Wednesday, October 26, 2016

how god mingles his holiness with our humanity

First today, I have some quotes that make me want to jump up right there where you are and make a run for Jesus all around the room:

"You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
—Augustine, Confessions

"If God has given graces to some good women, revealing to them something holy and good through His Holy Scriptures, should they, for the sake of the defamers of the truth, refrain from writing down, speaking, or declaring it to each other? Ah! It would be too impudent to hide the talent which God has given us, we who ought to have the grace to persevere to the end. Amen!"
—Marie Dentière, former abbess and wife of a Protestant minister (1495-1561)

"Surely it is worthwhile to lay ourselves out with all our might in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ."
—William Carey

"The war made me poignantly aware of the beauty of the world."
—J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

“A priest is a priest, no matter where she happens to be. Her job is to recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God. Her job is to speak in ways that help other people recognize the holiness of things too.” —Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

"Do not wish to jump immediately from the streams to the sea, because one has to go through easier things to the more difficult."
—Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

"I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified."
—Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley

This one’s for all the ladies.

And it’s for all the men who would not be as brave, as faithful, or as secure if they had not been loved by the mothers, the sisters, and the wives who spoke truth and wove grace in their lives.

This one is for all of us, who have filled small spaces with our glorious souls. It’s for those of us who have spoken mighty words in the tiny assembly of a nursery, a friendship, or in the quiet of our own solitude. For those of us who have seen and recognized the holy in the brokenness around us, and have held the pieces up to God and others, marveling at their brilliance.

We belong to God, and we ought not shy away from His call on our lives to love and live out of the depth of our soul knowledge of our Heavenly Father.

It is important that we realize what is within us.

He whose words carved the world from chaos has made His home in our lives. The God who spoke from Mount Sinai and left Moses’s face glowing with light lives within us. Inside our souls, He arises, the Lord Himself, who shut the mouths of lions and quenched the heat of the fiery furnace, and raised up little Esther, and crowned a whole-hearted shepherd boy as king over Israel. He lowered Himself into the body of a vulnerable baby, entrusted His Son to a teenage mother, lifted up the poor and the broken and healed them, then died for a whole world full of people crying out for justice and mercy.

Yes, it is important to realize Who has mingled His holy grace with our humanity, choosing to make us vessels of His breathtaking love.

If the place I am to take in life seems small, if I am limited by circumstances, systems, biases, or simply my abilities, the ocean of God’s mighty presence within me will not be quenched. Even then, I am full of a greatness the world can’t fathom. The love and glory within me could not be contained in the oceans of the world, so a little is bound to leak out here and there, as I go about by business today.

Our help and salvation comes not from our culture, the law, the systems of society, or the permission of other people. We look to the Lord alone.

So GO. Go and sing and hope and pray and give and love and proclaim and preach His awesome mightiness. Don't hold back. Don't give up. We are of those who do not quit and who persevere to the very end. Amen.

Get out of bed, Jerusalem!
   Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
   God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,
   all people sunk in deep darkness,
But God rises on you,
   his sunrise glory breaks over you.
Nations will come to your light,
   kings to your sunburst brightness.
Look up! Look around!
   Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:
Your sons coming from great distances,
   your daughters carried by their nannies.
When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles!
   Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!
All those people returning by sea for the reunion,
   a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations!
   and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
   the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
   and I will beautify my beautiful house.
Isaiah 60:1-5 (MSG)

Friday, October 21, 2016

winning the trust (and hearts!) of our children

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
-1 Peter 2:9-10

Last night we walked home from the park as a family, and one of my kids stayed close by my side while all the others skipped ahead. In great confidence, I learned about all the fears in my child's heart about the future. What if failure was inevitable? What if their dreams didn't come true? What if who they wanted to be someday wasn't who they ended up being? 

These full-blown existential crises are what parenting preteens is all about. They're like a trip to Disneyworld: lots of drama, you feel mostly lost the whole time, and the waiting slowly grinds you down to the nubs of your soul.

"You've got a couple of decades of this ahead of you," I said. "Your whole life is about becoming who you're going to be for a long time. Be patient. It takes time for God to get you there. #enjoythejourney, baby." 

My child then smiled. No, actually I detected something that was almost a chuckle, even laughter. Crisis averted!

I silently thanked God for children who trust us with their inner struggles. And I thought of all the times Morgan and I have fought our frustration and exhaustion with their immaturity to try to teach our kids about living transparently and win their hearts and trust. It's been worth every bit of energy to teach them these three things:
1. Shame can't grow in the light.  
2. You can't change what you keep trying to hide.  
3. Everything really good in life is on the other side of vulnerability.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 that we should boast in our weaknesses, but even still, we prefer others think we are better than we actually are. (Enter Photoshop, cosmetic surgery, and all modern advertising.) Our kids can't hear often enough that perfection is a impossible goal, and that we would prefer to see imperfect courage in their lives most of all.

Our homes need to be a place they can get it all wrong, again and again, and still belong. When the consequences of their failure are painful for them (and for us), a little empathy will go much farther than the "I told you so." we wish we could paint on their bedroom wall.

Gosh, we're all learning about grace together in our homes, aren't we?

Jesus said she who is forgiven much, loves much. He saves us because He loves us, but we wish so much we didn't need saving. Hey God, If we could find a way save ourselves, would that be okay? It's hard to fail and then ask for forgiveness.

But how can grace be amazing if we don't need it so desperately?

I suppose we need to face our weaknesses occasionally so we can remember that we don't really deserve God's favor much at all. We aren't entitled to salvation. We are indebted to God for every freedom and blessing we cherish. We could never make any of it happen on our own.

God sent Jesus to make Isiah 62 true in our lives and in our kids' lives. He's sending us out into the world to clear the roads and highways so His salvation can flow like a river through our souls, washing away every sin and failure that has snared us.

Our Savior comes, ready to complete what He has promised in our families. He has new, beautiful names for us all. Mine is "Mom", what's yours?

Walk out of the gates. Get going!

    Get the road ready for the people.

Build the highway. Get at it!
    Clear the debris,
    hoist high a flag, a signal to all peoples!
Yes! God has broadcast to all the world:
    “Tell daughter Zion, ‘Look! Your Savior comes,
Ready to do what he said he’d do,
    prepared to complete what he promised.’”
Zion will be called new names: Holy People, God-Redeemed,
    Sought-Out, City-Not-Forsaken.
Isaiah 62:10-12

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Glimpses of Glory From Our Trip to South Africa

Morgan and I went to a ministry conference in South Africa last week. I am still sleeping when I‘m supposed to be awake and awake when I’m supposed to be asleep, so forgive me if this post has a stream of consciousness that only a two year old would find acceptable. I am so tired that I have basically become a two year-old: I can’t nap even though I’m exhausted, all I want to eat is sugar, and I really don’t want to clean up the giant pile of stuff that used to be in my suitcase. I need my blankie and a juice box (or maybe my favorite sweatpants and a gallon and a half of coffee) to get through this.

But our trip was amazing, and I wish I could wrap up all we saw and learned in Africa and put it in your hands and heart.

All I can give you are a few glimpses of it, though.

First of all, in South Africa, my husband overcame every carefully formed instinct in his brain and achieved greatness as he drove a stickshift on the left side of the road. We all chanted, “Turn left, stay left. Turn left, stay left!” when proceeding out into an intersection. Every lane change was a victory. We only nearly died ten times.

We stood above the clouds on Table Mountain. It was real and it was spectacular. Either heaven’s beauty had come down or we had been carried up by it. Then we hiked Lion's Head, climbing ladders and scaling rock walls so we could look out over the city and the sea, in awe of the God who has made it all.

In a room full of thousands of international people, we sang a Zulu hymn of praise to God. Many of the people in that room live as missionaries in lands where it is dangerous to follow Christ. I felt small in the midst of God’s powerful way of uniting His people.

Every single person we spoke with asked us about the election in America. What would we do? How would we vote? Even all the way across the earth, we could not escape the ugliness of our current political climate. We expressed our deep apologies for our national condition many times last week. Most people chuckled, some suggested we move to South Africa if the election turns out badly.

We drove through a township, which are the areas that non-whites were forcibly moved to under the apartheid government. They are still full of families living in small one-room shacks.  Children played and pointed at us as we drove through. People live their lives there in ways most Americans couldn’t imagine.

We made new friends who work to feed, educate, and offer healthcare for people in the townships. We heard first-hand how much healing South Africa needs. Languages and customs are different, but the suffering and vulnerability that is unique to humanity are the same everywhere.

In our last moments in South Africa, I stood in the rental car parking lot, and a young mother with her baby strapped to her back searched the trash can for food. I regretted giving our last 100 rand to the man who kindly helped us load our luggage into our car. I had nothing to offer this mother except a smile and a nod of my head. Then suddenly a security guard appeared and the mother began to run. He shouted at her, chased her away from the cans of trash she hoped held something to fill her need.

This is a scene that plays out here in America every day. Our homeless friends at church have stories and carry fears because they have been shooed away from places they aren’t “supposed” to be. But poverty, hunger, and need aren’t shameful. Woe to all of us if they were. How would we ever find the good news accessible if we shooed away our lack and our deep need for belonging and care? When we embrace and care for the poor, we are all set free.

I died inside a little for that mother. I thought of the day we hiked up above the sea to a place paragliders launched themselves off of the cliff. Bright orange and green sails carried tiny looking people over the expanse of water that separated us from Antarctica. God spoke to me there, above that ocean.

As big as that ocean seems, I am even greater. Wherever you land, Carrie, however you sail and then land in your life, you always land in Me. You can’t go anywhere that I am not.

This is true for me, and it is true for the running mother and her baby in South Africa. It is true for whoever ascends to the presidency, and for the security guard who has been instructed to keep the ugly part of his country away from the airport. The questions we must answer are these: How will we fly? Who else will we carry up with us? How low are we willing to go to fill the needy around us?

Because we can go all the way to the ends of the earth or we can go right around the corner, and still, we land in His midst. And if we are in His midst, we ought to be seeking to love and serve like He has asked us to. Even in my two-year-old state of mind, I can see the importance of that.


For more information about helping to restore hope and transform South Africa, you can visit the Thembalitscha website:

For more information about Chi Street, Mosaic Church's homeless community and outreach, you can visit:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

when god's will looms over us

"In the arms of the ocean, so sweet and so cold
And all this devotion, well, I never knew at all,
And the questions I have, for a sinner released,
In the arms of the ocean deliver me."
-Florence + the Machine, Never Let Me Go

In my dreams, the will of God looms above me like a wave about to crash down on my head. It isn't exactly God who is up there, a ceiling of ferocious foaming waters. It's His will. 

Dreams rarely make sense, so it doesn't matter that the will of the God who loves me could never really be terrifying. I dream it anyways.

In the waking hours, I know His plans for me are good. But at night, things are not always so clear, and I feel a little bit like Jonah in my heart, afraid of the journey ahead. I have so many questions, and not many of them have answers this side of eternity.

Most of my questions can be distilled down into single words: How? When ? Why?

When I consider all the things we will not know until we have already passed through the fire of the future, I want to hide my head under my pillow and just sleep until it can all be sorted out.

That's how I found my daughter last week- in her bed with her head hidden under a pillow.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

"I can't look at you when you come in. You look scary at first!" she told me.

I remembered right then, the way I used to do the same thing when I called for my own mom in the middle of the night. If I watched the door, my mind always tricked me into thinking someone horrible had come to get me. It was always safe once I heard her voice, though. One word from her let me know it was okay to uncover my head.

Because that's what a word can do. A word can chase the fear within us away.

Words are weighty, shaping reality by carving us all smooth out of the jagged darkness. Thankful, Please. Victory, Beautiful, Grace, Hope, Laughter are all powerful word-tools in my own life. So are Marshmallow, Snowflake, Fluffy, Freedom, Breeze, and Blissful. It's as if they are keys to happiness and simply reading them opens doors inside my soul.

If you hang around my children long enough, you'll find they have a few words that create electricity in their souls. Mostly, any word related to the bathroom is a winner for them. My children aren't too nuanced to appreciate any humor related to toilet actions. (I know, you're so jealous. I am a proud mother, indeed.) But they also delight in the randomness of words like Boingo, Banana, Chickenish, Snurp, Moola, and Freshity Fresh. But the words we speak most often over one another in our house are love and I'm sorry. Those words are cornerstones of life.

Some words repel people from conversations. I have known lots of people who hate the word moist, for example. There are also derogatory words and even regular words that have been weaponized against some of us. Negative words like these can be challenging to carry.

But good or bad, all words share the same ideal destiny. They must be set free, let go, and released into the atmosphere.

The world needs our words like my daughter needs me in the middle of the night. Out our doors are people waiting for someone who understands what it's like to be haunted by words like hatred and prejudice. There are women who long hear that they are enough, little children who need the word brave spoken over them, and grown men who just want to hear someone say well done.

So go. Go let your words meet the great need of the world for connection and belonging. Don't be stingy and keep your good words to yourself, or pretend the scary words don't weigh you down.

Give your words to the world, and I promise, the nightmares will go away. God's will is looming over us, with arms of deliverance and feet that never stop running to us. He has spoken one simple collection of words to drown our fears and deliver us:

It is finished.