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

Tighten Up Your Courage

I’ve written before about the way that God speaks to me. These threads or ideas start swirling in my head, and certain things I encounter in my day to day life seem to glow with significance, and I know they will eventually form into a complete picture, a message from God. But I’ve learned to be patient for that final revelation, because noticing the ideas swirling and the moments that are significant requires me to be present in my life, and that is sometimes as important as the final message.

Lately I’ve been noticing fear, in myself, in my children, in the motivations of people around me. Once you start watching for it, you see how utterly soaked in fear is our entire culture, which is heartbreaking.

Our family is in the middle of some job changes, and it has me very prayerful and cognizant of the environment around us. I’m trying to notice when I’m reacting out of fear, or feeling it, and it is taking energy and practice for me to combat the fear that is, really, an enormous part of our reality as humans. Both I and my oldest daughter, who has always been so spiritually sensitive, have been having dreams about the fear in us and the people around us. So I’ve been praying for freedom from fear, and tuned in to noticing it.

I’m a big musical theatre person, and both in the Hamilton musical and in Beauty in the Beast, I’ve noticed this line “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” It struck me as interesting, so I looked it up and it is a Shakespeare quote, from Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7;

Macbeth:
If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

It basically means to tighten your courage down to something stronger, like twisting a peg into its hole, to reinforce it. When I realized what they were saying, it was an illuminating moment.

The strength is not in the peg, or in the screw. It is not in us to fight fear and be brave. The strength is in what we attach ourselves to, and how tightly we connect. We need to daily, moment by moment, tighten up our courage to the sticking place.

And the sticking place is, for me, our great God. And if you look at the verses on fear in the Bible, and there are 365 of them (as all of the embroidered pillows you’ve seen on Etsy proclaim), they are all about God being our defense against fear:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The action is to tighten into God, not to fight fear. I’ve been getting that wrong, no wonder it has been a frustrating fight. Fighting fear has nothing to do with fighting fear – it has to do with connecting to the author of love (the opposite of fear). Screw your courage to the sticking place.

Right now, where I stand may seem wobbly, and I may feel anything but brave. But if I screw my courage to the sticking place of God’s great love for me and my family, and His power and might, and His plans that never fail, I can take courage and not be afraid.

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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.