Monday, June 29, 2015

how to keep going

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Christ Jesus 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 1:13-15

Almost twenty-one years ago, I lifted my hands for the first time in a church in Houston, and surrendered all the questions, all the fears, all the not-enough of who I was to the God who loves me best of all.

Since that day, I have raised my hands many times because I haven't always known when to do, how to do, why to do all the Jesus things.

In the last few weeks I've raised my hands over racist murder, friends who accuse, babies who were in the hospital, facebook posts that are wounding people I love, and laws that make some people so very happy and others so very scared.

Maybe it has always been like this for Christ-followers. We seem to disagree about a lot, today and historically. We have things like the New Testament letters, church splits, and the Reformation to prove how complicated it is to know what is right and what is wrong when living out our faith.

It all matters. It is all important. And yet, we don't all agree. We are supposed to love one another, but when emotions run high and disagreements blossom into shattered relationships it is challenging to even like one another.

But for twenty-one years, I have found one thing we can usually all agree on: Jesus.

This morning I made cinnamon toast for my son. I forgot to set a timer and the bread blackened to a lovely shade of never-gonna-eat-that. I looked that piece of toast in the face and I raised my hands. Because isn't this just life?

I don't know what to do to make anything easier for us all. I don't know what tomorrow or the next year or the next decade holds for our country. There will be burnt toast and charred souls and broken bits of dreams lying around us everywhere until Jesus comes back. And I don't know what it will be like, exactly, on that day, when we take our turns standing before the God who created all of us, loves all of us, and commands all of us to be holy as He is holy.

If God is all that the Bible says He is, it will be a moment filled with awe and terror and glory like none we have ever known.

My heart hopes for one thing on that day when God shows me all the ways I have failed Him or misunderstood His will for me: mercy.

My soul longs for one thing when God shows me all the ways I have triumphed and made Him proud to be my Father: approval.

My bones ache to see one thing when everyone I love comes before Him and sees His greatness on display: knees that bow and tongues that confess His lordship. The Bible is clear that not all people are God's children, and yet it also says God desires that not one of us would perish, and that all would come to repentance. How will all that sort out on the last day of all the days when Jesus returns? I don't know, but that is why our own holiness is important, why the gospel must be full of grace and truth, and why loving one another is vital in this world.

Until that day, you will see me over here, raising my hands in surrender and in praise of the One who loves me best of all. We will make it through this confusing world one day of thanksgiving and praise at a time. And, I trust, we will make it through together- disagreements and all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Being Married Mothers in Ministry Means

This week I sat with rooms full of VBS kids and told them the story of God's love. I told them that He is compassionate, that He knows them, that He sees them, that He made them, and that He has a plan for them. I compared the miracle of grace to skiing. I admitted how easy it is for us to forget Him, just like we forget to pick up our dirty laundry. I told them the good news of the gospel is as exciting to talk about as the topic of bathrooms exploding because anytime you talk about bathrooms exploding, kids listen.

Little minds turned right in front of me all week, trying to understand a God who loves us no matter what. Their eyes glazed over when the stories got slow. Then light bulbs flashed on with brilliant joy when they finally "got it".

I was in the midst of a glory cloud as children responded with obedient hearts to God's call to salvation and lordship. Angels rejoiced in heaven because the Kingdom grew this week, and then I went home and fought my own exhaustion and sinful impatience as I attempted to keep up with my regular life as a mom, a minister, and a pastor's wife. 

My people are tired. My people are grouchy. We are straining against the currents of our weary souls. We trudge upstream every day, and we are making it through the week one bad attitude adjustment at a time.

All along the way, words keep accumulating in my heart. I know I have pages and pages to write before I am done. I feel the book growing inside me. It taps my shoulder and pulls my mind away from all this mothering and ministry. It is a beloved burden, and I treasure its presence in my life.

The burden I treasure the least is the call to subdue the mess in our house. That is a responsibility I would like to shirk completely, thanks so much.

Every night, Mr. Fantastic and I have strategic church conversations, strategic children conversations, and a summer schedule to organize. We sit close and cozy in the quiet of our home and focus on everything except that schedule so romance can catch us up above the crowded calendar.

Life is good. Life is full. Life is hard.

When I hear women say that their only real priority is their family, I want to applaud them. They seem so sure. It seems so obvious and simple to have a singular focus. I sometimes wish my own journey could be as clearly defined as that. Most days I am a piece of saran wrap stretched over a compartmentalized cafeteria plate that God filled a little too full. I'm just trying get through lunch with everything still in the spot God dished it.

God's loving call will not relent until the work is done- in my soul, in my marriage, in my kids, in my writing, in ministry, and in His Kingdom. Some days, it's more than I know how to manage.

But the truth is I love the spontaneity and unpredictability of our life. I mostly enjoy hopping from homeschooling to writing a chapter to baseball practice to baking cookies to reading for Bible study to planning meetings to folding laundry to blogging to painting the kitchen to praying with someone in need. I cherish each moment one role at a time: wife, mom, minister. I cram it all in but don't do it all at once- that would be soul suicide.

This method of living is insane and wonderful. Along the way, though, arises a general inadequacy in understanding what it means to be a married mother in the ministry. I've tried dumping a responsibility here and there, but it's impossible. God delights in creeping up on me and tenderly laying the responsibilities back at my feet every time.

Here lies the challenging part of the marriage+mother+ministry equation: there is no playbook to follow. Many of us are the first women in our families to attempt this hat trick of leadership.

We are the first generation of women collectively attempting to lead well as we submit to our husband's headship. We grapple with the strange call on our lives to bear the full glory of womanhood in the modern world. Hopefully our husbands see the tension we face, and can muster the courage to help us find our way when leadership roles, schedules, and church/family structures are difficult for us to navigate.

We are among the first to preach in the pulpit, to publicly lead men as well as women in worship and in wisdom. We have the eyes of our culture locked on us in search of answers to the dilemma birthed by the desire to mother well in the midst of other leadership roles and responsibilities.

It isn't that it hasn't ever been done, it's just that it hasn't ever been attempted so publicly by so many.

I stand in wonder at the sight of all the women who long to be everything God has called them to be.

I believe in all of you. 

It takes work and sacrifice and a magnitude of love to make your life happen. I see you up late writing sermons and up early packing lunches. I feel your despair when you have to choose who to lovingly disappoint: the woman who needs counsel or the child who needs his mama. I know the strain of laying aside your own plan because your husband has to work late after all. I can even smell the rottenness of criticism levied against you by people who could love you better if they tried. You are brave to patiently wait as they find their own way through the darkness.

You are all my heroes, and the words I spoke to 150 kids today, I also give to you: God's plan is to love you forever, and nothing can ever stop His plan. No matter what. Not even if you are Saran Wrap that has come a little loose and made a bit of a mess. You are a pioneer in the Kingdom, and if you follow well, Jesus will lead you right where you need to go.

It's a privilege to walk beside you and to be a small part of what God is doing in the earth through His daughters. May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and may our hearts thrill as His presence meets our perseverance and we see His glory expand.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

a voice and a road and a church

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
 the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,

    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
 the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Isaiah 40:3-5

We live in Austin, a city which, years ago, tried to slow its own growth by neglecting to build sufficient highways. Our roads are twisty and wind through old neighborhoods, because they were added or widened after the land development. The road to my neighborhood is crumbling along the edges and has a wicked turn. One day last week an oncoming car nearly spun out taking that curve too fast. The whole vehicle skidded momentarily into my lane. We avoided collision, and drove on.

Straight roads would be nice.

Life, however, has twists and turns we don't see coming. Circumstances change, roads are built later than we mean to build them, and collisions seem to be inevitable. Sometimes our voice remains silent until the road we are on at last leads us all the way into the wilderness. That's when we notice there is no road here at all.

We must learn to listen for God's voice and answer well when He asks us to obey.

We are each only one voice. I have one story, one mouth, one set of hands, and one life to proclaim what I know of truth, love, and mercy.

I join with other voices, though. Together we make a beautiful harmony, a song with a melody unlike any other, as we link our one life with others. We are the Church, the Bride of Jesus, the Body of Christ, the refuge for the faithful, the safe place for the weary, and the home for the orphaned soul.

Many voices united in love is who we are. Building roads is what we do.

When life brings us prosperity, we enjoy its fruit. But when God leads us into the wilderness, we build roads for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth.

The quiet wilderness of our spiritual need leads us under the shadow of the One True God. His brazen rescue of our souls offers the chance to take our voice and make straight roads that lead directly to Him.

The Lord, Our God is mighty to save. His compassion is better than the compassion the world offers; it is more than acceptance, it is more than provision, and it is more than approval. How can the opinion of others compare to a God who dies for your salvation? God's grace is a strange cocktail of adoration and transformation.

Don't tell me I am fine on my own, good enough in my weakness. Don't rob me of my deep need for a God who will do more than accept me as I am. I don't want a stamp of approval and to be sent along the road to live as I choose to live.

I want a God who is so compassionate, who picks up my broken attempts at goodness and throws them aside as He delights to make me like Him.

He takes our weary hearts and makes them alive with His Spirit. He lifts our burdens and strengthens us with joy in His greatness. God does not forget who we were- He erases our sin and restores us to who He made us to be when He formed us in the secret place of His heart.

Don't take the deceptive, winding roads that will stunt your growth and spin you out into dangerous traffic.

Trust the ancient words of love calling you to obey the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Believe in the whole gospel, our great need for rescue, and His great willingness to transform us into His Radiant Church. Build straight paths in the wilderness, and see His glory unfold.

Do you not know?
  Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

when church and life collide

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. 
- Thessalonians 3:7-13

Sometimes, it's like we live on different planets.

Mr. Fantastic lives on the church planet.

I live on the family planet.

We hop back and forth, of course. 

But every once in a while, our worlds collide, and I realize there aren't different planets at all. We simply have a multi-faceted life and the light refracts differently through our responsibilities.

Last Sunday, as usual, he woke up long before me, and left for church in the quiet of a sleeping house. 

I drew myself out of bed, drew coffee out of the Keurig, and drew the children upstairs to get ready.

After church, he would be leaving to go out of town, and I faced a bit of a gauntlet: the Lady's ballet recital, a puppy who would need some attention, groceries to buy, and then community group that night. 

He texted me on the way to church, asking me to share a word or two at the end of worship. I thought of what I had read that morning in 1 Thessalonians, about the love of spiritual family, and when I stood in front of all those people we love and serve, my heart filled with awe at the sight.

Before me were so many people in the storms of their lives, armed and ready to fight the good fight. Before me were so many victorious and faithful saints, who had passed through the darkness and stood in Christ.Before me were so many different faces, different ages, different races, different stories, different journeys. And together, we make a family. Yes, it's a crazy, blended, not-always-in-agreement family, but that only makes it a more incredible sight.

I was grateful to be a part of it, to have been accepted by them, to be loved and supported by them all.

After the service, the Lady and I walked quickly out the doors to get to her recital. We crossed paths with two of the homeless men who attend our church. I was startled to see one of them had been in some sort of accident. He had dried blood on his face and clothes, and a piece of gauze on his forehead.

I stopped and asked what had happened. My daughter pulled and pulled on me to leave. Both men spoke at once, and I couldn't make sense of what either of them said. The Lady pulled harder, demanding that we leave. I couldn't hear anyone now. It was all mixed up and confused.

The men smiled and laughed, and said goodbye.

And I stood in the parking lot, in the middle of my worlds colliding, I accepted that I would not be able to do any more for anyone than what I had already done. I took a deep breath and got in my car.

When I pulled out onto the main road, the men were walking up to their place on the corner, the unharmed man gently pulling the broken man along. 

I thought then, of how many people had pulled me along, too. I thought of friends from college, pastors and ministers who loved me when I was broken and bleeding, of friends who have saved me from my own worst nightmares, who have needed me as much as I have needed them, and then loved me when I was incapable of loving them back. Shining among them is my Mr. Fantastic, who more than anyone else, has slowed his steps when I couldn't quite keep the pace our lives required.

Together, we have become family. We have known the love of God better because we have loved each other well. We have walked and we have worshiped the One True King, and we have found a home in Him.

Church is many things. It is the place we worship, it is the place we grow in Christ, it is the place we serve our city, it is the place we humble ourselves. But it is also the place we learn to love and be loved, and in my opinion, that is when the grace becomes truly amazing.