Friday, September 25, 2015

a gospel for friday: the gift of one less worry in the bunch

I, myself, am very slow to learn some lessons.

The most recent example of being liberated from my own dullness is this: my daughter has strep throat this week, and when I picked up her medicine, I brilliantly asked the pharmacist for an extra measuring syringe. It has taken me eleven years of caring for sick children and dozens of trips to the pharmacy to land on this genius request.

How many times have I scrounged the inside of the dishwasher for one of those little plastic parts, only to realize I left it upstairs, by the bed? Then I have to go get it, find it under the bed, clean the sticky residue off the carpet fibers, and wash the syringe before I can give the kid the nasty pink stuff she doesn't want to take anyways.

But two syringes means one is dirty and one is clean and I never have to worry about anything except how to bribe her into taking the rotten tasting medicine. Suddenly, I am Spartacus.

One less worry in the bunch is a gift. One good deed brightens the darkness. One spark of faith lights a million more.

And, man, do there seem to be a big bunch of worries in the darkness of the world these days, or what?

Yesterday, my son and I had a good, long, epic argument about a school assignment. As his mom, I thought he should be let off the hook: he's just a kid, after all. As his teacher, I knew better: he is capable of so much, and settling for so little. (Ah, the beautiful world of homeschooling.) I wanted to pull my hair out and stuff it in his empty excuses about the impossibility of writing a final draft, so I could make cozy pillows for this impromptu pity party of ours.

Then he suddenly broke open a little and unloaded the weight of his soul. I looked at his eyes, so full of earnest questions, and I remembered what I knew when I was young: It's just so hard to grow up. He's figuring out who he is, who God is, and how to make sense of the gnawing feeling that he doesn't quite know enough about anything. 

Along with these cosmic questions about life and eternal purpose, he carries a hatred for writing final drafts. Each heart knows its own bitterness, the proverb says, and no one can share in its joy.

We travel alone in many ways. And yet, God is right here with us, in us, among us, leading us, bringing up the end of the line, and guarding us on every side. Soul lessons like these take time and courage that my son will have to find inside himself, in his own faith, and in God's mysterious and wide love for him alone. 

But I gave him what I could: love, wisdom, and empathy. Mostly, I just sat next to him and listened.

It is a marvelous thing, to be trusted by a person to just listen. Over the years, I have stood here, struggling to hold onto my own clunky baggage, listening to friends, family, church members, beloved fellow mamas, and even the occasional stranger in line at the grocery store, as they have told their tales.

We all want so badly to grow up and find our way home.

We celebrate little, simple victories along the way, like asking for two syringes and a boy who can talk to his mama about real things. But mostly, we march on.

Today, it is a privilege of endless joy to walk alongside my children, my husband, my friends, my church, and so many wonderful people I have never even met in person. We walk alone, but we walk together. We pick our way through our insecurities by loving each other the way God has asked us to love each other: with brilliant mercy and grace. We are pulling out our hair in prayers for refugees, babies dying, mamas starving, daddies who keep daring to be great even if they're afraid, inmates in shackles, perfectly free people enslaving themselves with sin, and every kind of darkness in the world. 

Our prayers lay scattered along the path, and they make a road others can follow. Our good deeds fill the atmosphere with light. Our legacy is God's love, and behind us rises a generation we will never know, but who will know God in ways we can't fathom today, simply because we have followed the way of Jesus.

God is on the move, and those who follow the light of His love will not be left behind.

Thanks for walking with me, you guys. Thank you for being my friends, for loving God best of all with me, and for being heroes to the world around you.

I hope your day is full of at least one less worry in the bunch. And I hope you have an extra medicine syringe if you need it.

Cheers to the weekend. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

raising a confident daughter

Dear Confident Daughter,

Gosh, I love you. I love the way the world fits you like a glove made for waving to the crowd. I love the way you naturally walk into your day with your chin up and your heart open. Your name means "Fair Warrior", and you live up to all that it means. 

You wear ballet shoes while you karate kick your brothers. (Your HIIIYYYYAAAHHHH! sounds just like Miss Piggy's, which is awesome.) You make all your friends laugh with the inappropriate humor your brothers have taught you to love. (BTW, How do you think of so many words that rhyme with "fart"?) You leap into your dad's arms and command him to play with you, "Throw me, Pop!!!" No one else calls him that name, and he loves how you have boldly renamed him.

In some ways, you are so unlike your mama, and so much more like your dad. I love that. We need it to be that way. When you are weary from all the excitement, my quiet arms are your safe place; and many days your adventurous spirit inspires courage in my own heart. This love we share is meant to be.

But I know I make you a little crazy. You are growing up, and the world of big girls is not always the safe place you expect it to be. You believe the best about everyone. (I adore this about you!) You think I am so silly with all my questions. Like last night, when I asked if the girls at your new dance studio are kind to you.

"Of course they are," you said. "Why wouldn't they be?"

I told you I didn't know why they wouldn't be kind, that I was just checking. But that isn't really true. I know that people don't need a good reason to be horrid to each other. Girls often don't know how to be kind, or simply choose not to be, especially to a girl who is younger than they are. And you're the youngest in your class, so I'm watching closely, that's all.

I embarrass you with my odd ways. My purple hair makes you squirm. When I offered to color yours, you stared at me in disbelief. I read you poetry you don't understand and don't quite want to hear. I sing too loudly in the car for you, especially to Duffy, Katy Perry, and Adele, who also make you *slightly* uncomfortable with their songs that aren't *exactly* about Jesus. You want me to follow the rules and blend in, but it's taken me a whole lifetime to be okay with who I am. You're stuck with this version of me until forever. (At least our life won't be boring!)

I am my own kind of confident. As you grow up, I hope you can understand that courage takes many forms in this world. Until you do, I am keeping guard around your naivete.

When I drop you off in new settings, I remind you about all the rules. You find this superfluous. I tell you no one is allowed to see you naked or to show you their naked bodies. You wink and give me a hearty thumb's up. (These are the times I treasure your love for rule following!) After I pick you up, I ask you if anyone acted funny, made you uncomfortable, or tried to get you alone somewhere. And you laugh and roll your eyes a bit, saying:

"Mama, everyone there loves God, and no one who loves God would do something like that!"

Oh, baby. I wish all the people who love God could always do the right thing. But we don't. Unsafe people don't always look scary on the outside. So, I make you promise to listen, look, and yell if anything bad starts to happen. God gave you your confidence as a shield, and I want to make sure you know how to brandish it when necessary. (Also, use those karate kicks at your own discretion.)

Someday, we will talk about broken hearts and bad choices. The day will come when you stumble because of your own errant will, or you will be tripped by evil from another's aching heart. I will help you find the grace and truth you need when that happens to you.Your own mama's heart has learned courageous love best when her life crumbled a bit. The same will be true for you.

But today, I just want you to know this: I'm so glad you're my daughter. I love who you are. And, just like your brave heart will tell you, God's plans for you are always good, even though people aren't.

Also, roll your eyes all you want when I bother you. I'm not going anywhere. We're in this together for life, girl.


Friday, September 11, 2015

on planning fortieth birthdays because we are so old

“George Macdonald said, 'If you knew what God knows about death you would clap your listless hands', but instead I find old people in North America just buying this whole youth obsession. I think growing older is a wonderful privilege. I want to learn to glorify God in every stage of my life.”  -Elisabeth Elliot

"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13-14

As my ten-year-old will tell you, I was born "way back in the last century". I'm planning Morgan's fortieth birthday next month, and it is all just way too real, you guys. Forty may be the new thirty, but it really just is not. Despite the fact I am super young and fresh (humor me here), I only have six more months left in my thirties.

I shall rock them like it's 1999.

I'm not going to lie. I can't wait to be 40. The past five years have felt more like fifteen long spins around the Sun. I have spent the last three years pretending not to already feel forty inside. The outside of me has taken a few hits with the years, too.

Like the old grey mare, I ain't what I used to be. I held up my anti-aging facewash to Morgan last night and told him what the label should say: "You will be young forever! Buy our product and forget your wrinkles! (Just don't ask for a refund when you get old anyways, mmkay?)" Then I stuck my tongue out at the bottle because despite being this old, I am not particularly mature.

My eyelids are less perky than they were a decade ago. My neck skin is definitely getting a little lazy. The dermatologist has found my skin less-than-cancer-free after years of beach-loving days (Basal cell carcinoma for the win!). I discovered a strange pain in my right hand last month. (A brief google search told me it's either arthritis or I'm slowly dying of hypothermia. Hard to tell for sure.) I may even be going grey, for pity's sake. My hair hasn't been its natural color in decades, though, so the world will never know.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to turn forty and still be twenty-five, but I think that would confuse people.

All this getting older business reminds me of the last trimester of my pregnancies, when the discomfort increased, my vanity slipped away as my body expanded in ways I never thought possible, and I slowly accepted the truth that I would have to give birth. Freedom comes to pregnant woman when they embrace the truth: this is not in your control.

As we age, we face the same reality. And the freedom is just as liberating. The Bible says all people are like grass, we fade and wither. But, it then it reminds us that the word of the Lord lasts forever.

Forever sounds like a really long time to me. Way longer than forty years. Thank goodness.

George MacDonald knew the truth. We ought to clap our hands and rejoice in how far we have come, and how close we are to an eternity in which God's word will birth us into His presence forever. Rejoicing in being old feels very counter-cultural, and we are all about that kind of Jesus stuff. WWJD on His fortieth birthday? He would party.

So, Morgan and I are giving ourselves a day full of all our favorite things on our fortieth birthdays. We will not ask "What should we do for our birthday?" because that question is a bummer machine. We plan to do everything that helps us relish the sweetness of four decades of being alive, feeling loved, having meaningful work and people in our lives, and the last twenty-plus years of knowing the God who loves us so well.

Bring it, fortieth birthday. Bring the fun, bring the happy cakes with all the candles, bring the memories, bring all you have to offer us. We salute you! (And hopefully this potential case of hypothermia I have won't slow down my clapping hands.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

who wants to be the pastor's wife?

Last Sunday, I stood in the parking lot chatting with someone long after the last service was over. A friend leaned out his car window, waving and shouting to me, "Bye, First Lady! Have a great day!"

Truly, how many white girls from Orange County ever get to be called "First Lady"? I mean, unless they're married to an actual US president. Gah, I love our church.

My life is very different than I ever expected it to be when I was a lowly Hollywood production assistant in the art department, making Starbucks runs and listening to old artists wax eloquent about the 1960s LA art scene. One story involved a woman who famously played naked chess with Marcel DuChamp. She also set her polyester pantsuit aflame one day while smoking and driving her VW bug. You just can't make stuff like this up. Another guy ominously predicted the simultaneous demise of all the palm trees in LA one day, since they aren't indigenous, were all planted at the same time, and have the same lifespan. Every day of my life was basically a Seinfeld episode back then.

I thought it would be like that forever, days full of odd artists and driven studio execs. I also thought denim overalls had become permanent fashion rejects, which only proves the future is hard to predict. For many reasons I can't list here, I jumped at the chance to run away from my LA life and marry a campus minister. Love was worth the leap.

Many years later we ended up as pastors of a struggling church. I barely thought twice about the strange path my life was on- it was seamless, you know? One moment led to the next, like a dream I was scrambling to keep pace with for years. I jogged along, having babies, hosting students, loving God with all I had, and then I looked up one day, and I was a "pastor's wife".

Let's be clear: I had no idea what I was doing.

I don't always love the pressures of ministry, but I do really, really love the people we serve. They're all real life heroes. When church feels more like family, the joy is indescribable.

There has never been a more ridiculous group of mismatched people than we find in God's Church. When we link arms it's a sight to behold. All we really have in common is the gospel. The way our brokenness, need, and weaknesses meets His risen glory is the singular cord linking us together. Any time I am given the chance to stand at the front of a group of people and pray for more precious souls to enter this ragtag group of Jesus people, I can't believe my luck. To be allowed to hold a microphone and lead people into God's Kingdom is a gift.

If I could go back in time six years and meet "me" for coffee, I would have a great deal to say, and maybe just as much to keep to myself. Spoilers ruin the fun.

Spoilers would take away the need to cling to God. A genuine love for Jesus and His Church propelled us into this place in Austin. Had I known how hard it would be to do this well, all kinds of second thoughts might have arisen. But the hard days have birthed a greater love for God and a deeper awe for His beautiful Church.

We have had front row seats for one of the most precious miracles I can imagine: a church revived. It takes a mystical blend of the Holy Trinity, the faith and effort of many people, and money. I'm not going to lie, you need boatloads of all three ingredients. While you're waiting for those ships to come in, you learn the power of praying things that sound like modern day psalms, "God, come on! You told us to do this! COME. ON. You're so powerful! You MADE EVERYTHING. You can DO ANYTHING. Please, do this for us. We know you won't let us down now, Lord!" Good, holy prayers come later, after all these honest ones grease the wheels a bit.

All along the way, we are also learning who the Church is meant to be in the world.

The simplest acts can often be the hardest to do in life. Loving people is easy in theory, and very messy in practice. If they're victorious, you make a run for Jesus with them. If they're prickly, you draw good boundaries and give them some grace. But if they're grieving, you hold hands, you take meals, you talk about the pain, you sit in silence, you pray in tears. But the sadness wears on you. And in these days of tragedy and constant media coverage, the sadness is everywhere.

So we live Colossians 1:24. God continually shows us in new ways to rejoice in what we suffer, filling up in our own selves as much of the aching sorrow this world offers us, so that what the world needs of Christ can be brought through the love we share. This chance to offer Christ to others is also a gift.

Even though I don't think I ever "wanted" to be a pastor's wife, there is probably only one thing I would tell myself on that trip back in time:

"You will love where this path leads. (Also, keep your overalls. No fashion trend is ever dead.)"

Ok, fine. I would tell myself two things.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Homelessness, Miracles at Target, & Needing Everything

Two Sundays ago, the kids and I hit Target for groceries on the way home from church. These days, Target trips go like this for us:

The kids run to the toy section together, with the oldest in charge (we all pretend that will go well). I fill my cart to overflowing capacity with every food item that exists in the western world. Then I walk up and down every aisle to see all the shiny, pretty Target things. Finally, I gather my children and refuse to buy four $300 Lego sets and whatever new trading cards they are now collecting ("collecting" means talking about said cards like they are precious metals mined from magical caves in Rainbowland, but then actually throwing those cards all over the place like garbage and never caring if they get ruined or thrown away). 
When I roll up to the check-out with my cart, I see it in that Target employee's eyes every time, "THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY A GROCERY STORE, LADY."  
But Target has cute fall scarves and a rocking toy section, so we keep coming back. 
Once our food is all scanned and bagged, the cart is no longer big enough to hold the stuff I strategically stacked with my Tetris-champion skillz. I am offered a second cart. Then the total comes up on the screen, and Boy 1 shouts the number out loud because he can't believe we have to pay THAT MUCH MONEY
Every single time I shop, as I swipe my debit card I thank God for the money to live so luxuriously: six kinds of cereal, three gallons of milk, all the fruit we want, expensive meat, bread for days, chocolate everything. It feels like a miracle to have so much.

That particular Sunday, when we drove out of the parking lot, we saw a mom and two littles holding a sign that said, "We have nothing. Please help."

And we got to pass a small portion of our miracle on to her.

The kids and I talked about the challenges that mother faced as we drove home. And one of my kids said something that surprised me, "I think it must be easier to love God if you are poor."

I asked him why he thought that.

"Because you need Him so much more. For, like, EVERYTHING."

My son's words keep rolling around in my soul. We have a fairly large homeless community at our church. On Sundays, I routinely chat with some of them, and they really do need God for, like, EVERYTHING. And they need us to make space for them to be seen, loved, and safe.

But I don't think it's easier for them to love God. I just think it's easier for them to admit that loving God is not an easy thing to do. They don't pretend to have it all together. They don't hide their weaknesses and needs, because they can't.

By contrast, people who can get almost everything with a swipe of a debit card easily forget the great provision of God. We forget we need Him for, like, EVERYTHING. Loving God can become one item on the checklist of our very full lives.

But really loving God is hard. Loving God requires needing Jesus so much we are willing to follow Him into uncomfortable places, where our weaknesses become His powerful displays of grace. Jesus always asked ridiculous things of the people who wanted to follow Him: sell all their possessions, forgive everything and everyone, stay awake and pray, believe the impossible could happen, love God more than their culture. Jesus saw the great need of their hearts, and asked them to do those things so they could see their weaknesses and then find God's strength and power.

We find our weaknesses and God calls them gifts. 2 Corinthians 12 says to brag about our weaknesses, because in them His power is made perfect.

There is no great cure for our need here in this life. There is only a God of Great Love who is looking for us to hold up a sign that says, "We have nothing. Please help."

That's when the real miracles begin.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:23-26