Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an idea essential to reading or watching a movie, a contract between writer and audience, where the writer makes a story somewhat plausible and gives the audience a reason to want to believe it, and the audience buys into the story to experience something moving. It is why we can read Harry Potter and envision a Quidditch match, because JK Rowling made it fascinating and painted a beautiful picture, and our brains forget for a while that flying on a broom is a ridiculous idea in order to allow us to experience the magic of the impossible.

We live in a cynical society, yet we are able to escape into fantasy because we are able to suspend disbelief.

girls_ChristmasThe fact that my girls still believe in Santa requires an extraordinary amount of suspension of disbelief, given the unfortunate fact that Justin and I are terrible at making the story somewhat plausible. Four years ago, when Grace was four and Rebekah two, their Santa gift was a new swing-set. It was a freezing cold Christmas Eve, and Justin and my dad put together the least expensive, but most difficult to assemble, metal swing-set we could find in the garage after the girls had gone to bed. It took hours and I remember them laughing and yelling at the thing good-naturedly as my mom and I wrapped gifts inside where it was warm. After they finished, they carefully carried it around to the backyard, and I went out and tied a big red bow on it. We were so proud to have assembled this behemoth, and imagined the girls’ surprise and shock when they saw it. Christmas morning, when we went to wake them, Grace jumped out of bed, ran to the window, and said “Oh! You put a bow on it!” Apparently she had watched the entire operation unfold from her upstairs window.

The next year, we were living in Dallas still but working in Houston, and were too tired to make it home after our Christmas Eve services, so we spent Christmas Eve in a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere around Waco. When we got home, I made the girls run upstairs and put on their pajamas so Justin and I could hurriedly throw the Santa gifts under the undecorated tree in our sad, already packed-up living room. I wanted a little magic in a chaotic season of transition. I thought we had pulled it off, except I had decided to not buy anything for Lucy or Justin, because Lucy was too little to notice and Justin wanted nothing else to pack and haul to Houston. I wasn’t thinking about the big girls, though, until Grace, in great distress, asked me what Lucy (at the time 6-months old) could possibly have done to get on the naughty list? I don’t even remember the lie I told, but as soon as she said it I realized my very big mistake.

Last year, their big gift was a trampoline, and a couple of weeks after Christmas, when they were underfoot, Justin sent them in the backyard to jump. They started to protest, and he said sarcastically, “I’m glad I bought you guys a trampoline so you would never use it.” They both stared at him in shock, and Grace said “You didn’t buy the trampoline – Santa brought it and the elves put it together!” Justin mumbled something incoherent as I laughed at him in the background.

This year, on Christmas day as Justin is programming the X-box Santa delivered, he in frustration says “For the money I shelled out for this thing you’d think it would work.” Grace’s head immediately popped up as I tried to catch his eye. Justin, not catching on, says: “I want my 400 bucks back.” Grace asked him what he means, since this gift came from Santa, and he says back “I have to pay Santa for it… Times are hard.” She looks back down at her game, satisfied with his answer, and  he looks at my mom and me, both laughing, and says “That’s all I could come up with.” 

We are bad at this! We try to weave a plausible tale, but we fail miserably. At some point, when she was younger, I have even told Grace that Santa is based on a real man who lived a long time ago who was generous and loving, but that he is not really a real person who delivers gifts to our house in the dead of night, and she has either forgotten or just chooses to believe despite it.

She is able to dispel doubt without a backward glance.

I love it, and I wish my mind worked that way. Their desire for magic overrides their rational brains that have to know that mom and dad are really really terrible liars and that we are, in fact, both Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Children are great at this, and I love that part of their minds. It is, quite honestly, why we continue to do the whole Santa thing and the whole tooth fairy thing. There is only a certain amount of time in life where true suspension of disbelief is possible, and because children are whole-hearted creatures, they are really good at it.

It seems weird to compare my children’s belief in Santa to my faith in Christ, but I’m going to attempt it because it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I want to be more like Grace when it comes to my faith. She dismisses doubt with such ease, and I envy her whole-hearted and stubborn belief. I want to be more like her. She has strength and lately, in my faith, I feel weak. I am a wrestler – I am up now in the middle of the night because I am wrestling with fear and doubt. And my rational mind knows the things I am fearing aren’t real  and the doubts I am battling are lies. My heart knows the truth that I am loved and valuable and was created for a purpose. Yet I wrestle and I can’t seem to dismiss the nagging doubt. A former boss repeatedly encouraged me to dismiss doubt and fear and not give it any time or energy, but honestly sometimes I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t know how to suspend my disbelief.

So again, as I have done so often since her birth, I look to my oldest daughter. She really does teach me more than she will ever realize. I ask the Lord for childlike faith. I ask my Maker, my Father, my Creator, my King to help me in this war I am waging against fear and doubt. I ask Him to be mighty to save. I choose to believe, and to shake off the nagging sense of doubt. I wait for the voices of fear and doubt to be silenced by the God who has written this story, this true story, of victory over sin and death and doubt and fear.

I have every reason to believe. This story is not only plausible, it is true, and I know the ending. So I ask my God to help me suspend my disbelief and cynicism. I have no reason to be afraid.

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3

A Time to Rest

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Grace, leaping off the dock. So proud of my sweet girl for conquering her fears and leaping.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28

We just went on a big family vacation with my parents, my brother and his family, and my sister and her boyfriend to Lake Martin, a beautiful lake in Alabama. It was a week at a beautiful place, with my favorite people in the world, and everything in me needed to disconnect and refresh and relax. Since we moved to Houston seven months ago, and even the months leading up to the move, we have been sprinting. Our world, and our children’s worlds, were turned upside down (in the best possible ways), and we haven’t had time to really catch our breath. So we go on vacation knowing we need it, that God has ordained rest for us, and that we are ready to receive that rest and renewal and enjoy one another. I, in particular, had several goals in mind as we left Houston:

1. A rest from being me-centered. Fifty one weeks a year our girls have to comply with our schedule, getting up at a certain time, following certain rules, being places sometimes for hours on end while Justin and I work and serve our church. Although they are not deprived (#firstworldproblems), and they love COF and get our mission here, we also know they deserve a week off to relax and enjoy us. So we try, for these times on vacation, to turn our normal paradigm on its head. They can wake up and go swimming at 7:40 in the morning. They can have ice cream sandwiches at 8:30 pm. We bought fireworks for them to shoot off the bow of the boat. If I had just sat down for the first time that day, but they needed something, I tried to not sigh and make it a big deal, but to get up with joy and let them see that they were more important to me than my rest. I don’t believe in a kid-centered home, and I don’t believe in making our children happy at the expense of making them holy, but for this one week, this fantastic week, I determined to do everything in my power to give them magical childhood memories and make it all about them.

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The cousins.

2. A rest from fears. I am a creative mind, and one of the manifestations of that is that I imagine every possible horrific scenario that can occur at any given time, so I can somehow prepare for it. I do this more when I am stressed or tired or feeling out of control, so I went on vacation at an eleven in the freakout category, to be really honest with you. I was having visions of car accidents, drowning, secondary drowning, heat stroke, boating accidents, critters, brain eating amoebas, furniture falling on children, all of it. So this week I asked the Lord for a rest from that nonsense.  I decided to not give those voices an audience in my mind, to pray when I felt fear, and to not be that mom keeping my kids from having fun because of a Facebook posting of a crazy scenario that is designed to perpetuate fear-based news cycles, that could keep a mother and her children curled up in the fetal position forever. So we swam in lakes, let the kids shoot off fireworks, went tubing, let the kids run around with freedom. And guess what? No nightmare scenarios happened, even without my watchful worrying guard.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn't do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn’t do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

3. A rest from ingratitude. Vacationing with kids is hard, as a mom, and a few times I let myself slip into a pity mentality where I felt tired and wanted a break, but I was continually countering that state of mind with the truth that I am blessed, and that this trip was evidence of how blessed I am. I asked the Lord over and over for the gift of gratitude. One morning I was on a kayak in the middle of the quiet cove where our lake house sat, looking back on the dock where our kids were swimming and laughing, with tears in my eyes. This was my dream for our kids, this idyllic childhood moment, and I was not going to miss the chance to be grateful for it. To be grateful to serve at a place where we have not only the vacation time, but the extra funds to pull off a week like this with our kids. To be grateful for a family who loves us and who wants to travel with us. To be grateful for a mom who conquered her fear of lakes to swim with my kids everyday, and a dad who is the best grandfather I could ever have wished for. To be grateful for the relationships with my siblings that are healthy and affirming, full of life and peace. To be grateful for all the Lord has done in our family’s lives this past year, and how He has carried us. Something about my heart needs beauty and quiet to give God the due He always deserves, and in that moment, on that lake, all I could do was cry with gratitude for where we are in life, all by His design.

It was a great vacation, and was the rest my spirit needed. I met God there, in the squeal of my daughter as she jumped off the dock, and the quiet moments alone, and the love of my sister-in-law as she made a meal for our kids, and the laughter of my family. I am grateful for every moment of it.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1

Take a rest, my friends, sometime this summer, doing what your soul needs. You deserve it, and the Lord will use it.
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Accepted

Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:7-11

About a week ago I suddenly realized the diversity of my friends. I have crunchy granola anti-vax home birth hippy momma friends, and I have others who, like me, have the pediatrician on speed dial and would have had an epidural for the entire pregnancy if the doctor had let us. I have friends who are right of Ted Cruz and friends who are left of Bill Maher. People who passionately believe like I do and people who just aren’t interested. To illustrate the diversity – one of my friends literally breastfed until her children could ask for it, and I laughed every single time. Who knew I’d ever be friends with a woman like that – me who snuck bottles to my kids when the lactation consultant walked out of the room in the hospital? And yet we are friends and she lights up my days. My friends are all passionate women – I am drawn to strength and my people have it in spades. We can soap-box for hours about the things that make us tick, but those are often fundamentally different opposing viewpoints. And yet we live in peace. We love each other. We don’t see eye to eye on some big hot-button issues, but I could still text them when I’m having a rough day and I know they’ll drop whatever they are doing and talk to me and pray for me, if prayer is their thing.

Taking stock of my friendships struck me for many reasons. First of all – it struck me because I realized what a rarity that kind of unity is, despite our differences. It really is an extraordinary gift. But it struck me also because it sounds strange, but I’m proud of myself that my friendships are so diverse. You see, in my past, I was rejected by people who did not agree with me on some divisive issues, and I lost them because of it. People who should stick by you. Big relationships, lost seemingly forever. To them, the issue was more important than the relationship, and more painful than that, the issue was more important than me.

But not so with my friends – and when I realized it, I had to admit that I let these friendships sneak up on me. For many years I would have guarded my relationships and only gotten close with people like me, simply because I feared the rejection that I thought was inevitably coming because of my past. But I had let them in and we live in peace and joy, and something in me is healing and shifting because they still love me despite my differences from them. I bear the scars of rejection, and scarred skin is always more tough than healthy skin, yet I had somehow let them past my defenses, and they changed my life.

Acceptance.

Rejection.

For me, the theme of my life outside of Christ, the defining characteristic of my darkest memories, the knot in my stomach and the feeling of tears pressing behind my eyes can be summed up in one word: rejection.

You aren’t good enough.

You failed at that.

You behaved badly.

You are too much.

You are not enough.

You are not worth fighting for.

Have you ever thought about how much of the world we live in – our present reality – is marred by the sting of rejection? How many of our losses, the scars that mark our consciousness, the defensive walls we construct, are a direct result of the rejection of someone who was supposed to love us? Someone who should have been safe, but when we let them in, hurt us.

I think it could be the defining characteristic of this fallen world. Rejection. Because even if we are accepted in this world, it is usually only for a season. The other shoe almost always drops. Marriages break up. We stop performing at the right level at work and start being phased out. Our bodies decay. We just can’t seem to measure up to the expectations of that person who means the world to us. Someone decides they are done with us, and they (literally) turn their back.

This week it seemed like the rocks were crying out trying to get me to understand this lesson. Every experience somehow had meaning behind the immediate context.

Because, for me, Christ was revolutionary for this one reason. It sounds cheesy, I know, to my friends who don’t get the whole Jesus thing, but in Him I knew acceptance and unconditional love for the first time, in my life.** It changed me. It healed in me something that felt profoundly and irreversibly broken. I let him in, and now years later I am letting more and more people in. My friendships give testimony to the healing I have experienced,

My hilarious breastfeeding-wonder friend is a direct result of God’s work on my heart and in my life. She, and many others totally opposite of her, are walking talking evidences that I am being made new and that I am not walking in fear like I once walked.

Acceptance. I’ve experienced it and found it worth fighting for, worth risking.

**By the way – acceptance is at the core of the character of Christ. There was none righteous, so He became righteousness for us all. There is almost nothing in this world that makes me more angry than people who reject others and say it is in the name of Christ. Those who claim some people are beyond his love and redemption. That is not Jesus. Jesus accepts us. Jesus loves us. Jesus heals us. Anyone speaking “in his name” saying the opposite does not speak for the Jesus I know. The verse at the top of the post was written in response to people who were trying, 2000 years ago, to limit the scope of Jesus’ acceptance to a select few – and it still happens today. But Jesus accepted then and accepts now and confounds expectations every time, which is why I love him and follow him  (I told you me and my friends could jump on soapboxes).**

Last night I went to an event where the speaker talked about scars that are on our souls- and I saw clearly that my scars are almost all from rejection. But she also talked about when you offer up those scars, when you are vulnerable and honest and let light in to those places of hurt, those scars become your story. You go from being marred to being marked for a purpose beyond yourself. And that starts when you take those scars, those hurts, those rejections, to Jesus. When you relax in the light of acceptance. I still have work to do in this area – still have things I need to release – but I think a shift in me is taking place where I feel and understand the acceptance of Christ more than the rejection of this world, and it is freeing.

Acceptance. Such a hard concept to grasp in this performance-based, rejection-riddled world we live in. But so necessary for freedom.

Tonight one of my girls lost it in a big way in a public place. And honestly, this behavior is not rare or unexpected – it just happens with her occasionally. I kept thinking about this lesson even as she raged, even as I had to isolate her, even as I sat down with her in her room after it was over and she was calm. These are the deep parenting waters that I have waded and sometimes felt I was drowning in, since she was a tiny girl. She has taught me so much about the Lord. She has taught me so much about myself. I know this is hard for her. I have been her. Tonight I kept thinking, as I handled the situation, “How do I show her love and acceptance, how do I impact her heart and her character even as I deal with behavior that cannot be tolerated for her own good?” Because I can’t revel in acceptance and show rejection. If it is the defining characteristic of my new life, it has to be on His terms, not mine. It has to be absolute. So I pull her close, we pray together, we talk about how sweet and beautiful and kind she is, and how I want her choices to reflect that. We talk about how much I love her even in those crazy moments (such a work of Christ in my heart because, let me tell you, I have not always felt that way). We talk about how there is nothing she can do that will ever cause me to not accept her, and how at any time, in any situation, she can pray and Jesus will listen to her because He accepts her too.

Because here is the truth, she lives in this world. She will face rejection over and over and over and over. She will be scarred by it. It will leave a mark and mar her in many ways I’ll never be able to prevent or anticipate. I myself will probably inflict rejection on her in ways I don’t recognize. Rejection will probably be the defining characteristic of her life outside of Christ, just as it was mine.

But the earlier and sooner and stronger I can help her grasp His acceptance – that will make all the difference.

Acceptance. That will be the thing that draws her to Christ. That will be the thing that cements her when the sand of this world shifts. I have prayed since birth over my girls “let them love you with all their hearts” and it is true I want them to, not because I want them to share my religion, but because I want them to love the God who accepts them. Who loves them with a perfect, everlasting love.  I want that healing to begin in their hearts. I want them to know that acceptance. I want them to bask in the light of that love.

Acceptance is at the core of what I believe. It is at the core of what has changed me. And it is at the core of what I want to pass on in this rejection-happy world. May God help me live it and share it with those around me.

The Powerful Woman

“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)

powerFor years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.

I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.

And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.

But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.

So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again.  Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.

(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I  hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).

So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”

But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.

Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says,  “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.

(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).

Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.

Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.

For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.

I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. 🙂

Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

With Eyes Fixed

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is an active, exploring four month-old. We love this stage, where you can see on her little face her focus and concentration as she learns about the world around her. I also love this stage because she is showing signs of attachment to me as her mom.

photo-21She will be looking around, checking out her surroundings, and something loud will startle her or scare her. If I am in the room, she will turn to me and stare into my eyes before she reacts. If I look at her, smile at her, talk to her in a sing-song voice, and draw her close, she will smile and return to what she was doing because she knows she is safe. If I don’t give her my attention or draw her close, her bottom lip will stick out and she will begin to cry. It is the sweetest thing. This is a very healthy sign of her attachment to me and her understanding that I am a secure base from which she can explore her world (see Bowlby’s attachment theory).

I was thinking about this today and saw a definite correlation to what I, as an adult, look to when I am afraid. I will be going about my day, busy exploring my world… and something scary will happen. Government shutdown. A terror attack in a major city. An unexpected expense. Something in one of my kid’s behavior that seems abnormal. And it unsettles me – it makes me anxious. The fear starts to spiral.

Until I look into the eyes of my Father. Until I remember that He is in control, that my days are in His hands, and that I have a destiny beyond this world. Then I can calm down, secure in the fact that the God of the universe protects me.

Every time I find myself frantic and anxious it is an indicator that I have forgotten to look to my Father. That I have left my primary attachment relationship. When I am making lists and plans, trying to mitigate all the negative circumstances in our lives, feeling alone and abandoned, my fear defines me.  But when I check in with Him first and settle my heart with the knowledge that He is FOR ME, suddenly the very real, and very scary things in our world lose their power to define me.

I need to fix my eyes. I need to seek His comfort. I need to let His Spirit remind me that I am His, and I have no reason to fear. I need to learn from my little Lucy and look to my Protector.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

On Being Winsome

I adore Jimmy Fallon.

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Like in the “I want my family to be best friends with him and his wife and his beautiful baby girl and hang out on weekends” kind of way. I think he is brilliant, hilarious, creative, and most of all, winsome.

win·some

adjective \ˈwin(t)-səm\

generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence (source)

If you watch Late Night, one thing you will quickly notice is that Jimmy Fallon isn’t polished or cool – in fact he’s hilariously awkward at times. He is a genuine fan and encourager of the people who come on his show, and they are put immediately at ease because he shows a love for their art. His show isn’t about him and his ego and his sense of humor. It is about them, and having fun, and enjoying life, and it works.

It’s lovely.

So often, when I think of Jimmy Fallon, I think, “That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.” I want to be winsome. I  think as a culture we’ve lost that art. Look at the comment section of any article and you’ll see just how far we have fallen from speaking to one another with respect, joy, and encouragement. (I mean really, who are these people who comment such vile things?) Even as Christians, so often we aren’t concerned with being winsome as much as we are concerned with being right. And yes – truth is important. But truth delivered without love and humility isn’t received by the hearer.

I think by doing this one little thing, by communicating to the world around us with love and with almost childlike enthusiasm and charm, we can demonstrate a radical difference from the culture at large. And maybe then they’ll be interested in what makes us different.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Col. 4:6

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:8

I’m working on being winsome. I think it is an easy way to love the world well. I want to draw people in and make them feel at ease, like my future best friend Jimmy Fallon does.

Thanks, Jimmy!

My favorite Late Night Moments:

“SexyBack” the Barbershop Quartet Version

Brian Williams Raps

“Call Me Maybe” with Classroom Instruments

John Krasinski Lip Synch Off

History of Rap One, Two, and Three