cherish it over chocolate milkshakes. Because maybe the lights do turn off in a way, and a reward would be heavenly right about now.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

why a parent can never meet every need of their child

"Of all the needs (there are none imaginary) a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God." -Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Last week my children and I drove home from a fun afternoon spent with friends. We had gone swimming and played for hours in their home. I expected a contented crew to exit the car and enter our own domain again, weary but joyful, filled to the brim with friendship.

But one of my children was mopey and distant. His shoulders drooped and when I asked what was wrong the tears came before the words.

A deep need had been unearthed in his heart that day, and the truth is that as we talked, I knew that this was not an emptiness I could ever really fill. He was lonely in a particular way, and Mom's love, though comforting, could not quench the thirst of his soul.

We do a disservice to our children when we constantly step in and hand them every desire of their heart. We stunt them in invisible and grotesque ways when we try to distract the deep longing that is the natural byproduct of human brokenness by placing new toys, sweet treats, or mind-numbing media in a hole that God can only fill properly.

Of course we hate to see them hurting. Certainly, we want them to know we will go to the ends of the earth to answer their heart's cry for love. Undoubtedly, we want to foster gratitude for the abundant lives they have when their discontentment grows big and ugly.

But we must be careful not to silence their cry for what they can only ever receive from an unshakable hope in an unshakable God.

That afternoon, my son and I went to a quiet place and I rubbed his back while he cried bitterly. He desires a specific thing. It's clear He needs it to come from God, and I am not meant to be directly involved. He is old enough to know I can provide happiness for him, but he is also old enough to need to see God move beyond his parents' efforts.

It's time for God to begin His own story of Fathering in my son's life. Mr. Fantastic and I are beside this boy we love, encouraging him to believe God is good and that He hears the prayers of boys who bring their whole hearts to Him.

Sweet son, take your cares to the God who made you, who knows your needs infinitely, He who mysteriously writes your days in heavenly books, the One who took on the ultimate loneliness so that you could share in His holy brotherhood. Your dad and I love you, but God loves you even more. 

Loneliness is a hazy blessing, and needfulness is a doorway of grace. My children must see the greatness of God as an answer to their sorrow, not just the ample pocketbook and the earthly wisdom of a mother who has coins and hope to spare.

My son is learning to cry out to God. Is there a greater knowledge than this: that only God can answer your deepest need? I think not. And so I sift my life and plant that lesson deep in the soil of my own soul, too.

Because in the end, there isn't all that much different about being a middle-aged woman and a spry young boy except maybe the view of the valley behind us. We are both going up the mountain to God, heads protected with the helmet of truth, hearts covered with His righteousness, feet shod with the gospel, bearing our shield of faith and carrying the Word of God to do battle against our enemies.

Together, we march on. My victories give him a better view of the path ahead, and his prove to me that God's faithfulness will go on long after I have reached my destination.