Tuesday, September 27, 2016

on finding our purpose in a broken world

When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
-Matthew 6”2-4 (MSG)

The news is awful these days, full of police shootings, presidential candidates cannibalizing each other’s character, and reports on terror. And here we all are, in our singular lives, stretching ourselves between the knowledge that eight decades of breath is like nothing at all and yet also something brilliant and beautiful.

Sometimes I roam the rows of bookstores and run my fingers along the spines of the books resting on the shelves. All those words, all those stories, some that have lasted generations. Could Plato and Bronte and Hemingway and Marquez and Augustine ever have imagined the way their voices would survive wars and fires and revolutions and the rise of technology as lord over all?

Science, government, and innovation seek answers to every human need, but it is art that often meets our deepest longing. Color and story change the soul, and the changed soul bears the potential to transform the world bit by bit, pixel by pixel. We simply must refuse to get too comfortable.

Tiny seeds grow into grand trees. A small pebble makes waves across a sprawling lake. These metaphors give hope to me for my life as a woman of average intellect, decent talent, and acceptable ambition.

And yet many days I don’t seem to be making progress.

My sons ask me incredible questions that open up the whole soul of mankind: “Mom, why does war exist?”, “Why does the color of someone’s skin affect other people that way?”, “Why don’t we take better care of each other?”. I feel immensely proud of them for their noble curiosity.

But then their own humanity betrays them when they fight over who will get in the car first, and fists fly and war is waged and reconciliation feels impossible for us all.

The world is full of hungry, hurting people. So is my little house. How can one life do anything about a need so deep and wide? This tension is the core essence of motherhood, ministry, and basic gospel living.

Because of the gospel, there is space in my soul for every conflict we face in our culture. I can carry our hopeful church, my fragile marriage, my laughing/fighting/aching children, and the heavy weight of a hurting world. I can carry my dreams for the future and my failures from the past. I can carry my questions for God that no one seems to be able to understand and my trust in Him and His goodness.  I don’t have to know or understand all that is happening in my life or in the world in order to walk with Joy and Grace and Love and Freedom. There is space in God for all of it, and so there is space in me as well.

Our God is vast and endless, and He has made room for us, with all our good intentions, great acts of love, and miserable failures. He asks only that we elevate our longing for justice and mercy above our propensity for selfish ambition.

I wonder if there will bookshelves in eternity with rows and rows of stories that will never make the news here on earth. All the hidden acts of love will be on display for us. The stories  would seem like small offerings here in life, but God’s reward is saved up for the faithful ones who, in a million tiny ways, never quit loving Him best of all. There will be tales of fathers who built safe places for their children to lie down in peace, of wives who forgave the deepest offenses, of sisters and brothers who carried one another’s pain, and of children who loved their mamas when they were too weak to lead well.

And there on one of the shelves, you may find your own story of mercy and grace; scrawled out by God’s own hand will be all the days you chose to love someone who needed more than you could give.

I pray we will be brave and take the low place, walk the narrow path, carry the aching burden, set our eyes on things unseen, and climb the mountain to seek His presence. Maybe wars, racism, attacks, cruel public figures, and all the broken hearts around can become prompts for us to write a different story with our lives.

Since the reward is hidden, it’s hard to know for sure. But living any other way seems like giving up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

what i'm reading: all the pretty things and others

I just finished Edie Wadsworth's beautiful memoir All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went through Fire to Find Her Way Home. It was a deep and vulnerable and hope-filled story, and I think you guys will love it. It's about loving flawed people, forgiving the unforgivable, and finding grace and forgiveness for your own failures.

I finished Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect a while ago, and the challenge it brought me to redefine success in my daily life is still pressing into my soul. I have come face to face with my contorted way of trying to earn grace and impress Jesus lately. The emptiness that is in that endless race is not what I want. I am learning the beauty of being His is far sweeter than earning a crown I can't hold in His presence. Present Over Perfect may be my favorite book this year.

I started Brown Girl Dreaming a few weeks ago in the bookstore. I haven't finished it yet, but I can't wait to pick it back up! It's free verse autobiographical poetry about growing up as an African American girl in the South during the civil rights era. The words amazing, deep, moving, and brilliant don't come close enough to telling you how I feel about it so far. 

I'm taking looooong plane ride to Africa soon, so I have a stack of books waiting to head with me over the Atlantic. I'm a little nervous about spending DOZENS of hours on a plane, you guys. I'm also a wee bit anxious because I'm leaving my "babies" at home. Of course, the only more stressful scenario would be taking all four of my kids with me on the plane for thirty hours, so I'm basking in the joy of not dying a bazillion deaths as a result of my children losing their minds on planes. Even so, I don't sleep on planes at all- even if I take sleeping pills, so I will arrive in Africa a full-fledged, very well-read zombie. Bless it.

I can't say how these books are because I haven't started them yet. But here they are:


Well, that's it, you guys! Happy reading! Please pray for my plane trip. Maybe I'll sleep if everyone begs the Holy Spirit to knock me out? :)

{Also, this post contains affiliate links. Click away, but just a head's up!}

Thursday, September 15, 2016

waiting, salvation, and the beauty of blooming late in life

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
-John 2:1-11

“Hey, buddy, time to wake up. We have an early orthodontist appointment,” I rubbed his back and he pulled the covers up over his head.

After a llttle more encouragement, he reluctantly joined other kids, who were already up reading books in little nests of pillows in the game room.
I went to get ready.

“Twenty minutes, you guys!” I shouted upstairs ten minutes later.

MOM! I can’t find my stinkin’ shoes!” a body ran through the house with arms flailing. (Given the general odor of my boys’ rooms, I think he meant stinky shoes.)

“When are we leaving?” another asked from inside the pantry. Did he have time for another breakfast? Could I fix him toast? How many tasks can we squeeze into the time we have left?

“We were supposed to leave four minutes ago,” I said, my purse on my arm and keys in my hand. I’m just here, waiting.

Waiting and being late have become my specialties in life.

Later I sat in the waiting room at the orthodontist. From the ceiling above, DJs on the radio talked about September 11, 2001. They told the stories of all the people who were late to their jobs in the towers on that awful morning. Missed taxis, cars that wouldn’t start, children who dawdled, donuts that needed to be bought- these ordinary little problems saved their lives.

I wondered, can being late because of the messiness of life really save us?

Here on the radio is proof that being late is not always the worst thing. It can even be the best thing. I’m only beginning to see how late I am arriving to many parts of life.

The list of things I wish I had done in my twenties is a mile long. The list of lessons I wish I had figured out in my thirties is even longer. But I didn't know my heart longed for adventure, to create a new space to rest my head that had never been built before. I was too busy trying to cram myself into the place I had already found back then.

I was a late bloomer long after I should have already figured out who I wanted to be. I’m forty years old and only getting started at life. I know I’m not alone.

In a world where the messages about success and failure get awfully tied to what we do instead of who we are, we can forget that our ability to achieve some kind of greatness is less important than making space for God’s love to set us free and send us out.

There has never been a useless person or a meaningless season since the beginning of all things. Some of us are surprised to find the weak wine of our youth has run out. What were we thinking? How did we miss our chance? We’re here in the middle years, everyone is looking at us, and we’re wondering what we could possibly do to salvage the party. How many tasks can we squeeze into the time we have left?

We’re awfully late. We were supposed to be done and out of here four minutes ago, four years ago, four failures ago. But here we are, waiting with purse on shoulder and keys in hand. We’re waiting for the seemingly ordinary contents of our souls to be made into something extraordinary.

But we still can’t find our stinkin’ shoes.

At first glance, some people seem to be right on time for who they want to be. Out there in the world we see the flash of brilliance of a prodigy, the steady steps of the faithful soldier, and the free-spirited prodigals who are still off in other lands. They don’t seem to be waiting for anything at all. They look full of life and celebration.

I wonder, though, if there’s anything more in any of us than some simple water. Prodigies, Soldiers, Prodigals, and Late Bloomers look an awful lot alike lined up next to a holy God. No one has quite enough to measure up on their own. Everyone’s song seems a bit off-key compared with His endless anthem, our lights are a little cloudy in the shadow of His mighty hand.

Who among us is really capable of bearing the touch of an eternal God, unless He is lifting us and pouring us out as a miraculous sign of His glory?

Could it be we were all created to hold the late wine? We are all becoming the later-in-life, past-your-prime, better wine together. Old age will slow us down eventually, wilting the strength of our minds and bodies. Our shared destiny is to toast one another with the wine of a far-off home. We are meant to seek the taste of something that inspires poets to write sonnets and causes hearts to swoon for sacrifice. We crave the kind of wine that only a Holy God can make, full of a ripeness the world can’t manufacture.

Jesus has saved the best for last. He has saved his glorious reward for all who will follow Him to the very end. He has saved it for you and for me and for all who will believe in Him.

All we have to do is wait a little longer.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

books: the new punk rock of our modern era

Have you ever posted something on social media and then been surprised that so many people liked it and shared it? This was the photo and the text of my post: 

"All of my kids are readers. Sometimes people ask how we "made that happen". I don't think we "tried" to make it happen, exactly, but I do believe some intentional choices opened the door to reading as a way of life in our home: 
1. We go to the library every week and check out 30-60 books. 
2. We limit screen time to 2 hours per week for each child. 
3. We read aloud to our kids as a regular family activity. 
4. We play a lot of board games, which extends their attention spans
5. We have books in absolutely every room of the house. 
6. We talk about the books we read at dinner, so that we can share the stories that are influencing be us.
Raising readers isn't rocket science, but it does require our direct involvement as parents. Anyone can do it, and it is SO WORTH IT"

To be honest, I generally feel like most people don't worry about reading, or value it all that much. Electronics have replaced books as the best way to spend our free time. When I am in restaurants and stores, and even at the park, many children and adults I see are on devices, and I almost never see books in anyone's hands. Mostly, I see a sea of phones and tablets. There are even two girls in our neighborhood who ride their bikes to school while watching shows on their phones, which are mounted on the handlebars of their bikes. This seems typical to me, and although dangerous, the tide of our culture is pulling us all toward an addiction to devices.

Our family carries books everywhere, and it is because we love to read, but it is also because reading is our defiant way of saying No to electronics all day every day. Books are the punk rock of our modern era; they are our way of rejecting the excesses of our mainstream media culture.

When we hold books above media, we are holding an opportunity to start a revolution in our lives and homes.

sometimes leave my phone at home when we run errands because I want to feel the freedom of being unreachable. My kids have no devices of their own. If they are bored at the doctor's office, their sister's ballet recital, or in the middle of Costco, they pull out a book and read. If they don't have a book, they just wait miserably for the boring thing to be over. This is one of the ways my overly comfortable, first-world children are learning about suffering in life. 

As a society, we are losing that ability to endure a lull in brain stimulation. But we actually don't need constant activity and multitasking to survive. We can just sit there and think about things, let our minds wander, imagine new creative projects, or simply listen to our internal voice. I realize this sounds crazy. But it's true.

When I tell people that one of our goals is for our family to spend as little time as possible in front of TVs and screens, mostly I feel like they are appalled. I hear their internal scream, like I'm suggesting something that is way too difficult for them.

I understand this feeling. It's difficult for me, too. It is easier to turn on the TV, to hand the toddler your phone, and to check your email again. It feels like everything important is happening on your phone. There are texts to answer, emails to send, photos to edit, and Amazon orders to finish up. But while you're staring a that little screen, a whole world of beauty and grace is swirling around you. You are in danger of missing it.

Our love of books isn't just about reading. Books and reading will teach us empathy for others' stories and help us tell our own stories well. This is about the way technology is causing us to lose ourselves and each other a little bit, because we are more engaged with people on the internet than we are with the people right in front of us.

Given the response to my post on Instagram and Facebook, I'm beginning to believe more people want a simpler, less electronic life than I previously suspected. My heart cries out, "Could it be? Are there other people who want to be set free?"

Back in the olden days, we had no choice except to engage in the life that was happening right in front of us. When we were in college, the only way to meet up for lunch with a friend was to call them the day before and make a plan. When we got married, the only way to get your email was to sit down at a computer. When we had our first child, there were no smart phones. So much changed so fast. Technology and the responsibility it brings to us kind of sneaked up on us, didn't it?

Now we have everything, everyone, the whole world in the palm of our hand. Which is dazzling in theory, but often quite stressful in practice.

The anxiety that comes with the constant barrage of emails, texts, and notifications begs the question: What does it profit us, if we gain the whole world and yet lose our souls?

Today I hope you ignore your phone while you play dominoes with an old friend. I dare you to check your notifications and emails in the morning and at lunch and then get on with your day. Read the first chapter of a very good book. Make pie crust and let your kids put the cinnamon and sugar on the apples. Take out a piece of paper and draw something just because you can. Ride your bike to the park and look at a magazine under a tree. Call your mom. Buy a Hallmark card and mail it to your grandfather. Mentally write a poem while you watch your son's soccer practice. Plan the next ten years of your life, imagining all the things you'll have to do to build the life who you want. Sit in the quiet of your bedroom and listen to the sound of your soul. Feel everything swirling around in your heart, and respond accordingly.

Go, live your life fully connected to the Love you so desperately need to receive and give. You will gain more than you give up. It will be worth it. You won't miss the shows you didn't binge or the posts you didn't "like".

You will just really, really love the life you have been built, one intentional choice at a time. It truly will be revolutionary in all the best ways.