Tuesday, August 26, 2014

twenty years of Jesus and imperfect me

Twenty years ago today, this very day, Jesus saved me from my sin, from a dreary life without Him. He wrapped His life and death up in the good news of His sacrifice, tied a knot around my soul, and I was forever bound to Him.

I feel quiet in my soul, relishing the memories, celebrating the deep tides of God’s love through the years. I have been foolish, selfish, and ignorant of what grace really means so many times. And yet, He remains and I am still His.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

My veil is off these days, worldly perfection is a ruse and I am casting it aside. All I want is more glorious transformation from Him, and I'm calling this desperation for Jesus a new level of normal Christian life.

It’s a silly question, to ask if God’s children should have pain, imperfections, or find themselves beset by sorrows. We live to die, and we die so that we can live, we carry crosses and wrestle lions, and we are weak in many ways so that Christ can become our strength. Life is hard.

Some people can’t wait to see what God will do with their lives. I have only ever wanted to see how I will be delivered from mine. It is often dark in here and I grow weary of seeking a door hidden so far down the hall it may take me years to find it.

But the moment I gave up groping along the hallway, the door was suddenly right there.

God is vast and unchanging, and yet forever creating new ways to enter our lives and unlock our souls. He supernaturally shapes His voice and hand to fit perfectly into the hell we have created in the midst of our circumstances, our relationships, and our own false beliefs. He rarely comes to us the same way twice. But He never fails to come when we call.

And so He has come again for me. Twenty years of growing have proven one thing to me: I am always smaller and weaker than I need to be, and God is always grander and more gentle than I expect Him to be. The more I grow in Him, the more I need Him, and the more aware I am that His ways are not my ways.

Two decades are a tiny spark in the flame of eternity, and a mere splinter in the door to forever with Jesus in glory. But they are the twenty years I share and treasure with Christ, and they are more than I have deserved and yet less than He plans to joyfully lavish upon me.

Because Jesus is full of amazing-mystery-love-stuff-I-can't-even-fathom and He treasures my imperfect little self who is generally full of nonsense and straight-up crap. Isn't it amazing? He's undeniably worth seeking, following, and loving.

Twenty years down, sixty-ish to go of this normal Christian life, and then on through the door to forever with Him. This journey just keeps getting better all the time....

Monday, August 18, 2014

butterflies, balloons, and the gospel of metamorphosis

In January, I asked God to name 2014 and He told me to call the year "New Things". I didn't understand it, but I liked the way those two words are full of hope and happiness, like a dozen rainbow balloons flying out of your hands up into clouds and distant horizons.

So I named it and I claimed it and this is the year of New Things.

In the Spring we walked up to the front door one day and saw a dozen caterpillars diligently crawling along the eaves of our house, seeking safe places to hide while they became new things. It seemed like a blessing, to be chosen by so many creatures as a place of metamorphosis. We checked their progress daily, finally laughing all delighted with wonder when we saw brand new Mourning Cloak butterflies emerge before our eyes.

Two weeks ago, Boy 3 brought one of those butterflies right in the house from the yard. It was tattered and worn, a broken butterfly with many stories to tell. We let it sit on the windowsill for a few hours that afternoon and whisper its secrets to us. Butterflies are magical creatures, made from God's love of beauty and wonder, and their silent presence is full of His soulful depth.

I don't know if God sent us that butterfly or not, but I know He spoke to me when it fluttered away into our yard later, "Broken wings can fly free, too." Well. I suppose they can, now can't they?

Moment by moment I am learning so many new things this year. Mostly, I am learning that I've been crawling up brick walls for a while now, seeking a safe place to cocoon and transform. This is the year of New Things, metamorphoses, and wings that carry me up to the happy destinations of rainbow balloons.

I may be a little quiet here on the blog while I sort out the details of it all. I will still be writing, I will still be working, I will still be loving Jesus and all that He is doing. But balloons and butterflies and the words of a Holy God are best heard in a quiet place. So, I hope that you hear some words of your own, and that when I am back, we will share all the mysteries we have learned about ourselves and God.

Because that's where this is all leading, isn't it? To a mysterious place called tomorrow, and there is more beauty in that than any other hope that rises heavenward. And for that hope, He is most worthy of our praise.

"I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
    and will praise your name
    for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
    that it surpasses your fame.
When I called, you answered me;
    you greatly emboldened me."
Psalm 138:1-3

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

our most pressing destiny

I sat on the sofa today reading a children's bible story to the Lady.

Joseph. Dreamer. Favored one. Slave. Favored. Prisoner. Mighty savior.

He wore cloaks that were used against him. First his brothers lied about his bloody cloak to cover up their mistreatment of him. Later Potipher's wife used the cloak she ripped from him to falsely accuse him of attacking her.

It's nice to look good on the outside, to perform well, for others to see us as good, true, faithful, and brave. But it's easy to think our outer appearance and performance will save us, when they can just as easily be the source of our oppression.

We spend too many hours and days painting barns and dressing up pigs, don't we? Deep down, we can't just be loved, be secure, be okay. We get it all sideways when we try to make our outside life line up with who God says we are inside His will.

When will His grace weigh more in our souls than the false accusations of others?

I have a cloak of many colors and it is heavy with golden threads. It fits my earthly body a bit poorly, because I was sold into this world that is not my home. My cloak is woven with beauty and luxurious to the touch. Someday someone will probably try to use it to to bring me shame. That's a natural byproduct of living where what is meant for evil must happen so that all that is good can prevail by holy design.

The truth rings out with a trinity of song: Beauty is as beauty believes. Who we are is more valuable than who others perceive us to be. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Somewhere in the story of Joseph, and of you and of me, there is Another who wore a cloak that was prized. He carried our sin and He let His oppressors gamble for the possession of His outer garment so that His inner Life could be poured out as a sacrifice for our own. He held our lives as more valuable than His reputation, His comfort, and His appearance. He sees what we do and He becomes what we could not so that we can become like Him and do as He wills.

This is the meaning of life: not that we know and are seen as our best selves, but that we know Him who sees us best of all.

That Joseph, he is just a witness trying to show us the truth he learned: God's will is bigger than our circumstances.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." -Romans 12:1

Today is not the day we lose heart. Today we will arise and run to God, because today Jesus wills what was meant for evil into the greatest good of all: the saving of our souls.

Monday, August 11, 2014

because being a mom is the jam

Saturday night my daughter invited me into her room at bedtime so we could talk.

She's five years old.

I laid beside her on the bed I painted peacock green, and she smiled and babbled on and on about silly things that made only a tiny bit of sense.

I could see her one-year-old cheeks hiding under her long wisps of hair. I could hear her three-year-old voice mingled in some very big girl words. Somewhere in her hand gestures and the slanty way she wagged her head, I could see her fifteen-year-old, twenty-two-year-old, and every-other-year-old ways coming more clearly into focus. We have so much to look forward to, she and I. Life and time have strung the days and weeks and years into a strand of pearly memories and moments and I love her so much I want to hold her forever.

But she has to go to Kindergarten today.

She has a fancy braid and a little navy blue school uniform and I bought her knee socks to wear with her black mary janes. She taught herself to read this summer and last week she used her fingers to add 3 and 2 because it suddenly occurred to her that math is awesome.

I am a little sad, and I am a little thrilled, and I can't stop thinking that this motherhood thing is a miracle. Your baby asks to have a bedtime chat and it's like a note in a bottle washes up on the shore of your soul and the wisdom of true Love is uncorked once again.

How does it do that? How does love live in peanut butter sandwiches and frogs found at the creek? How does eternity touch you through silver brace-face smiles and football games? How do the tides that come in when they are babies change you into more than you knew you could be, and then the tides that go out as little ones become big ones feel like celebrations of all things great and glorious?

There could never be enough photographs, videos, crayon drawings, tattered blankies, YMCA trophies, homemade mother's day cards, school science projects gone awry, blazing birthday candles, or songs about love to hold all the joy that comes with being a mom to four rapscallion children.

Three big brothers will walk my Lady Baby into the school. I plan to document it and Instagram it and cry just a few buckets of tears on my way to the gym afterward. God and I may need to have a little talk, so I can babble on about silly things that probably only make a little bit of sense.

I'm ten and a half years into this motherhood thing, and it keeps getting better. Long live the love, hold tight the days, and let the tide roll over everything else.

Being a mom is the jam. Today is going to be a great day.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

you're, like, really pretty

You're like, really pretty. Yes, you. I mean it. You are. {Stop shaking your head and rolling your eyes at me.}

I don't care what that boy in fourth grade said, what your daddy never said, what your mama did say, what the celebrity magazines always say, or what the commercial on tv just said. Any words or moments that have robbed you of knowing you're pretty are just a pack of lies wrapped in the tissue paper of your soul. You have my permission to throw them out, burn them, or stomp them to dust.

Because you are really pretty. Beautiful, even.

God only makes beautiful things. He only makes what is good. And how He made you delights Him. You are sunshine on the waves, starlight in June, and rainbows of color bursting from prisms of glass to Him. It's cheesy, and kind of corny, but it's true. Go read Song of Solomon if you don't believe that's how God feels about His beloved. He is goofy and lovesick for us all- even all you men out there (which is kind of awkward when you think about it too much).

That nose, those eyes, that hair, your flawed complexion, the thighs you inherited from your grandmother, the hands that grab and hold too many bottles of anti-wrinkle cream, the lips that kiss the cheeks of your new baby, the back that stands bravely when it could easily break under the pressure, the knees you fall to when you can't bear the weight any longer; these are the parts of you that God made, and they are meant to rise in faith and bless His holy name with songs of praise. Don't rob them of their purpose by relegating them to the "10 things I wish I could change about myself" list.

It isn't what we look like that makes us beautiful, after all. It is Who loves us, Who we trust to make beauty out of the ashes of our lives, and whether or not we believe He gives breath to dirt and spark to flesh, making us radiant with light and love.

My friend Cori and I decided one night that we suspect our heavenly bodies will look just like these curves and lumps of skin we carry around now. We will see our reflections in golden streets and laugh at the silly thoughts we endured on earth. We'll die puffy, wrinkled, and slightly crooked and then we will find out that beauty had nothing to do with what we look like.

Go ahead and take God at His word. Consider yourself flawlessly gorgeous and then get on with your life. Isn't that what you really want deep down- to be done agonizing over your appearance and just be content and secure with what God gave you?

You can be. Freedom is yours for the believing. Beauty is as beauty believes, and today you can take that and put in your forever pocket.

Because you're like, really pretty, and I'm so glad you know it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 unrealistic changes that would make motherhood MUCH easier

This is revolutionary: I realized today that motherhood doesn't really have to be as difficult as it seems most days. It takes a little imagination to change a few things about the world, but then we're golden.

So, welcome to my fantasy world called "Motherhood is Easy".

This is the land where my children ride unicorns on the beach while singing songs about how awesome I am. Rivers here flow with fruit punch and deliciously nutritious gummy bears grow right on the trees. There are eternal rainbows overhead and all the people of the land are happy, happy, happy.

If you are very weary of the humdrum world where life is hard, you, too, could live here. There's plenty of room, since I made it all up and it isn't real. I am selling oceanfront real estate here on the Beach Where No Children Fight for only one gazillion Monopoly dollars.

It's completely worth every penny. You will love it here. Here are the real selling features of this place:

1. No one ever asks for food from you. That's right. No grocery shopping. No cooking. No overcrowded fridge. No temper tantrums because there are microscopic pieces of tomato and basil in the pizza sauce. No more dessert negotiations. It's miraculous, this place. Lattes and hot chocolate flow from the kitchen faucet into self-cleaning cups, and the children can walk outside and find any delicious thing they need growing in the wild. It's a veritable cornucopia of no-work-whatsoever out there. 

2. Bad attitudes do not exist. There is no foot stamping, teeth grinding, mean refusals to do perfectly sane things like brush teeth, use soap, or put the laundry in the basket. No one yells at you when it's time to practice piano. No tweenage black cloud descends inexplicably over your sweet almost-grown-up baby. There aren't any crumpled math pages or fists put through walls because a brother got mad. It's a land of sanity and well-managed emotions. You have to see it to believe it.

3. Clean clothes do, in fact, grow in trees. We don't need laundry rooms here. No need to purchase, wash, dry, fold, and put away what's been worn. Just toss the dirty stuff in the clothing compost pile and grab a new frock off the branch. It's like manna from heaven you can wear. 

4. Naps are everyone's favorite things. The minute I feel the tiniest bit tired, everyone else is THRILLED to go take a nap. And naps don't affect the perfect 10 hours all the kids sleep every night here. SO, there are 12 hours a day we are all asleep. This sleep thing may be connected to the total lack of bad attitudes.

5. Children can be magically transported. If Boy 1 has football practice in Cedar Park the same time Boy 2 and 3 have a birthday party in South Austin and the Lady has ballet downtown, I just wiggle my car keys and *poof!* they are all instantly right where they need to be. Then I eat gummy bears from the tree outside and take a nap.

6. There is an Easy Button. What's that? Having a hard time explaining fractions, the dangers of premarital sex, or the reason the cicadas make that loud sound? Frustrated by a knotted up ponytail holder, "essential" Lego pieces that someone glued together, or a difficult chemistry homework assignment? The Easy Button is your new best friend. Push it and be set free, my friends.

7. Kids LOVE to do their chores. After all, there are no bad attitudes here. Those awesome kiddos execute their duties well without being asked 127 times. This magical land is a well-oiled machine and it is pure bliss.

8. The Golden Rule reigns supreme in all the land. The astounding thing about this is that IT WORKS. Kindness, thoughtful acts of love, merciful grace, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness, they all seem to be the keys to healthy and happy people. Who knew? Oh, wait- Jesus knew. That's why He told us to live like that.

9. Everyone is healthy. There are no tummy bugs in this pretty place. Not a single fever, ear infection, cancer cell, or broken bone exists in my perfect land. Because of this, we don't have to manage grumpy kids with coughs who didn't sleep last night, or watch our children suffer through painful sickness. Also, I am never worried about what *could* happen. Because life is all good here- for like, ever.

10. Time travel is possible. Are you missing the way your 5th grader used to say "boobewwy" instead of blueberry? Want one more chance to hold that squishy-faced baby you first brought home from the hospital? Do need a hug from your too-cool-for-school kid, and know that will only happen if you travel back a few years? This is the place for you. Go on back in time and relive the glorious moments that you were too tired or too short-sighted to recognize as so ridiculously special the first time around. 

See? Motherhood can be totally easy. It just took a few adjustments and a little imagination. If you're interested in that oceanfront property, let me know. It's selling like hotcakes.

Monday, August 4, 2014

welcome to my world: a vulnerable tale of the last week

Sometimes, the day after my husband and I have a fight, I feel like I'm going to puke all day.

That was Friday.

Because coming home from a month off means that you have five weeks worth of work to do in the first week back.

And that's the honest-to-goodness truth.

The church can't hire a temp to do the work of a pastor. There's no back-up guy who can cover you for that long, either. It is no simple task to sabbatical. It is a leap of faith.

Here's how the week broke down:

Sunday: Travel home. This is like a deep inhale, where you muster up the courage to make the journey back to responsibility and you try not to cry too much on the plane.

Monday: Decompression. Unpack. Laundry. Groceries. This was a brief exhale.

Tuesday: Too many emails to write. Too many events to plan. Too many thoughts to think.

Wednesday: Still too many emails. Too many texts. Too many problems. Head spinning all day.

Thursday: Too many. Too much. Oh, the stress. Get in a good, solid fight. Halfway make up. Go to bed.

Friday: Make an old fashioned revival tent out of the long days. Come to Jesus. Feel like throwing up all day. Cook delicious food for dinner, play cards with the kids, kiss Mr. Fantastic. Deep exhale.

Oh, but Jesus does love this brand of crazy in our lives. He gives thanks for our too few loaves and fishes. He sees our near-burn-out emotions and sets a flame in their midst for Him alone. He calls us out on oceans and He rises above the waves. We can only do this life of faith properly with our eyes on Him.

So, He pushes the boat out a little farther from the shore.

Saturday night the nervousness for the upcoming week choked the sleep right out of me. By Sunday afternoon, the tell-tale signs of anxiety were in full force.

This is what's difficult: Following Jesus and doing hard things.

This is what He's asking of us: To trust and obey Him.

It's Monday again and my hands are raised in praise. I choose thankfulness for the mess, for the not-enough, for the friends who love me beyond my limitations, and for the God who speaks faith above the choppy waters. I choose vulnerability because it breathes life and hope into a fallen world. I seek the counsel of those wiser than I, and the Love that casts out all fear.

This road of terrifying faith is the one I choose to walk. It leads to God, to peace, to healthy souls living set free.

Sabbaticalling is over, and it's time to fight for God's Kingdom to reign in my life. Bring on the crazy week, Lord. It's going to be all Jesus up in here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

a journey of belonging

my brother and me on a family roadtrip 1980

As a child, my family drove from the cool California coast to the hot red dirt of Oklahoma every summer. My father’s grandparents lived there, raising cattle and cotton all their lives until eternity called them home to Jesus in my early adolescence.

My parents wanted us to know the hot sun on our faces as we fed the cattle and the taste of grape soda from ancient coolers. We squealed while riding in the back of pick-up trucks through the cotton fields, my brother hunting rabbits with a bee bee gun as we drove. 

They took us there so we could remember the smell of my Grandaddy- a mixture of leather and the fresh roll of cash he kept in his shirt pocket. We needed to hear the sound of Granny’s voice welcoming us and lamenting our lives were in California, where she was sure we lived just like the heathens on the soap operas she saw on television.

We saw the wall of gold-framed family photographs, sat in the recliners in their wood-panelled den, and heard the old doorbell chime a lovely tune when my brother and I took turns pushing the button repeatedly before being scolded by someone.

Summer after summer, we learned we had a home in Anaheim Hills, California, and we had a home in Frederick, Oklahoma. That was the gift my parents gave us by taking the time to drive across deserts and over mountains, from our suburban west coast lives.

This summer Mr. Fantastic and I took our family the opposite route, from the hill country of Austin to the California coast. My children splashed in pools with their grandparents, felt the ocean sand sink under their feet, and climbed the tree I climbed as a child in the front yard of my parents’ house. They met family they didn't know they had, heard wonderful old stories from grandmothers and great-uncles and -aunts, and saw faces that bear *slight* resemblances to their own.

Mile after mile, we gained ground in their souls, giving them the gift of knowing that there are homes beyond our own where they belong, where they are loved, where there are people with whom they share love, blood, and legacy.

I am learning more and more with age what it means to belong. The journey we take as we follow Christ’s narrow way is laden with many gifts, but perhaps the greatest of all is that of belonging.

We belong to Christ (Romans 7:4), we also are members of one body who belong to each other (Romans 12:5), and we share a heavenly home beyond this one. Mile by mile, we are journeying there together, learning the sound of His voice and the smell of His grace.

It is a joy to be a part of the family of God. Mr. Fantastic and I carry with us a deep gratitude that we are homeward bound with the rest of Christ's Bride. We belong to Him and we belong together, and that is a gift in the truest sense of the word.

May this weekend be full of memorable moments of belonging for you. And may Christ meet you wherever you journey, and whisper in your ear that you belong.

Happy Weekend, friends!