Monday, January 26, 2015

Legacy Leaving and Statue Building -- What Is Your Vision for 2015?

Legacy Leaving and Statue Building -- What Is Your Vision for 2015?
The kings of old didn't do things small.
Our kids are a huge disappointment to us. Seriously, the Richardsons are leaving nothing in this world when we exit, and it is all those kids' fault.

In several short months, one of them is going to be leaving that name behind for a new one. Eventually, it is assumed (but not a necessity) the other two will marry as well. Not that they could not keep their names—they choose not to. (Unless one of them gets engaged to a guy named, say, Snuffleupagus or something. Then, please reconsider, kiddo.)

Nor will they carry on the family business. None of our daughters wants to be a doctor. (Their mother may have swayed them a bit with her horror stories. Or her preference for Shakespeare over intestines.) They will never be practice partners with dad. In the ways traditional families measure legacies, we're slacking. Fortunately, we don't care. There are more important legacies to leave.

Last week, we talked about how our children reflect our character. It's an analogy for how we reflect God's character as his children and his image. But there is even more to being a child, and an image, than reflecting behaviors and ideas.

Our children are the ones we entrust to carry into this world what we find important. They are the ones we hope and believe will take on our values and visions for the future.

Sometimes it's a family business; sometimes it's a family name. I hope, more often, it's treasured beliefs like caring for others, protecting family ties, and persevering through a difficult task. We won't be here to continue what was important to us. We dream that they will.

God has the same dream. 

He not only made us to reflect his character--he created us to see his vision.  [tweet this]. We're not meant to simply be nice people in this world. A computer knows how to generate good manners. We're meant to spread God's values like rain after a California drought. To make our world loving and just, not settle for making ourselves good people.

Giant Statues and Kingdom Stakes



In the ancient world, kings set up images of themselves in the outer regions of their kingdom. Why? Other people might just send an email with a photo attachment. A strongly worded memo. But these guys figured, hey, I'm a king. I don't do things small. Giant statues? Let's get on this thing!

There was a reason. See, when your kingdom is far flung, and your transportation system is a chariot, and there is no satellite programming to get your message out on 347 channels, you've got to have a Plan B. And their plan was to establish statues that would stand in for them. The figures would have their authority. Whatever a person would be expected to do in the king's actual presence he is expected to do for the statue. The image was a representative of the real thing. It had the authority of the king.

That's the idea we're supposed to get from being told in Genesis 1 that we are created in the image of God. You (you as in people--you and I) have been placed in the outer reaches of the kingdom as God's own representative. You have his authority to do what he would do. You're like an emissary sent our from your country to offer aid to this government and counsel to this other one.

This makes for an entirely different plot line than just looking at the image of God idea as “Wow, maybe I should kind of act better.” It's, “Wow, there's an entire kingdom at stake here, and I'm spending my days hanging out on Facebook arguing over who should have won the Golden Globes.” Arguing nicely, understand, because I'm the image of God.

We are a people called to mirror his character and his vision into a crazy world. That's way bigger than “Share this picture if you love Jesus.” Crazy bigger.

We're the delegation he has sent out to accomplish what the King wants for His kingdom. You're an envoy. For the King of the universe. That's serious stuff right there. Potentially scary. And unbelievably exciting.

(Side note: If we're sent to do what he would do? We'd better be quite sure what he would do. And fyi, I don't think launching hate campaigns against people who don't think like us is on the short list of things God would do.)

Giant Changes and Kingdom Strategies


For this little guy? She is Jesus.
How would it change your day to day priorities if you got out of bed today thinking, “I'm an emissary for God?” How would it mess with your agenda? Change your schedule? Slow your hurried walk past people you work with, shop with, go to school with? Deflect the criticism on your tongue or push out the encouragement? Keep you from thinking “someone should fix that problem” and start you fixing it yourself?

If we looked one person in the eyes and thought, how can I represent God to her? Right here, right now? Not in a 4-Spiritual-Laws shove the gospel at her kind of way but in a Jesus-would-do-this style. If we saw one social issue of our time and, instead of wringing our hands or focusing blame on one side, thought, how does God see this? How can I bring light and love into the darkness of this bad situation?

I used to think I wanted to go into politics. Now I know I'm not cut out for the mind games involved. Yet I have the responsibility of standing in for the King.

God says He's looking for someone to go on an adventure. Are you ready?



Next week—What does being in God's image mean for how we treat others? How about ourselves? Which one is harder for you?
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Mirror Mirror -- What Are We Reflecting in 2015?

I have a photo of my mom when she was fifteen. It looks remarkably like my senior portrait. (Only she was gorgeous in that way only 40's women can be. And I had Farrah hair. Because it was cool.) I have a photo of our youngest daughter entering first grade. It looks identical to my own school photo, down to the handmade dress. Genetics rule—we end up like our parents in more ways than one.

Some find that distressing. Others have, at least, come to terms with the reality.

Last week on the blog we started talking about rediscovering our identity in 2015. What aspects of it have been hacked, like our debit cards at Target, and what can we do about it?

Image of God -- Say What?


But before we can figure out how to re-find our identity, we have to know what we're looking for. If we have no real clue, how will we know if we ever stumble upon it? It's like going to the store when you're hungry but you don't have a menu plan. Everything and nothing looks good. You load up the cart with a bunch of stuff, take it home, and then find out none of it actually goes together in a meal. It's a patched together mess, and you're still hungry. What are we looking for?

Creation gives us the glorious facts—we are created in the image of God. Both male and female. No distinctions or hierarchies among humans in the perfect world. If you don't believe me, check out the story yourself.

But it's easy to say we're the image of God. To have some vague idea of what that is and that maybe it's a good thing. Yet all the time, I suspect we have an idea like that of my photos—we kind of look like God, whatever that is. We're his kids, so we resemble him in some cosmic way we don't really understand and therefore don't consider important on a daily basis.

But what if we're wrong?

What if, in fact, it's the most important part of our daily life? And we're missing it?

To be created in the image of God means a bunch of things, and none of them has to do with looks. Which is good because, honestly, how could God look like all the colors, sizes, shapes, and two genders of people? I mean, unless he's like Professor McGonagall and shape shifts whenever he feels like it. Which could be cool, but we don't exactly have a basis in the Bible for that idea.

(Well, yes, we do, He can appear however he needs to. But that's not quite the same as just deciding, “Today I think I'll be an armadillo. Tomorrow, maybe I'll want to look like Queen Latifah. Depends on how the cosmic mood swings.”)

OK, we are officially off topic.

Yes, sir, that's my baby. And me.

Taking on God's Character


So, let's start with one thing it means. Being made in the image of God means we take on characteristics of God. Just like my oldest daughter can read people and have instant empathy—she gets that trait from me.

Middle child likes to surprise people she loves with grand gestures, just as I do. Like the times I redecorated my mom's entire bathroom and kitchen as gifts. (Thinking back, I have to wonder if she wanted them redecorated or if she liked my choices. But at the time, I wanted to surprise her because to me, it meant an act of love. Same with middle child.)

Child #3 has her father's diligence and responsibility. Good thing she got it from somewhere.

A child grows to be more and more like her parents in attitudes and behavior. She may hate it, but one day she hears that sentence come out of her mouth and she knows . . . oh my gosh, that was my mother. Sorry—true story.

Regardless of what we hear about peer pressure and media influence, parents are still the number one arbiter of what kids become. Their values become their children's values. Their reactions to life's circumstances become their children's model. From the time of birth, kids are becoming their parents. Obviously, there are differences. They are not robots. But stick with the analogy for a bit.

From the moment we are created, we should be growing to resemble God more and more. Not physically, but in values and behaviors. In the way we react to hardship or situations that would bring out the road rage in us. Our values should be becoming more and more identical to his. Love and holiness, grace and truth above all. That's the plan. That's part of what it means to be made in his image. If that was put inside us, it should be coming out.

When we mess up and interrupt that process, we have a Savior who promises to remake us so we can begin again. (“If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”)

We are a people called to mirror his character into a crazy world. 

Sometimes, that means taking a hard look in our own mirror and asking—hey, is this really a good reflection?


  • Does this life, this daily thing I do here, the decisions I make, reflect meaning? Or are they reflex, plans auto-accepted because they are comfortable and “normal”?
  • Does this person I see reflect a belief that I am here for a reason? Or do I more often live day to day, waiting for life to happen, accepting myself as a victim of circumstances, uncommitted to responsibility of being an heir to the King?
  • Do my reactions reflect who God says he is? Or am I more likely to react like a person who has no experience at all of the mercy of Christ when angry, frustrated, confused, or scared?
  • Does my life reflect that God created everything to work with order and purpose? Or is the chaos in my own existence showing something entirely different?
  • Does it look like God orders my life? Or do I allow my schedule, other people, or the tyranny of the urgent to be the boss of my days?
  • Does this face, and heart, offer love before all else? Or is it too often something I expect others to earn?

  • If I don't like the reflection, what needs to change?

Heavy questions for a cold day in January. But January is a perfect time for questions. Everyone else is reexamining. There is nothing else to do while watching the snow and hiding from the cold. Why not? Be brave. Ask the hard questions.

God, how will I, your image, reflect it better in 2015?

Next week--what else does that image in us mean? It means not only a new character but a new job. An adventure, hobbit lovers everywhere! Stay tuned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Identity Theft--Living Who We Are in 2015


Every New Years our family has a tradition. We watch the same movie. But when the Richardsons do anything, hey, we go big or go home. We don't watch just any movie. We watch The Lord of the Rings, extended versions, all three films. It's a long day. 

Big as in big screen. As in, a big white bedsheet.
Because I do own a projector but I do not own a TV.
whatevs, guys.
If you are as good at nerding out as we are, you know that the character Aragorn is the man destined to be king. Yet for several hours worth of film (and the first 86 years of his life), he hides from that destiny. He's kind of the Robin Hood of Middle-earth, swooping out of the woods to do good things for helpless people, then going back into hiding. He's a Ranger, a lone Ranger, uninterested in the responsibility of being a king.

Until he is told quite succinctly (and when an Elf-Lord speaks it's usually succinctly) to stop it. No one else can do this job, he's told. It's yours whether you will or not. “Put aside the ranger; become who you were born to be.”

I love that moment. The big shining sword comes out (it's a huge shining sword. Seriously. No one could actually swing that thing), and it's time to face true identity.

Sometimes I think God says the same thing to me. What are you afraid of? Why are you hiding behind lesser responsibilities? Why are you messing around with meaningless, trivial things when there is a kingdom at stake here? 

Why are you content to live a small life? 

Wasn't kidding when I said we go big, was I?
Ouch. God is worse than an Elf Lord, people, when it comes to telling it like it is.

We hide from who we are. Too often, more often than not, we don't even know who we are. But I am convinced that most of our life's battles would be significantly easier, even over, if we knew the answer to these questions: 

Who am I? Who am I meant to be?
 Why aren't I? 

They're questions it's good to explore in a new year. It's never too early--it's never too late--to become who you were born to be. And the best place to look is in the beginning.

Really. In. the. Beginning.

Three times in Genesis 1 God uses a phrase when he talks about the creation of human beings. 

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

“In our image.” 

You know, if something is said three times in Hebrew scriptures, it's pretty serious. Like, Chicago getting mildly excited if the Cubs win the World Series serious. It means the thing mentioned is not even up for debate. It's settled.

So, the point is, God meant this emphatically. 

You are made in my image. Each one of you.

Every single human on this earth. All sizes, all colors, both genders, even all the kinds of baptists. Even when you really, really don't feel like you're living up to your end of the deal. That's who you are, plain fact. Are you ready to stop being anything less and become who you were born to be?


Soon after that pinnacle of creation in Genesis, a slinking, sneaking scoundrel (I do love alliteration) stole our true identity from us. And here's the kicker—we let it happen. We walked right into it. It wasn't like a stranger hacking into our credit info at Target. We opened up the account and said, “Have at it. I don't want to be what God made me to be. Let's try something else.”

It didn't end well. 


I don't know about you, but in this new year I think I'd like to take back what was stolen from me. I want to be what I was born to be. Time to put aside the sometimes-heir-sometimes-child-often-roaming-ranger and accept the challenge of being the King's image bearer, not just in creation fact but in daily life.

So for a few weeks, let's explore this idea of identity. Who are we? Who were we born to be? Why aren't we being that? 

“People are portrayed as the pinnacle of creation, endowed with dignity as those made in the image of the Creator. They are made in order to serve God, not as slaves but as partners, whom he delegates to do his work in the world.” 


Are you ready to learn to be a delegate? I am. What do you think being made in the image of God means?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Re Born

"David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.
(Matthew 1.6)

Bathsheba, aka Uriah's wife—the last of the women mentioned in Matthew 1 as part of Jesus' bloodline. (See the last three weeks for the other women.)

Lets just say from the beginning, Bathsheba gets a bad rap. It seems like we can't bring ourselves to say that King David could commit anything so heinous as he does, though we have plenty of evidence both in Scripture and in our own lives to prove that good people can do rotten things in the name of self-interest. 

So often, commentators and scholars dole the blame out to her, as if bathing on your own house was just asking for the king's salacious attention. (Times have not changed, in far too many ways, ladies. Sounds like a familiar argument.)

The simple fact is, we don't know. We don't know if she was a willing participant in adultery or if David exercised his kingly privilege to take any woman he wanted. We don't know if she adored her husband and mourned his death. We don't know if she had a happy content life or if she coveted the higher plane she got. We don't know anything. 

Perhaps it's right that she's mentioned in Matthew only as “Uriah's wife.” She is the beautiful but invisible woman, whose life is played with and altered by those around her rather than under her own control.

Aren't there Bathshebas all around us? Girls working in sweat shops as young as eight? Fourteen-year-olds branded by their pimps as property with which they do what they please? Wives and girlfriends locked in abusive relationships because they fear an unknown alternative? If you don't think so, think again. It's right in front of you, and you're not seeing it. In the hallowed “Christian” upper class suburbs around where I live, it's far more common than we want to believe.

But what about the lesser slaveries? Girls who believe their bodies have to look like Victoria's Secret posters in order to be wanted? People who have made so many mistakes they believe there is no road back? Women who are convinced by various conflicting doctrines of their culture that they have to be submissive, aggressive, young, working, stay-at-home, sexually “free,” obedient—anything and everything but what they feel in their God-gifted souls they were created to be. 

We are all slaves of what we choose to listen to. And so many have lost the ability to hear the message God spoke into their souls when He created them.

I'm sure Bathsheba did. The despair she must have felt at the loss of her life, her husband, and her child must have crushed all belief that her life would ever be her own.

Of course, the message of Christmas is that it isn't. It never was. But when it's given to Christ, it's returned in fuller form that we ever imagined. The baby born under the star gives us birth as well.

Bathsheba is included in the list because she had to muster the ability to begin again. And beginning again is the Christmas specialty. It's what Jesus came to explode into our lives. The chance, the vision, the flat-out non-theoretical capability, to start over. From wherever you are. To have control of your life—just as soon as you turn it over to the only One who wants to set you free.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in, Be born in us today.”


Be born in us. No matter what our mistakes. Regardless of what has been done to us. Despite any and all circumstances of our past. Be born in us, and let us be born again. 

Not a cheesy, televangelist born again. Real, sweat and tears, labor and screaming, born again, away from all the hell of the past and toward the promise of the future.


It's the promise. It's yours. You just have to ask. Because it's Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

When Doing Right Isn't Enough

Third in a series of posts on the women in Jesus' genealogy. Read that list of men and women in Matthew 1 here.

"Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David." (Matthew 1.5-6)

Ruth stakes her place on the list of Jesus' ancestors with some fairness, we think. After all, she gets an entire book of the Bible named after her. She must have some more redeeming qualities than, say, the two previous women who either acted like or were actual prostitutes. Finally, we think, Matthew hits upon one woman who actually deserves to make the cut.

Ruth, still a young woman, loses her husband, as do her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. This family is hard on men, apparently. She leaves her country to travel with Naomi, her mother-in-law, back to her home. She knows there is little hope for her to remarry or even survive there. But she goes.

She chooses to come with her mother-in-law rather than leave her alone. Ruth could have returned to her own people and married again. She could have had a future. But she knew Naomi could not. She knew the older woman was likely to live in desperate poverty and loneliness, and she would not allow that if she could help it. She sacrificed her own well being for that of a woman who no longer had any legal claim on her but a heart claim that would be honored.

She works hard, long hours of manual labor to provide the smallest of resources. She obeys Naomi's plans. She conducts herself with humility, modesty, and dignity. She does everything right.

Ruth is the unchallenged good girl of the list. Everyone loves her; everyone speaks well of her; she gets her guy in the end. If anyone deserves a place on the list, she does.

But I doubt she feels that way. I am guessing that, without the benefit of our retrospect, she felt very much forgotten and unsure of her future. As a foreigner, she felt stared at and suspected at every turn, aware that she could be turned away or taken advantage of anywhere because of her nationality. That probably sounds quite familiar to some people still today. Without the beautiful ending of the story we get to read, she must have felt more vulnerable than you or I can ever imagine.

Or maybe you can imagine it. Perhaps you feel like Ruth. You've done the right things. You've tried to follow God. You've chosen the right path, and you don't understand why it's leading not to success and prosperity but to not knowing every day where the things you need are going to come from. To feeling bare and open to powers that control you but may not have your welfare in mind. You're not at all certain of the happy ending we read about.

Maybe you have done all you can to make good and choose well, but your skin color or your nation of origin or past record are strikes called against you before you can prove your integrity. (Why you even have to is another question, of course.)

Ruth is in this list because she needs provision. She needs trust in an uncertain future. She needs to know she'll be taken care of, not because she did all the right things but because there is someone with enough power and enough love to lift her out of her worries and put her above them.

She finds it in Boaz, but we are offered far more than a human redeemer. We are offered One with all the resources of the universe who looks down on us and says, “I'll care for that one. That one's mine.”

That's the promise of Christmas.

It's not a promise of all we need and no worries forever. God is not the author of hakuna matata, Disney is. And much as I love the princesses, I do not look to them for my theology. (Follow your heart , tra la la . . . yeah, like that's usually a good idea.)

What Christmas is is a promise of provision. A testimony that in the middle of whatever uncertainty life holds, there is sustenance for survival in turning to him. It may get worse before it gets better. It may honestly never get better in this life. But there is hope-sustaining love to keep the spirit alive sheltered in that baby in the manger.


O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.”



Those words would have meant life to Ruth. They do to us, as well. Listen to the angels sing. Because it's Christmas. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Scarlet Cords in the Manger


Last week began a series of posts on the women in Matthew 1. You can read that introduction here. Today--the second woman mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. And yes, she is quite the addition.

And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab.” (Matthew 1.5)

Wow—this bad, bad woman is uncomfortably close to our reverenced King David in genealogy, let alone Jesus himself. Rahab? Whose name is never mentioned in Sunday school classes without its suffix—“The Harlot”? Seriously, how many kids grow up thinking that was just her full name—“Rahab Theharlot”? They have no idea what the word means, right? So it's logical.

Rahab's story is found in Joshua 2, where she takes the Israelite spies onto her roof and hides them from her countrymen who would kill them. Basically, on top of being a whore, she commits treason and treachery against her own country. This just keeps getting better and better.

Much has been written (mostly by male commentators of the Bible) about Rahab's sinfulness. Perhaps students of Scripture should be reminded that more often than not, prostitution is not a voluntary occupation. We don't know her details, so we don't know her choices. One choice, though, we do know. It's the one where she defends the two men of God by risking her own life, and affirms,

“I know the Lord has given you this land. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.”

And she begs them to rescue her. She is talking about rescuing her and her family when the Israelites come into the city of Jericho and it falls. The scarlet cord she hangs from her window assures her that she and her family will be noticed and saved. But I think she's talking about more.

Rescue from her way of life. Rescue from her empty idolatry that promised happiness but delivered slavery. Rescue from the hatred of and simultaneous use by men. Rahab's story is an old one, and it is a current one, too. Women still live in slavery to men's lust for ownership. But that is not the last word.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” 
(1 Peter 1.18-19)

Rahab needs rescue. I need rescue. Humans need rescue. And Matthew includes her in Jesus list of ancestors because that's precisely what He came to give. Rescue from an empty life that teases us with gold and gives out dust.

The good news of Christmas is that there is rescue. We are not doomed to remain harlots to whatever we have given our lives to that isn't healthy and whole. We can choose to cling to the scarlet cord that is Jesus' blood and take the rescue he offers.


Rahab is one of Jesus' foremothers for a reason.

Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

The baby of the manger pleads your case. He offers a scarlet cord. He chooses to rescue, at his own cost.


Because it's Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Matthew 1 and the Seismic Jolt of Christmas

Christianity is often accused of being anti-woman. People see it as a religion that treats women as second class and subservient. Nothing could be so wrong. Now, plenty of religious people do, in fact, treat women this way. Many sincere believers are certain the Bible even teaches this. But that is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is definitely not the belief system, or the behavior, of Jesus. And proof of this begins, well, at the very beginning. In Matthew, chapter one.

Most folks skim over chapter one. Seriously, who gets that much entertainment out of a list of “Joe was the father of John who was the father of Jim who was the father of . . .” Except the actual names in Matthew are much, much harder to pronounce.

But four times, we get stopped in the litany. Right in the middle of that perfect rhythm of dads and sons, we get a seismic jolt, four times. They are the names of the women. I spent one blog post talking about them last year; this year, I want to spend four. Why? Because I want to. And it's my blog.



No one ever included the women in lists like this. No one remembered them. No one considered them worth the mention. The fact that Matthew did blares a message across the ages we take for granted in our theoretically egalitarian society: 

Jesus came, right from the start, to cut through our ideas of who measures up and who's important with his message—everyone is immeasurably important.

To grasp how revolutionary this declaration of Matthew's is, we must understand how fundamentally not true this was for people of his time. People had a hierarchy by which to judge other people, and women were at the bottom. So were the disabled, the foreign, and the poor. The mere existence of this list in Matthew is a challenge flung into the teeth of the world. Love and value for everyone is taking over. We're here, we're ready to play, and we're not going home.

So he begins with Tamar. Might as well start with Desperate Housewives. You can read the entire account here, if you wish. Just know, abridged version, she is not exactly without scandal. Desperate for a son and thus someone to care for her as a widow alone, she opts for a less than conventional route to pregnancy. As a result, she ends up almost burned alive as a prostitute. She also ends up mentioned in Jesus' genealogy.

Tamar had been treated unfairly by those in power over her, and she was afraid. Afraid she would be alone, ashamed, and impoverished later in life. I think we can relate to those fears. Do you carry shame you're afraid will be revealed, whether it is actually shameful or imagined shame? It was considered shameful for Tamar to have had two husbands and no sons. Her shame tripled when she was denied a third husband because of her habit of losing husbands. Matthew assures you and me from chapter one that Jesus came to deal with shame.

Fears of being alone? You haven't found that “one” to go through life with? Or you did, but he or she turned out to be not the one? Maybe the kids are all gone and the quiet closeness of the house seems unbearable. Or you are the kid whom no one sees or hears. Matthew promises—Jesus came to deal with alone.


The fact that Matthew includes Tamar in Jesus bloodline fairly screams, if we will hear it: 

Jesus came from a woman who was frightened, alone, ashamed, and set aside because he came for people who felt the same way.

He cries from the cradle and then whispers from the cross—I will be the eraser of shame and the lover of the lonely. Come. Just come.

No more let sin and sorrow reign,
     nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow,
     far as the curse is found.


Because it's Christmas. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Running Wild with Hope

So perhaps laughing uncontrollably through a video on ebola may not be appropriate. But appropriate is not always my strong suit.

Let's be clear—ebola is not a humorous topic. Certainly not one to take lightly, no matter if precious Americans are safe on our soil. Thousands of West Africans are not, and that isn't forgettable or funny.

But the video I happened upon, and shared with my daughter who appreciates British humor, poked fun at the media's response to ebola, not the disease itself, and put me in tears. Sometimes, we laugh at things that seem horrible. But I wonder if maybe the reason isn't so much lack of taste as a desire to laugh at the horrible itself. To pretend we have some control over it and some ability to minimize it if we make fun of it.

Yet, as we move into the Christmas season, I wonder if there isn't even more to it for Christians. Shouldn't we be the ones who are perpetually laughing?

Christians should be the first ones laughing. Not at other people, mind you, but laughing. Because we know. We know the truth of Christmas—that God personally interfered in our messy world and gave us the forgiveness, love, and tools to set it right. We know that no matter the ugly, there was a baby whose star of presence was the most beautiful thing to ever hit planet earth.

In fact, I find that the people who get angry the easiest, who get offended at the least bit of humor, are the ones who may, after all, be capable of atrocities against others. It's the anger that gets offended easily, the dislike of thoughts other than our own, the distrust of laughter we can't understand that causes a lot of the pain of this world. People who can't laugh are often quite willing to abuse those who can.

If you don't know this craziness ends? If you don't know pain is temporary, and the hurt we do to one another defeatable? OK, I can see how nothing would be funny. Nothing at all. But we know. We know, because of Christmas, the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket.

So why do we act like it is? Why do so many Christians freak out over threats large and small? Why do we say we believe God is in control and act as if we believe it's all up to us? Yes, there are horrors beyond our imagination happening right now. Yes, I pray for victims of murderous persecutions and deadly diseases, and I help where I see avenues to help. But I do not duck my head and scream that the sky is falling. Mere men do not hold up the sky.

Some call this naïve. I prefer to call it belief. Belief that, because of Christmas, God wins. Faith that, despite suffering, He has the final say. Trust that yes, things may get rough. Very rough. They may not go the way Christians would like them to go. Nevertheless, His purposes, not mine, finish the story. Victoriously.

We should laugh. We must hope. In one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs, he sings,

How the Lord takes by its corners this old world

And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope

The hope that this thirst will not last long

That it will soon drown in the song
Not sung in vain.”


That's the wild laughter we need to have. The abandon that comes from certainty that we will not always thirst. The joy we need to embrace, not in the absence of fear and horror but in its midst. That is the only place it serves its purpose. Joyous, abandoned, holy laughter only makes sense when it's in the face of a force that thinks it has won but most definitely has not.

That Christmas baby was born in the midst of some pretty awful circumstances. Circumstances a lot like ours. Slavery, persecution, discrimination, hunger, hatred, and disease. His star shone brighter because it was in that world, because light always shines brighter in darkness. He cried many times in this world, but he also laughed. A lot. I am sure he did it with his whole heart and soul, with abandoned, head back, hiccuping joy. Because he saw the horrors of this world better than we ever have--and he knew the end.


The song is not sung in vain. Run wild with the hope this Christmas. Stifle the sour faces and dire predictions. Stop the endless blaming for this world's ills. This world has a promise born in a stable. See what kind of peace on earth your wild, laughing hope can bring.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Pumpkin Pie (To Be Grateful)


This year, we are staying home for Thanksgiving. The past few years, we have traveled, and we will miss seeing family. But this is the first year that child #3 is away at college, and she would have to drive five hours home and then six hours farther and do it all over again a few days later. It's too much. 

Plus, there are things moms recognize about that first year away. She would need “normal.” She already feels she's missed so much. To miss The Great Christmas Tree Cut Down, the decorating, the “home” feeling down in your heart that says it's all still there and all OK—that would be too much. Sometimes, you have to recognize that the intangibles are the most real things in existence.

I remember the feeling. My first Thanksgiving in college, I, too, came home. But it was not the home I had known for eighteen Thanskgivings. It was a home without the mother who always cooked the turkey dinner. (Although really, I think dad did quite a lot of it. He was the better cook. Just like in our family.) Without her sisters and their busy families, because it was without the glue that had held those extended family units together. Take out the mother, and you take out a network.

So I did what I suspect my daughter would do. I cooked dinner. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, lemon merengue pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry relish. I don't even like pumpkin pie. But the offerings hadn't changed in eighteen years, and they must not now. I set all the good dishes out. I did everything to maintain the illusion that this was normal. This was dinner as always. Though the universe might turn sideways, this would not alter.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I mean, literally, I had no idea how to cook. Mom hadn't taught me, although I'd gained basic knowledge by watching. But as mentioned, she was not the better cook of the duo that was my parents. 

Beyond that, though, I had no idea that illusions failed. We hung on to the traditions, my dad and I, but we weren't fooling one another. This was not the same, it never would be, and we had no idea how to navigate it into something else. I can't say that we ever really learned.

This year is the first Thanksgiving with child #3 away at college, and it's the last Thanksgiving with child #1 unmarried. Next year, she'll have her own family with her own relationships and traditions to navigate, and we'll have to learn a new dance. But—and here's the big but—we will. (Yes, I did just say big but. I know you laughed. You can't pretend.)

We will. I've learned some things since the fall I was barely eighteen.

Particular faces and specific dates alter with time and circumstances. Just like I no longer feel compelled to bake pumpkin pie because, in fact, we dislike it, some details no longer apply. As with the year we ate Thanksgiving burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe in the alternate universe called Orlando, or the Christmas dinner in Costa Rica involving coconut, pineapple, and spaghetti, traditions sometimes bow to present realities. And that's OK. (Because, hey, we remember those two holiday dinners.)

The tangibles change. The intangibles remain the real things. That the things we do together happen, in some form, matters. When they happen or precisely how, not so much. That the feeling of home remains “it's

all still there, and it's all OK” matters. What the menu or makeup is, not really. That we recognize the fleetingness of “same” and express gratitude for the times we have matter. Whether there seems to be little or much to be grateful for does not.


Whether you're sitting around a table with family Thursday or eating alone, swapping adult kids between tribes with the dexterity of David Copperfield or working all night to accommodate early (crazy) shoppers, stop. Find your intangibles. What matters? What doesn't? When all is stripped away, what remains real? That's what you have to be grateful for.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Being Grateful for Winter. A Little. OK, Just Barely.


And one of the 8002 blizzards of 2013 begins.
I am not a winter person. While everyone on Facebook has been proudly proclaiming their refusal to turn on the heat yet, I've been sitting on my couch muttering, “Forget that crazy business. I've had mine going since September. Plus two fleece blankets.” 

OK, part of it is being sick for several months, but I am freezing this year. And I have no pride anymore when it comes to seeing how long I can refrain from cranking the thermostat. Comfort trumps bragging rights.

I don't like cold. I don't like to drive in snow. I hate early dark. I detest cold slush in my shoes. Polar vortexes are not my friends. And no, I do not especially want to build a snowman. Though monkshood and roses still bloom outside, I know the truth. It's stinking cold out there, and I know what comes next.

But November is the month for gratitude, so kvetching about winter is not something I'm going to do. Much. Instead, I've decided to find the good things in winter. So here is my list. What is there to be thankful for between November and March? (Realizing that in Chicago, we could easily add a month on either end of that.) Here you go.

  • CHRISTMAS!


  • Men have No Shave November. No shave November? No shave next five months, ladies! This may be better than Christmas.


  • Cute boots and leggings.


  • Christmas lights. Did I say Christmas?


  • The first hot drink at the Starbucks drive through.


  • Lord of the Rings marathon on New Year's Eve. Bring it on!


  • Ice covered tree branches. It's God's form of twinkling lights. Except better.


  • Christmas cookies. Oh, and Christmas.


  • Homemade hot chocolate. Real hot chocolate, as in whipped from cocoa and sugar and milk. And maybe hazelnut syrup. If you really have good taste.

It's snowing. It's snowing and she's
thrilled. What kind of weirdo does this?
Oh wait--one with my genetic code.

  • Making soup. I am not a fan of eating it. And I am not a fan of cooking. But there is something about making soup that I love. Explanation? I have none. I need none.


  • Leftover turkey. I like it. Get over it.


  • Christmas songs. Unless they are insipid and annoying. Or Santa Baby, which is in a class by itself for stupid. But otherwise—cue the music. CHRISTMAS.


  • Seed catalogs that come in the mail. I'm dreaming of an early . . . spriiiing. Just like the ones I've never knoooown . . .



  • Quiet evenings when no one in their right mind goes out that are perfect for reading books and planning vacations. To places that are warm.


  • Chocolate marzipan in my Christmas stocking. The kind that comes only from Cost Plus World Market, not the sad little excuse for it called Ritter Sport Walgreens stuff. Just a hint, in case anyone's listening. (Gluten free.)


  • Creating an epic gingerbread masterpiece. What would you suggest we try this year? I don't think it's possible to top last year. But we are open to suggestions.

What do you find to be grateful for in winter? Yes, I know, some of you may be those weird people who actually like the whole season. I live with some of you. I can't help you. I'm ready for spring.