Friday, February 24, 2017

let's run away from reality

I woke up and shuffled into the kitchen looking for my best friend, AKA my Keurig machine. Magic instant coffee is indisputably the best thing about this millennium so far.

On the way there I discovered a true tragedy. A giant pot of leftover, homemade spaghetti sauce from the night before was still sitting on the stove. Failure and waste waved its hand good morning at me. It felt a bit like mockery.

I dug around in the fridge for the creamer, incapable of processing any strategic thoughts because I was tired after a stormy night. Two children had cried out for comfort when the thunder boomed and woke them up. Now the dog was whining aggressively at my feet with a ball she wanted thrown.

In the living room a vintage typewriter loudly clacked away as one kid practiced spelling every word related to toilets he knew.

The children had turned on every light in the house and it was so bright I thought that maybe the Sun itself was inside our house. I seemed to be going slightly blind, actually.

Someone punched someone else for sitting in his "spot". The punched person did not turn the other cheek as Jesus taught, but sought out his own revenge. My dream of raising peacemakers is still in process. Everyone had 2,754 things to tell me, all of them spoke at the same time. I was making a Nutella sandwich for someone before I had the chance to make my own cup of coffee and learn to be human again. (Incidentally, I still can't believe someone has duped me into accepting chocolate spread on a piece of bread as a viable breakfast option.)

I have so many regrets right here in the kitchen alone. Mostly I regret that my magic coffee still hasn’t appeared in my hand.

Can a girl get a redo at 8am?

These are the kinds of days I want to run away and take an impromptu vacation. I would like for this dysfunctional escape to be considered charming in an eccentric sort of way by all my peers. Judge not, my people.

I could pack everyone in the car with a change of clothes in a backpack and head for Yellowstone, Canada, or Seattle. It’s on these days that I remember my kids have never seen the Grand Canyon, or Half Dome at Yosemite. They don't know the Pacific Ocean well enough. We could remedy all of that by leaving this place of great sorrow and hire a realtor to sell our home fully furnished while we are on an endless road trip.

It seems like my life would be easier in one small car, without electric bills to pay or wood floors to mop. Surely my kids would all be so sweet if we lived in a car. Right? Surely.

Okay, I know this is not true. It just feels true. When the pressure of my current circumstances crashes down on me, my first response is always a desire to change my circumstances. Forget about cultivating courage and discipline and longsuffering. Give me sweet relief!

It's hard to accept that God has led me here, to whiny dogs and bickering kids, to stormy skies and loud clacking typewriters, to a messy, beloved family and a church full of His glory. God's plans for us are always good, but they are not always easy. I live in this house where the leftovers get forgotten, but we are remembered forever by the Maker of all things. Life is a strange juxtaposition of brokenness and grace.

God’s goodness blossoms fullest when we exercise our willingness to trust and obey. Life makes so much more sense in the rear view mirror. I can see how the darkness that prowled after me some days taught me to love His invisible light. I can see how the wounds we suffered drew us closer to Him and to one another. And I can see that I rarely had a proper grasp on how His goodness was overtaking me despite my own efforts to change the path He chose for me.

The odds are pretty good that His goodness is in the all the mess around me right now, too. It's just hard to detect because of the emotional noise and ridiculously bright lights.

Truth be told, road trips with four kids and a dog are mostly awful. Eventually everyone bickers about the music choice, the snack distribution, or whether or not one particular person really and truly does “need” to stop and find a bathroom (again). Our backs get sore and our legs get cramped and we long for a place to sprawl out and live without someone’s elbow knocking against our ear.

I think eternity will feel like all the perks of a road trip rolled into one joyous life. We will all live a happy nomad life on heavenly shores after following Jesus through all the deserts and darkness. Until then, our happiness is bound up in our assurance that God is who He says He is and our ability to follow even when we'd rather run away.

Cheers to reality, friends. Here's to annoying lights and coffee that cools off too much while the kids argue about who should get the last of the Golden Grahams. We’re all right where we’re supposed to be, and God is in our midst.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

why do so many people think church is lonely?

friends lisa kudrow phoebe buffay phoebe friends tv

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
-1 John 4:19-21 (MSG)

Jesus had some really lousy friends when He wore flesh and blood, walking the dirt roads of the Middle East. He had a few hopelessly devoted and loyal friends, too. He even had one back-stabbing buddy who cared nothing about how badly his betrayal would wound Jesus or the people around him.

Maybe it’s just my dark sense of humor talking here, but I find this all delightful.

In the disciples’ defense, Jesus was tricky to befriend. He disappointed his friends on countless occasions, was rarely predictable, and He communicated in complicated and less-than-obvious ways. If a pastor stood up on Sunday morning and told a story about a farmer he once knew and then sat down without drawing any conclusions or offering any applications, we would all die from confusion. I have all the feels for the disciples.

Jesus' way of being random may offer hope for our erratic way of relating to one another after all.

Most friendships seem to come and go. Someone gets married or moves away or has a baby or takes that new job, and our friendships seem to change. It’s easy to feel betrayed, lost, and completely confused when these things happen. “I thought we would be close like that forever! We binge watched Downton Abbey and shared mascara, for heaven’s sake. We were practically SISTERS.

It usually takes several seasons of Friends followed up by Mean Girls to decipher when, exactly, a ruined friendship really peaked. Except maybe it hasn’t even started to peak. Maybe it just changed a little. It’s often hard to tell.

As a pastor’s wife, I feel pressured to hold tightly to all the friends I have. It’s odd how many strangers have casually mentioned to me how lonely it is to be married to the pastor of a church. This kind of talk makes me nervous. I know they mean well, but they make my chance at real friendships seem so scarce. I want to shout back at them, “I have friends! Lots of friends! Don't jinx me with your pity!!” Because generally, I’m not lonely. I do often feel alone in my life, but there’s a difference between alone and lonely.

Feeling alone because you're misunderstood seems like a cornerstone of life on earth.

I wonder if Jesus felt alone when His friends didn’t understand what He was talking about, as He told parables and spoke of straight-up weird things like rising from the dead. What did the disciples really think at pivotal moments, like at the last supper when Jesus tells them to drink His blood and eat His flesh? (Not really polite dinner conversation, Jesus!) I don't think Jesus minded being misunderstood. He didn’t seem to take it personally that His closest friends couldn’t grasp His deeper feelings. I wish I could be more like Him in that way.

James and John argued over who would gain the most from the friendship. Specifically, they wanted to know if they could sit at His right and at His left once He reigned supreme. I find this horrific, despite the fact that I have been that friend before, to other people and even to Jesus. (“Please, please just give me this one thing, Jesus. You know you love me! Give me, give me! I need I need!!!)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, not one of His friends could manage to be there for Him when He really needed them. No one could stay awake. No one could pray for what weighed on Him so heavily. He was all alone there. Just imagining this makes me want to cry.

Then Peter denied he even knew Him. As if things couldn't get worse for Jesus in the friends department.

I thought I had the worst friends ever in fourth grade, when Jenny B. and all my other BFFs stood between the monkey bars and the Dodgeball circle and said I couldn’t be “in their group” anymore. It was tragic and awful and I had never experienced anything like that before. But I’m pretty sure now that Jesus had it worse than I ever did.

Here we are then, in churches full of Jenny B.’s. We aren't always good at loving one another. We aren't always good at understanding Jesus' teaching. We don't even realize all the people around us who feel like they don't fit into the groups we've formed. We are just like the disciples a thousand times over.

Even so, I believe in the dream of the local church. I believe we are better together. I believe that five friends who support you in real life are more valuable than a thousand who will follow you on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I do feel alone sometimes, but then I text real-life people who love me and I try very hard to help them understand what I need. Mostly, I just hope they will believe the best about me when I seem totally weird and inappropriately needy. They usually do.

But even if my friends all betray me and forget to love me well, I have a God who promised to be with me forever and love me to the very end. Even when I'm alone, I'm never really alone. 

(That last sentence sounds a little like a creepy thriller movie subtitle, doesn't it? Well, so does Jesus' eat my flesh thing, so I guess I'm in good company....)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

on being a revolutionary ordinary woman

We were hurrying out the door to meet my friend, Gina, so she could do me a HUUUGE favor and take some photos for me, and one of my boys lobbed this doozy at me:

"When are we going to take down the Christmas lights on the house? I mean... it's February."

What??? The lights are still up? I had forgotten. I hadn't noticed. I had subconsciously deleted the task from my to-do list. I don't even know what Christmas is anymore. Austin is experiencing a California-like winter- it is sunny and 75 degrees today. It feels like Easter. Maybe those are now Resurrection Sunday lights (this seems very Jesus-y to me. I like it. Let's start a new trend). Anyways- who does this kid think he is? I am raising truth tellers, and it is coming back to bite me.

This one line from 1 Peter 1 in the Message keeps rolling back through my scattered thoughts, smoothing out my life again and again:

"Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God."

If I am missing Christmas lights as I hurry out of the house and back in, perhaps my deep consciousness of God is not connecting with my reality? 

I didn't say all of this to my son, of course. I just winked and said, "Maybe we should leave them up for this Christmas. We could be the first house ready for the holidays!" Then we got in the car and headed for the highway, and the heavy traffic going downtown. 

Sitting there in the car, waiting for my turn to move three feet closer to the Mopac exit, I pondered how ordinary I feel. I thought about our quests for the extraordinary. I thought of thousands of ordinary women marching all over the globe. No matter what your views are of that reality, my deep consciousness of God says this: The women of the world are ready to make a difference.

Jesus was so ordinary for thirty years, no one saw His glory bound path clearly- not even His best friends. It was ordinary men and women who first loved God first and others more than themselves. And yet, we seem to be afraid to be ordinary. We prove our allegiance to our humanity when we look for signs and miracles, for flashy exhibits of God's greatness. But Jesus taught revolutionary concepts through parables; ordinary stories to explain extraordinary truths.

Revolutionary vision means seeing God in Christmas lights and Tuesday morning traffic.

I don't want to miss the Christmas lights any longer. I don't want to do too much, run too fast, and try to live at a pace that makes me miss what's right in front of my face: my home, my people, the love of God for all of us. Jesus talked about people who would turn extraordinary spiritual acts into selfish ways of living. It's a frightening reality but we could become like them, and know our own greatness well, but never really know God: 

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" -Matthew 7:21-23

My success and failure is bound up in how deeply my consciousness seeks God in all the things I do today. My greatness flows from the love I put into all the ordinary parts of my day, not how many things I accomplish or how much I can increase my influence. Whether I'm spreading peanut butter on toast or wrinkle cream around my eyes, I want to remember that how I care for the people in my life (myself included) proves how much I love God's creation. I want to take a loaf of bread to my neighbors who are legally here from another country, but may not feel particularly welcome any longer. I want to sweep up crumbs around our table and bless the messy people who have refused to even try to use plates and napkins. I want to wave the other cars into my lane instead of hugging the bumper in front of me.

Jesus once let ordinary women sit at His feet and listen to conversations that were only supposed to be for men. He loved them and lifted them in an ordinary place, and in a revolutionary way. He has done no less for us.

After all, what mercy have we deserved? Which of our sins did was forgiven because of our own holy acts? When was the grace of God anything except an amazing gift we could never be worthy of receiving?

After our morning of photography, my kids and I went to Zilker park. Barton Springs is there, and a few brave souls were swimming in the chilly water. We walked down to the edge of the water and put our feet in. Then all four of my ordinary children decided to jump in, fully clothed. They decided the daring act would be worth the cold and wet ride home. The joy of cannonballs off the diving board would be a reward for their courage. Forgetting the opinions of the lifeguard and all the other people there, they just jumped.

Our ordinary day turned into a moment none of us will ever forget. Yes, people stared. Yes, it was a little crazy. But there was a joy in my children I haven't seen in a long time. No one fought. No one got offended. Something amazing happened when they all jumped into that icy water together. 

I walked up the steps to my car, four drippy, laughing children behind me. I hope they always live like this, seizing their ordinary moments and living with their whole hearts. I hope they always let love and unity win in their lives. It will change how they live their lives, which really could change the world.

May we all do the same.