Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

The Reconcilers

Part of why I blog is to remember little lessons the Lord teaches me, so I can go back and see them later. This will be a short one, because it was inspired by the most mundane of daily tasks and I need to return to them, but I wanted to remember. Lucy, my three year old, loves to borrow her sisters’ stuff while they are at school. Please don’t tell them about this little arrangement I have with the stay-at-home child. Today, she wanted to play with some markers, and before I realized it, she had colored with permanent marker on the little handheld dry erase board Rebekah’s teacher gave her for Christmas last year. This board is a treasure. And right now it is destroyed. This will, if not corrected, cause a level-3 meltdown when Rebekah gets off the bus.

IMG_0916So during lunch today, I sat next to Lucy doing a little coloring myself. I am painstakingly coloring over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker, trying to erase away the evidence of Lucy’s violation of Rebekah’s property and privacy. It is an agonizingly slow process, if I’m being honest.

And in case you’re wondering about justice (I do love me some justice), I did talk to Lucy about not coloring on sissy’s board with markers . But I’m working hard to make it right for her. As I was coloring, a thought bubbled to the surface. “This is the ministry of reconciliation.” This. Erasing the error of another. Hiding something, taking on a project that is not really mine to fix, but fixing it to show grace. That didn’t feel intuitive, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

I am a big fan of dragging things into the light so we can be reconciled to each other. Let’s get it all out – air our stuff, confess our sins one to another. And I’m not alone. Doesn’t it feel like, these days, we are a little nutty about pointing out the flaws in others? In almost every social media post and online interaction, it’s interesting to watch and see how quickly the post or idea gets the “well actually” treatment. People shame others for errors, or perceived errors, even errors that have been clarified and corrected, just in case they actually meant what we’re pretty sure they meant. I do it, I’ve seen it done to others, and it has been done to me.

And yet, in our job as salt and light, is this another opportunity to be different, to shine bright in a dark world? The ministry of reconciliation can be about erasing something, forgiving it, covering it with grace instead of shining a light on it and exposing it to the world. What is a more graceful response – holding the board in Lucy’s face, meeting Rebekah at the door so she can get in on the chorus, and us showing Lucy the error of her ways? Or erasing the marks made by little hands more likely in ignorance than in spite, and promoting peace.

Peacemaking is such a theme for me these days. As a peacemaker, I really believe in all truth being God’s truth, and holding all things up to it. I can get overzealous in that and I can point out your error with the best of them, particularly in an area where I am passionate or sure of my rightness. But we are to be people of grace and truth. Jesus’ blood is said to have washed away our sins, not just magnified them so we can feel shame (1 John 1:7).

The ministry of reconciliation comes out of 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says,

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It describes this two way transaction; Christ reconciles us to Himself, and he gives us the power to reconcile others. I read a commentary today that said, “The reconciled become the reconcilers,” which I loved. And it describes the action as “not counting their trespasses against them.” Doesn’t it feel like, all too often, we Christians are the worst at counting “their” trespasses against them? As if we are so innocent. Why do we feel that weight and that pressure to ensure the righteousness of another, instead of trusting them to God as we trust God for our own right standing? Is it because of our fear of a vindictive God, or because we have the ministry of reconciliation all wrong?

I’m wrestling through it as I erase, but I like the idea that we function as erasers in the world, minimizing the shame and guilt and fear of others. And I like the idea of God, as a parent, erasing the sins of a beloved child. It’s such a sweet picture of God, when I default sometimes to imagining Him infinitely more harsh.

So today, on a normal Friday, I’m happy to join him in the ministry of reconciliation. And I hope you have opportunities to do the same. God knows we all need it.

Grace Grace Grace

I have realized something about myself lately, a thread that the Lord is connecting. I love getting to talk to women during the fun or scary transitions of life; it always feels like a weighty encounter, and I have realized that I tell them all, basically, variations on the exact same message. I feel called to it. I run to the opportunity, sometimes texting someone I haven’t talked to in ages, just so I can share this one little encouraging word from God – my spirit reminding her spirit. Getting married? I have one piece of advice I’d love to give. Having a baby? Please let me tell you the one secret that kept me sane. Lost a job? I’d love to tell you how I got through our job losses without losing it. Lost a sweet baby? Oh I love you so much, and can I share with you the one thing that enabled me to breathe?

I truly think it is my mission in life to remind the people I love of this one thing, because for some reason we so quickly forget.

Give yourself grace. It is normal and okay to feel what you feel. 

I was texting a beautiful friend, recently engaged, just tonight. She’s one of the most incredible people I have the privilege to know, but I know her and know she has always been hard on herself. I loved giving her my advice; So many things are about to change, sweet girl. Give yourself grace when you feel overwhelmed by it. When you feel doubt, when you feel fear, it is normal. Give yourself grace. God is bigger than your momentary doubts in yourself.

I love to tell new moms, or moms of special needs kids, or moms on the 4th snow day in a row; Give yourself grace when this feels hard, because it is. Whatever you feel, whether it is fear or doubt or panic or anger toward this child that you love, it is normal and we all feel it at times. Don’t live in shame. Give yourself grace. Run to God with those feelings; don’t hide them. He will help you get through this.

When friends are facing financial burdens or sudden job losses, I just want to cry out; Sweet friends, give yourself grace. It is okay to feel panic and fear, completely normal. Let me pray with you. I’m praying you can breathe out that fear, that panic, and breathe in the grace that is yours. God sees you, He knows your situation. He loves you and is mighty to save. He alone is able to change this situation you cannot change and at His feet you will find rest. 

When friends want a baby so much they ache, or they just lost another baby; I love you so much and I ache with you. Please give yourself grace to mourn this, to grieve it however you need to. Grief isn’t linear – you won’t go through stages in any way that makes sense. Give yourself grace. You are not crazy when your emotions are everywhere. This is a crazy-making challenge you are facing; it is normal to feel this way. I’m praying for you and love you and wish I could change it for you. Please just breathe in the grace that is yours in this moment.

grace

Our oldest daughter, Grace.

If I were going to get a tattoo at my *advanced* age, it would say grace. I named my first daughter Grace. I need it and sometimes forget it is mine for the taking despite the fact that I’m swimming in it. And because I forget, I remind others, sometimes to also remind myself. We all are too hard on ourselves, too quick to equate weakness with sin, fear with sin, doubt with sin, failure with sin, our human emotions with sin. So we pile on shame and try to wrangle our emotions in an attempt to somehow prove we are good enough to approach our Father. Meanwhile he is our Father. Not the perpetually disappointed Father, or the impossibly high expectations Father, or the stern unapproachable Father. He’s the one who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to cast all our cares on Him, who created us and knows our every thought, who walked on this earth and died for us, who said in Exodus “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

There are three traps to watch out for when we are going through something hard:

Trying to stop our emotions. We want to wrangle them or manage them or just stop feeling, but they swirl around and interrupt our sleep and steal our joy. What do we do when we feel out of control?  I’m learning to lean into the emotions, to study them like a scientist instead of fleeing from them. To stop fighting, breathe deeply and name them, telling God about each one of them.  For me, speaking them starts to take away their power, and I start to feel that knot in my chest loosen. I feel fear, and I hate it. I feel anger toward this person, because they really hurt me. I feel panic, even though I know I am not alone. Please help me. If we can just speak what we feel to the One who made us, no matter how messy it is, maybe we can rest again in His plans for us.

The shame cycle. Sometimes we are so busy apologizing for what we feel and feeling bad about it that we get stuck in this tornado of shame about our feelings. My therapists through the years have helped me so much with this one by simply giving me permission to have emotions and to feel what I feel. I don’t know where I picked up this idea that my feelings were shameful, maybe church or home or just first-born perfectionist nonsense. But it is pointless to feel shame for what we feel. Our feelings are just signals that there is something we need to work through. Shame and condemnation are not from God, so I think we take those voices to Him too. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, remember? God I don’t feel lovable, but I know you love me. I feel alone, but I know you are with me. I feel weak, but I know you are mighty to save. I don’t believe any of this truth right now, but I trust you to turn my feelings around in Your timing. I feel a lot of shame, even about this, but I trust You to release me from that because I know that is not of You. I’m a mess, but I’m Your mess, and I know You love me. 

The trap of isolation. We cannot brave it alone; we need grace-filled friends who will join us in prayer. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago and just speaking some of my thoughts took away their power, and she spoke peace to me as well as truth I needed to hear. Her perspective helped me see things, and myself, in a new way. She didn’t coddle me, but she did remind me to give myself grace. Many people who love me and love Jesus have given me grace in this season. I got a message tonight from someone I haven’t talked to in person in almost a decade, offering grace, community and understanding for the struggles we are facing. So encouraging! She used social media, which we all know is challenging these days, to show me love. What beautiful redemption of that medium, to use it to show solidarity and community to people in our circles. A great reminder that we need each other. We were made to face this big stuff together.

Give yourself grace. I’m going to keep reminding the people I love until the end, because we all need reminders of the grace greater than our sin. Our Father loves us so much, if only we could glimpse a fraction of his love.

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 11:28-30

Learning a New Way of Grace

This season seems to be about un-learning, detangling, undoing what I have done for so long that it no longer seemed optional. I’m questioning everything – relationships, beliefs, career choices, patterns of behavior. I keep being surprised by grace. Asking questions I was afraid to ask, even to God, and finding lightning didn’t strike, and God is still good, on the other side of the questioning.

I was talking to a friend this week. I’d been afraid to call him, because I was calling to say no to an offer he had made me and I’m a decades long people-pleaser intent on causing no disappointment to people who love me. With a shaky breath, I told him I couldn’t commit, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but that I had no energy or excitement for what I knew would require both. With kindness he said “You’re hurt, Jen. I completely understand and love you – we are family anyway.” He told me he had pastored long enough to know that God’s timing was better than our forced timing and that he trusted what God is doing in me now. He offered me grace, and I gratefully and shakily accepted it. Grace. Even now telling the story I have tears in my eyes.

I feel like, for years maybe, I had slipped into a way of living that focused more on performing and pleasing and forgot about grace, and oh how I missed it.

This morning I was reading the book God sent me for this season, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’ve underlined about 3/4 of the book, which has utterly confused my youngest daughter (“Mommy – you shouldn’t color in your books”).

You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry. Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it… You must ask yourself not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was surprised to find a holdout of that old, terrible doctrine: if it hurts just awful, it must be God’s will for you. And the other side of that same coin: if it produces fruit, it must be God’s will for you.

Later in that same chapter:

7131869-small-stream-running-over-moss-covered-stones-stock-photo“I’m reveling in the smallness of my capacity. This is it. This is who I am. This is all I have to give you. It is not a fire hose, unending gallons of water, knocking you over with force. It’s a stream: tiny, clear, cool. That’s what I have to give, and that small stream is mine to nurture, to tend, to offer first to the people I love most, my first honor and responsibility. 

The twin undercurrents of being a woman and being a Christian is sort of a set-up for getting off track with this stuff – women are raised to give and give and give, to pour themselves out indiscriminately and tirelessly. And Christians, or some anyway, are raised to ignore their own bodies, their own pain, their own screaming souls, on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church.”

Can I confess something to you? I’m visual and I see things in my mind sometimes that I don’t understand until later. For years I have had this image of myself that I have seen over and over in my head in times of exhaustion. I’ve seen myself step outside my house, seemingly calm but with an upright back and clenched fists, and I will walk outside and scream to the sky, with no sound coming out. I never understood it, I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t understand why I was screaming, why I was silent, why I kept seeing it, why it felt like it was all I could do in those moments. When I read this it didn’t become all clear, but part of it clicked. I’m not sure I ever thought I had the authority over myself, over my circumstances, over my life, to scream or even to stop. What she wrote about “ignoring our own bodies, our own pain, our own screaming souls on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church” rings so true to my life over the past decade (and in the lives of so many people I’ve served with in that time).

And now I have stopped. People keep asking me what I’m doing next, what is the plan now that I don’t work at a church anymore. I simply don’t know, which as a first-born planning-obsessed person, is a hard answer for me to give. I’m still untangling all of this. But I have found quiet, and stillness, and gratitude, and my family, and God and GRACE in this place of stopping. And I will stay here as long as it takes to heal and find my way again. I am a tiny stream, and I’m learning to even be that well.

Hope & Grief After the Election

I am in tears in my dark living room, the clock ticking on the wall beside me. My three daughters are asleep. They begged me to stay up and watch the results of the election, but I sent them to bed, because I had begun to sense that a long night was coming, and tonight wasn’t going to end the way we had discussed this morning when we prayed together as a family for the election.

I hope if you’re reading this you will hear in me a broken longing for unity and understanding, not a partisan axe to grind. I hope you won’t stop reading as I process through this. I am not a Democrat or Republican, in fact I describe myself as a confused moderate. But I will tell you I did not vote for President-Elect Trump, and tonight I am struggling to process it.

There is a small part of me that wants to feel hope, wants to be relieved. Maybe this will mean Supreme Court justices that somehow curb the numbers of abortion. I get why people I know and love voted for this man – I can understand it. They hate abortion, as do I. But my family was scarred by abortion in the days before Roe made it legal, when there was no consent, and there were horrors in that time and in that experience for my very young, very afraid mother that I am thankful do not exist today. One evil does not lessen another. I am for life because my mother was devastated by abortion just as women and children are today in horrifying numbers, but Roe vs. Wade didn’t create abortion, and legislation is not the only answer.

To my conservative friends, please hear me say I understand. But please also don’t paint your fellow believers who mourn tonight as people who rejoice in death. Did you know that statistics show that 30% of people in your church, who follow Christ, are Democrats? Did you know that 30% of people who are Democrats are pro-life? Did you know that under President Obama, abortions are at the lowest levels they have been since Roe?

Please understand why I am sitting here unsettled, why friends are texting me devastated, why people of color feel unsafe tonight. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and we have work to do.

This election was many things, meant many things to many people. But can we acknowledge that one of the things it was, one of the things it is, is a heartbreaking  empowerment to the darker undertones of this campaign. I am not justifying any actions of Hillary or Bill Clinton. She lost, it’s over. I understand your rationale for not voting for her. But now that she has lost, can we finally acknowledge the deep and terrible flaws of the man we just elected? Can we, especially us in the church, be big enough to empathize with those who feel afraid tonight? We are commanded as Christians to be imitators of God and have compassion for one another. God is described as close to the broken-hearted, so just for a few minutes, can we draw close as well?

I get that the media isn’t unbiased and that you may see people like me as simply uninformed. But I am not uninformed –  I read the same story at CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, and sometimes Al Jazeera for an international perspective because I am well aware of partisan bias in reporting. But if you watched speeches Donald Trump gave, completely unedited speeches, you can’t deny some of the racist and sexist things he said, or the racist and sexist factions who support him, who now feel justified in their belief. These are his words, this is the candidate himself.

That this man won is a sobering reality for people of color, victims of sexual abuse, and people who subscribe to religions other than Christianity. Can we hear their fear, and sit with it a minute? Not just dismiss it out of hand? Turn off our partisan minds and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking about people around us who ache, to whom we are supposed to be loving and ministering?

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” Romans 15:1-2 (the Message)

Can we find it in ourselves, whether we feel like the victor tonight or we feel devastated, to understand the feelings of those around us?

Several weeks ago, my oldest daughter came home from school and wanted to talk about the election. You need to know that one of the things we love about Houston is the diversity of the area where we live, and the fact that our daughters have friends who are every color and religious background. This is particularly important to me, because I grew up in an extended family that was covertly, and sometimes overtly, racist in the way that in my experience is completely normal in the white South even today. They didn’t call themselves racist, and wouldn’t to this day. The fact that I do name it is offensive to them because they do not see it as racism. But other races were joked about and talked about not only as other, but as less. Less intelligent, less hard working, less real American, separate and never equal. There was an underlying anger to it that made it more than a joke, and it was disturbing. So many Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood are tinted with the racism saturating our family tree.

So you need to know that, for me, racism is visceral, and personal. I feel it. I know the code words, and the fact that they are still used stuns me. The night President Obama was elected, I cried in relief hopeful at the healing of racism in our country that could elect a black man as president, all the while knowing across my city I had relatives who were angry and afraid. I hoped his election would help things. I’m not sure it did.

It was a cesspool of sin, and I was swimming in it. So I love the Gospel, I love the Gospel, because it cleanses me from sin. It forgives my guilt, it imputes to me a righteousness who is not my own, it gives me the Holy Spirit that begins to put to death the old racist nature and open up a whole new possibility of life and hope and joy and justice.” Jon Piper, on racism in the video Bloodlines.

One of the most powerful things I’ve ever watched was this video by Jon Piper on racism and how he grappled with it as he grew in faith, and every time I get chills because his story is my story. Racism crawls up my skin and is a weight in my stomach and a throbbing in my chest because I used to swim in it, and once you step out you don’t just want to be free of it, you want to shine a light on it and banish it because it lurks in the darkness all around you and it is insidious and persistent and subtle in devastating ways. My mother is an instrument of light and grace, and I believe she broke the curse of racism in our family. She taught my brother and sister and I to not only love people of color, but to fight for them and to fight our inherent sinful bias. To shine as lights in darkness to try to overcome the racism of our not-distant enough past, as if somehow by our love we could make up for the bias directed at people of color from the family that we loved.

So my nine-year-old daughter comes home from school a few weeks ago and tells me that her friends were discussing Donald Trump and how much he hates people from Mexico. Her friend from Mexico is afraid of him, afraid he will hurt her family. She asked me if I would vote for him, and if he really thinks “Mexicans are criminals and terrible people.” So we talked about it from that point forward. We talked about how he talked about people from other countries and other religions. We talked about it when he mocked a disabled reporter. We talked about it in very vague terms when the sexual assault accusations and the tape of him saying terrible things about women broke. We talked about it, because she and her friends were talking about it, and she needs to know that this is a safe place to talk about it. (And we talked about whether or not Hillary was a liar and a crook, which my daughter heard as well). My daughters think Trump is a bully, and I can’t disagree with them. In my oldest daughter’s class election she voted for Hillary Clinton, along with many of her friends. President-Elect Trump feels more unsafe to her. She looked forward to the first “Womans” President, as she called it.

And I understand that. To my conservative friends, can’t you understand that? Please tell me you can. Please tell me you get why this isn’t a simple issue, or a simple election. Please tell me you don’t agree with the truly awful aspects of this man’s personality and his speech and his behavior toward others who are different. Please tell me this isn’t a simple victory and the fact that you won doesn’t mean it is all okay.

Because I sit in my living room and write this with tears in my eyes. I cry because in a few hours I will walk into her room, and wake her up, and will tell her that he won. We will talk about it, about why a man who at times acted like a jerk can still win. And she will go to school with friends who are afraid, and they may have good reason to be afraid. And I will tell her to be a light in a dark world, to shine a light on darkness all around her. But it will be an incredibly hard conversation.

I cry because I know Muslim Americans who already are treated as less than, and as other.  I cry because they feel afraid tonight. I cry because refugees who are vetted more than any other group that comes into this country have been and will continue to be vilified. I cry because people of color, who already don’t feel safe and who know the code words better than I do feel even less safe tonight. Their President-Elect literally only talks about them like they all live in hellish inner-city war zones, highlighting the fact that he does not know or understand their struggles at all. I cry because my friends who are gay feel afraid and alone tonight – this was a message to them as well. Political becomes personal when people are hurt or afraid. Van Jones spoke beautifully about the way this feels for millions of people, and I hope we can hear him.

I cry because tonight racists are rejoicing, some of their views mainstreamed. Their sin does not weigh on them, it feels normal and right and now approved. And that makes me grieve, and I have to fight off fear. I cannot imagine how my friends who are people of color feel knowing that.

I cry as a victim of sexual abuse.

I cry as a member of a broken church, so divided. I feel so isolated, as do most of my moderate and progressive friends. We love Jesus and serve him. We are neighbors and church staff members and Pastors and deacons and children’s volunteers and we stand and worship with you and hug you in the lobby or the school, but we keep our political views off Facebook so you won’t think less of us or think we are “baby killers.” We too voted our convictions yesterday, we too prayed about who to vote for, we too truly want the best for this country. This idea that Christians must be Republican confuses empire with Kingdom, and we are family first – citizens of a Kingdom that absolutely without equivocation trumps our party affiliation. If we are questioning a brother’s faith because of their party, we need to repent.

I cry as a daughter of a King. This hurts me. This feels so wrong. He stands for so much of what I completely oppose. I ache, and that you may not feel it makes it feel worse, and makes me feel alone.

Tonight I cry. And I hope, even if you aren’t crying with me, that you understand why I do and you give me and my children the space and permission to grieve, along with the more than 50% of the country who did not vote for this man. I hope that those of us who feel afraid would realize that fear is never from God, and begin to look to Him in hope.

And I pray that tomorrow, we begin to fix this. He is the President-elect, that is reality and I will pray for and honor him as I did President Obama and President Bush and Clinton before him. But everything he stood for in the campaign does not have to be approved by us. It should not be approved by us.

We together as the church need to be a light to banish the darkness. I hope and pray that your endorsement of this candidate is not an endorsement of everything he stands for, that you will stand against racism and sexism with me throughout his presidency. That my daughters will be surprised by joy, that their fears will not be realized, that their friends will not be in danger and if they are, that we will stand and defend them in force and in mass and beat back the danger together. That we will never be silent in the face of oppression. That the racist factions will be minimized and vanquished back to the dark corners where they were before their recent boldness. That even if it costs us, as the church of Jesus Christ we will stand together for the poor and weak and the “other.” So many of you say that the government cannot do what the church was designed to do, and this is our chance to prove it. The church needs to step up.

saint-francis-xavierThere are enormous numbers of people in our country tonight who are afraid, who feel alone, who feel abandoned by the church and the country. They are terrified. Church, these are our people. These are the people Jesus would be walking with tonight, because He always found a way to walk with those who mourned and felt alone. We have to go get them and walk with them (and He will be there already, speaking comfort). And we do this today – there is no time for partisan gloating because the Republican won. All that does is divide and we are to be people of unity. People are hurting, and we are first of all Kingdom people. We have work to do. We have to pray for how to best share hope – maybe it is as simple as a smile and showing support and love to someone, and then we have to act. Maybe we take a meal to a family who feels alone and scared, tell them we stand with them. Maybe it is more – may the Holy Spirit lead us. If we don’t know anyone who is broken or afraid tonight, may that convict us. How could we be so insular when the world is such a beautifully diverse place? Please pray with me that we will know how to minister to the broken.

But we have to do what we were made to do. The church overwhelmingly tonight voted for the government to get out of the business of fixing everything, great, then the church has to fill the gap. We have to step up.

They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
those who are left in Israel;
they shall do no injustice
    and speak no lies,
nor shall there be found in their mouth
    a deceitful tongue.
For they shall eat and lie down,
    and no one shall make them afraid. – Zephaniah 3:13

Jesus, help us. Please speak to Your church. Please speak to our President-Elect, give Him wisdom, lead Him in the ways of righteousness. Please heal our country. We confess our fear, and know You are never the author of it. Please give us hope. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. 

Skinned Knees & Dreams

angel-and-lucyA couple of weeks ago, our youngest daughter Lucy wanted to walk our dog on our daily walk around a neighborhood lake. Our dog is incredibly sweet and good, so gentle with Lucy and patient with the “intense loving” of a three-year old. So I let Lucy walk Angel, but I told her to hold the leash loosely and let go if she took off, because our dog cannot resist the urge to chase the squirrels who live around the lake, who taunt her then race for the nearest tree. A few minutes into our walk, our dog took off, but Lucy didn’t let go, and Angel pulled her onto the ground and drug her along several feet before we were able to stop her. Both of Lucy’s little knees were skinned really bad, and for weeks we have been caring for her knees, applying bandaids, hearing about it in the constant way that parents of small children understand.

This morning I was getting Lucy dressed for school – and she stopped me in wonder and excitement, “Momma – my knee better! It all healed!” She was so excited, and inspected both of her knees carefully. In that moment, I felt like the Lord said to me “Healing comes in unexpected moments, when you aren’t watching. It isn’t active, it’s passive. You can’t rush it – you just realize one day that it’s over, and you’re healed.”

I drove her to school but kept processing through this idea on the drive. Because these days, I’m hurting. This most recent ministry loss has been a really big one for me. I want to be able to actively do something to get better. Read a great book or passage of Scripture, make a new life plan, walk and pray, get into grad school, pray blessings on people who hurt me, redirect my passions into a new project, watch another episode of The West Wing, anything but wait on the Lord. I want to do something.

And I do, all these things and a hundred more, but it doesn’t help. Just like the skinned knee, all you can do is walk with the pain, treating the symptoms, guarding it against further injury, until one day you look down and it’s finally done. It’s not pretty, it has a scar and a reminder of the wound, but there is no longer danger of infection, and you finally aren’t bleeding all over the place. You’re healed.

The Lord has always given me dreams at key moments in life, and even a few times my dreams have contained insights into a situation. Early in my ministry life I had another big loss, when I left my home church. I became a believer in Christ there, and began my ministry life, and met my husband and the closest friends I’ve ever known. That church was my whole world. But toward the end, I served there during a really difficult season in the life of the church where it split in two, with people I deeply loved divided and hurting on all sides. I tried to stay and help heal the wound and close the gap, but eventually had to leave because that wasn’t my job, and because early in a conflict nobody wants peacemakers, they want people on their side, which is understandable when your world has been shaken. If you haven’t experienced a church split, I hope you never do. Only two entities hurt like that when they break apart, families and churches, both because of the love you have for the people and the intimacy of the relationships.

So this week, I dreamed I visited my home church to help produce a service, and then shortly after I had a job interview there. I talked about all the things I have done since leaving, and I saw in their face that my skills and experience would help them. And I felt that same admiration for the church as they felt for me. As I walked those halls, and attended a staff meeting, I saw the new staff in place and the work they were doing, I realized in my dream (as I have hundreds of times in reality), that the work of the Lord has been enourmous there in my absence. That the church that I love has healed, just as I have healed. It was a dream full of restoration, of the work of the Lord in both me and them in our time apart, a glimpse of the scope of the Kingdom.

I woke up, thoughtful and hopeful, and told Justin about the dream. And this morning, after talking to Lucy and time talking to the Lord, I am putting it all together.

I know the end of this story of healing, because I’ve walked it and because I trust the Author. God is going to do amazing things at the church where we recently served. His favor and power will work for them, and they will grow and expand His Kingdom. And He will lead us as well. We will do things for His Kingdom that are bigger than anything we could do in our own power, and He will open doors we never imagined He would open. I don’t know why He decided that our time there is up, why our gifting no longer matches their need. And right now, in our hurt and uncertainty, there are times we don’t feel like being peacemakers, we want to know people are for us. But that will pass as we heal and as the ground around us feels more steady. Until then we will choose peacemaking even when we don’t feel like it. Because there aren’t sides in this, we are brothers and sisters trying to bring a Kingdom to a dark hurting earth. And brothers and sisters fight, they hurt each other, they need time apart, they need their own passions and spaces and friends and seasons of life. But in the end they are for each other, they will defend each other, they are family.

And together or apart, in time, we all realize we have healed. I keep reading the Sermon on the Mount in The Message, because the language is so foreign to the way I’ve read the Bible in the past, but so familiar to my heart. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you can find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought… You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Life in the Tension

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5 MSG

In recent months, Justin and I have made some rather serious life changes. We have both left the church where we have served since 2013, although we love it still. We both came to the end of ourselves there, and realized we could not continue to pour out because we had nothing left to give. So separately, but in rather quick succession, we left, for reasons so complicated I have struggled to communicate them to the people closest to us. And it has been incredibly difficult for me. Even though the Lord was near and spoke clearly, even though our decision was confirmed 100 times in 100 different ways, I am still grieving. Again we are leaving a church we love, again we are losing friendships and leaving people we deeply loved serving with, again something I thought would end up one way ended up another, again our children are affected by the co-mingling of our church home and our ministry life, again our family is facing an uncertain future. We moved here for this church, every friendship I and my children have has this church at the center. So I am at different times sad and angry and relieved and lonely and afraid and feeling free. It is a very complicated time for me.

Justin, in the way men do, is better at compartmentalizing things, better at redirecting his energy. He immediately got another job and another wonderful opportunity, this time outside ministry, and he is absolutely soaring in his newfound role and newfound freedom. And I love watching it, it is so clear to me that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, enjoying the fruit of obedience.

But for me, it is a little more grey, and the fruit has been harder to find. I am still struggling to define what is next for me, and what “success” looks like. Is it a new job – a new position where I feel meaning and where I am contributing to the Kingdom? If it is, then I am falling terribly short finding it. I have never had a hard time finding work, in fact I get job offers with such regularity that sometimes it causes confusion to constantly have options. But the job offers aren’t coming like they normally would, and the few that have crossed my plate I have immediately heard a no from the Lord. It is like He has hedged me in. I remember studying Hosea, the prophet who the Lord demanded marry a prostitute to provide a terribly uncomfortable living example for the people of Israel of God’s love despite their unfaithfulness. There is a verse in Hosea 2 where it talks about Gomer (the prostitute) continually running away to return to her former life, and it talks about God hedging her in with thorns, literally blocking her way as she tried to run. And right now it feels like that a little bit. Like the paths I am trying to take may not be the paths I should take, and I am hedged in, forced to wait. And I keep telling myself that God knows our financial realities, and He is never late in providing, but getting my mind to rest in His timing has been a hard task. I’m awful at waiting.

But in the meantime, forced to wait, the Lord keeps drawing me to the study of wisdom, and I’m spending a lot of time praying and walking alone, and soaking up time with my kids. I realized last week that I had begged the Lord for more time with my girls, and now I have it, and I am begging him for what work is next. How dare I continue to ask, and not spend at least some time overwhelmed in gratitude for Him answering my prayers? So I am trying to sit in gratitude. I’m enjoying the daily explosion of language and personality that Lucy is showing us, enjoying the seriousness of Grace’s questions about faith and life, enjoying the total lack of self-consciousness of Bekah’s personality (of which I am continually in awe as a person forever lacking confidence). I am loving cooking more meals, taking more walks, getting to be a mom and wife first in this season, and I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for that incredible gift.

But right now, I am holding many things in tension. I actually have grown to love the complexity of feeling many things at once and knowing that my heart and my God are big enough to handle the full range of emotions that are appropriate to feel at this time in our lives. I have been in this season many times, most often at times of the loss of either a relationship or a job or a church or even a pregnancy. But because I have walked this path before, I am aware it is isolating. Not many people are comfortable walking with a person who is feeling so much, and working through it. We as humans like absolutes, for us or against us, right or left. But this middle stuff – the complexity of everything at once? Those friends are hard to find, possibly by intention. I’m not sure there are supposed to be many people walking alongside us in times like these, maybe part of the purpose in it is to push us to the Lord as our primary source of support. Because that is the reality. You let a few very trusted people in on part of it, but the bulk of it is just dealt with between you and God. Taking these things that are contradictory and confusing and going to God with them, asking Him to help sort it out. In fact, it may even be the wisdom I am studying and asking God for to be able to hold my fear and my confidence and know that both are valid, my anger and my feeling of peace, my guilt for staying at home and “not contributing” and my joy at only having to worry about my family. Maybe wisdom is finding God in the tension, and taking to Him the things I can’t control or change, while thanking Him for the things I have been given, and asking Him for the things I need.

I read this quote this morning, and it summed it up for me. “If you want to flourish in the life God intends, you must be grounded in wisdom” (Margaret Feinberg). Here is what I know. I want to flourish in the life God has given me to live, as a wife, a mom, and a minister of the Gospel. And I think wisdom is the first step, and time invested in chasing it is time well spent, so I am chasing it as if my life depends on it, because it does.

margaretfeinbergquote