Monday, May 25, 2015

To Whom Too Much Has Been Given

To Whom Too Much Has Been Given
Some of the things that came out of that craft room.
Only some.
My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. This is my weekly progress check in.


For May20-June 20, the plan is to give seven things away. Every day. That's approximately 210 things just for me. This does not count the daughter. Or, potentially, the other daughter who is coming home from college this week and may want to join us. Or not. She probably feels deprived enough already having just spent the last year eating dorm cafeteria food. Still, she should read last month's conclusions on food, I guess.

OK, so you have to know, I started this giving away stuff long before the beginning of this month of Possessions. Like, over spring break, when I enlisted a friend of mine who had foolishly offered to help clean my craft room. She offered. I needed the drill sergeant to make me toss stuff. It was a match made in, well, second grade when our daughters became best friends.

We gave away/threw away five garbage bags of stuff. And trust me, that room is still full. I promised myself that a year from now, if I haven't used it, more is going to go. The girls are done with matchstick eiffel towers and unidentified clay creations. 4H years are over. Get a grip, mom. It's time.

Then the linen closet. At least ten old towels and various wash clothes donated to the wildlife center. Just in time for baby animal birthing. And I don't miss them at all. About seventeen sheets and pillowcases. Why? Why? I have no idea where some of these even came from or whose bed they ever graced. Out.

Next came clothes. Again, three huge bags of them. Losing 45 pounds does something to your wardrobe, namely, causes most of it to hang on you like a needy girlfriend. Not to mention expose parts of your underwear that are not, sorry ladies, for public view. Necklines that used to sit right just . . . don't now. So, out they all went. Yeah, are you ready? 60 pieces of clothing. And one winter coat. I am not done yet. Why do I have so many clothes? How can one person wear that much? When the washer was broken for a month, I still had enough clean shirts to wear every day—and that's just depressing. Yes, most of them are $5 Old Navy specials, but still. Who needs that much?

When someone has been given much, much will be 

required in return; and when someone has been entrusted

 with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12.48)

I know, in context this is not talking about possessions, per se. But I think it is still applicable for those of us to whom so much has been given. I've not just been given things. I've been entrusted. Am I acting in ways worthy of God's trust? Do I think about my things in a way that makes Him glad He trusted me? I'm doubtful.


So now, after all that, we are starting the month of giving away seven things every day. You'd think I would be out of things to toss. Sadly, I am quite sure this won't even be difficult. The thing is, I want it to be difficult. I'm not sure how to really feel this one. But I am sure God will have it figured out. Time to listen. And toss. And give. I am excited.


After. So wish I had taken a before. You would have been
suitably appalled.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Four Weeks, Seven Foods, Still Alive


My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here.

So here is the wrap of of month one, seven foods. Only. All. Month. For me, that means: chicken, fish, eggs, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, and rice.

What a month of eating nothing but seven foods has taught me:

  • That it's still “me” appearing prominently in that sentence. How do we change that? I think this is key to the entire experiment.

  • That my whining about developing celiac disease and therefore no longer getting to eat (in approximate order of importance): Culver's fish sandwich, cheese curds, and flavor-of-the-day custard, crab rangoon, Cinnabon, shrimp tempura, Aunt Annie's pretzel sticks, etc. is exactly that. Whining. Poor me. 


Most of the world gets one choice for food. Rice. Or yams. Or mud cakes. Every. Stinking. Day. Get over it, self. But yes, I will probably still petition Culver's to make their custard celiac friendly. That's the least they could do for this formerly loyal customer.

  • That I can change the way I spend money on food. Yes, things are kind of tight around here, what with paying for school for (potentially) four people, one wedding, and one business buy in. It's a crazy time. But we get to do those things. We have a choice. We are fortunate. Do I dare try this experiment?


Love your neighbor as yourself.

Does that extend to what I spend at the grocery store? What if I loved my poor neighbors enough to spend as much on them as I do on me? Food banks, feeding programs, here I come. We can do this. We have to do this. There are starving people, and despite not being able to eat a cinnamon roll, I am not one of them.

  • That eating out is great fun and a nice break, especially for this “did someone say no cooking?!” girl. But I do it too much. Yeah, I did already know that. Not only will cutting down here free up the budget for giving, it will help the celiac. Because seriously, when a waiter responds to my request for gluten free options with “you want what free?," I am clearly in a danger zone anyway.


  • That I haven't felt this good in months, and I need to avoid the reentry binge on gluten free pies, brownies, and pasta. But most likely? I won't.


I am excited about this new idea. Cannot wait to try it and see what works and what doesn't. For now, moving on to the month of possessions. Getting rid of things. Yay! This is the month I have been waiting for. Stay tuned.


I'd love to hear if you are interested in making this journey, too.



Monday, May 11, 2015

My Choices Are Limited








The month of May. OK, April 20-May 20 to be exact, because we don't like to start projects when normal people would. Our month for eating only seven different foods. All month.

As a reminder, my daughter and I are embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. We are tired of excess. And we want to find our hidden caches of it that sneak up on us. Most of all, we want to find what God is saying in the searching.

The first month of this seven, we are concentrating on food. How many food choices do we typically have? How much does the average person waste? How many stinking times do I grab something out without even thinking once, let alone twice? How does that assumed abundance ultimately affect the expectations I believe for what I deserve?

And what if we self-limited our choices to just seven? How would that teach me something about the lives of others, and the life I believe I should get to keep?

Now, abundance of food choices has not really been an issue for me lately. In fact, in the past ten months, I've been what you might call “dietetically limited.” (I wasn't even sure dietetically was a word. But spellcheck does not deny me the pleasure.) After a virus that triggered a latent case of celiac disease, I have spent nearly a year unable to eat much food and unable to process most. It's been an experience.

Many people have gushed over how good I look. (I.e., no longer forty pounds overweight.) One of my dearest friends, who can always be counted on to be real, put it differently last week.

****
Friend: So, are you stabilizing now? Like, not losing any more weight? Because you look a little . . .

Me: Concentration camp chic?

Friend: No, that's not the way I'd put it. Exactly . . .

****
Yeah. So, too much food has not really been an issue.

In fact, I welcomed the chance to narrow it down to seven foods I know my body can work with. Maybe, by the end of a month, things would get a jump start back toward normal if I avoided anything that might upset the system. (Which is, well, just about anything.)

And I do feel better. Much better.

Which is why it's funny that I'm being a little bipolar about the whole 7 foods thing. One minute, I'm all “I could do this forever—I love how easy it is!” and ten minutes later it's more, “I would sell my firstborn child for the tiniest corner of a (gluten free) brownie!”

You can't please some people.

OK, so I wonder. The things about this month I rejoice in: 


  • The ease of shopping. (7 things. I don't even need a list.) 
  • The simplicity of meal prep. (A sliced tomato for dinner vegetable/fruit. Always. A banana and egg for lunch. Soooo easy.) 
  • The mindlessness of menu planning. (Chicken, fish, or fried rice for dinner tonight? And . . . a tomato.) 

These, to me, are huge bonuses. So much space in my refrigerator, schedule, and mental life is freed up.


But what about the people I'm supposed to be thinking about—the ones for whom this is every day? The ones who never get to think “what shall I cook today?” because the choice is always the same. If there is anything at all. The people who would consider my seven things a list so spectacularly varied and nutritious they could scarcely imagine eating off it all the time.

All those amazing lessons I'm supposed to learn from “depriving myself”? When I think about these people, it all seems so . . . so . . . still All. About. Me. 

Any conclusions I come away with still seem so minimal compared the the one huge conclusion that no matter what I take away, I will still be privileged compared to most of the other images of God on this planet. If I flat out starved myself, I would still be exercising a choice to do that, something so many do not have. The very fact that I have choices at all. And, that I am of (reasonably) sound mind and body to make them. Have you ever really thought about that??

So maybe that the lesson I'm taking away from month one? That my mere existence in this time and place puts me at an incalculable advantage no matter what. And what does that mean? Because surely God did not give me that gift to watch me say a (sort of) grateful grace at every meal and go on with life as usual.


I'm getting what Jen says in her book Interrupted: 

“I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a giant whole bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that is problematic.

There is a biblical benchmark I now use. Here it is:

If it isn’t also true for a poor

 single Christian mom in 

Haiti, it isn’t true. Theology 

is either true everywhere or it isn’t true 

anywhere.”

I don't think a theology of “God thank you for all my blessings you've blessed me with, The End,” would make sense to that Haitian mom. I don't think she'd understand at all if I assumed I just have so much because He just loves me so stinkin' much. I'm incredibly adorable, after all. 

What would that be saying He thinks of her?

I think if she ever read Isaiah 58 or much of the gospels she'd wonder if I ever had.

I don't know where this is going to go. But I know I've got to ask the hard questions of why I have so many choices. And I know that when God starts getting us to ask why, anything can happen. 






Monday, May 4, 2015

Guilt, Gales, and Going Where the Wind Blows




I've been doing a lot of things lately with the potential to throw me under the guilt bus. Writing a sermon this week on “The Gospel for the Weak.” Reading Jen Hatmaker's Interrupted. Re-reading her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Seeing Baltimore. Can't really write this sermon without walking through Baltimore. Mentally. Going through all my summer clothes and realizing how many I have. Just after posting on Facebook that I have no summer clothes that fit and no money to buy any more. Both lies.

Ugh.

Now before you lecture me on the finer points of why we should not feel guilty (or why we should), please note that I have finally developed a pretty good sense of when guilt is from Satan and when it's conviction from God. I know the former is about as necessary to my life as putting tapioca pudding in the gas tank would be necessary for my car.

Yes, sometimes storms can be crazy.
But holy conviction is good. It's painful as heck, but it's good. At first, you feel constricted and buffeted, like a tornado is approaching, and you can feel the vacuum created before the storm. But then, giving in to the wind, you get lifted on it and taken to new places. Good places you didn't imagine gong before and aren't sure you would have gone on your own. Holy conviction is emancipating.

And that's what I'm feeling.

All this to say, my middle daughter and I have decided to go through the book 7 again. We did it as a family a few years ago. The premise of the book is that our lives are too full. Packed full. Full of things we don't need that suck the life out of us, not to mention the compassion. So sometimes, we need to take stock of those things and jettison large portions of them, at least for a time. One hopes, it becomes a way of life.


  • Food.
  • Clothes.
  • Possessions.
  • Media.
  • Waste.
  • Spending.
  • Stress.

These are the seven things we're going to, once again, narrow down in an attempt to focus our lives on . . . on what? Just having less? No, that would not be sustainable as a motivation. On feeling the “enoughness” of God. On growing closer to knowing His heart by cutting out the things that distract us from it. Things that we amass all around us that we don't realize are choking our spirits.

Because they feel so good.

I want to know, not just esoterically believe, that God is enough.  [tweet this]. Then, I want to let that hurricane wind blow me wherever it will in its holy conviction about what I own, or what owns me. About how I spend my time and money, or how it spends me. Sometimes, I am tired of being spent.  [tweet this].

Join me in going wherever the wind blows? I'm so ready.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound.” (John 3.8)

This month, we're eating only seven things. That's correct. Seven things. For me, it's chicken, fish, eggs, tomatoes, bananas, rice, and strawberries. Limiting? Yes. But for a girl who hates cooking? Well, there are some perks there. We'll talk about it more.

Already, though, there is freedom. Shopping? A breeze. Cooking? No time at all. Focus on things other than how much food we have, how to use it up before it goes bad, what we “need” from the grocery store, and what to make that is at all interesting when I have about as much interest in cooking as I do in body piercing? None. No need to expend any energy on food. At All. I love it. What are we learning? How are we changing? Stay tuned.

You can read about the experiment in more depth here.

You can even purchase the book 7 here. Then, let's keep each other on track with encouragement and talk about what we're learning. At least, this month, I'm learning to cook chicken and eggs. A lot. (And asking myself the question--are they really the same thing? So, should they only count as one thing? This is important wrestling, people.)

Wind is crazy. And beautiful.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Love Means (Often) Having To Say I'm Sorry

Warning – incoming honesty missile. This may be TMI on my relationship with my husband, but here goes. Trust me, I'm not telling you anything he doesn't know.
Yes, that church is made of bullets.
And other violent-type stuff.

The biggest issue I am having with my dear spouse right now is that sometimes, I just want an apology. You know, when you mention something that bugged you, or something that didn't get done that was promised? And the response is, “But I . . .” “Well I did that because . . .” or “If you hadn't . . .”

I really, really hate that response. Here is the truth of our conflict. I don't need to be right. I don't require a lifetime commitment to change. I just desperately want to hear “I'm sorry,” with no excuses. I want to know my concerns and needs have been heard.

Defensiveness makes me crazy. (Plus, I am really good at it.)

Hearing words that immediately defend, justify, or condescend does things to a human soul. Words and actions of defensiveness shut down all potential communication. Any relationship that may have developed dies. They say, “I don't want to hear your heart.” “Your experience is invalid.” “My need to be right outvalues your need to be recognized.”

Imagine actually saying those things to another human being.

Yet that is exactly what a lot of us church people do. We don't use those precise words, but we might as well. What is true for us interpersonally in our closest relationships is true in all relationships – when we put up our defenses first, we lose all possibility of hearing another person's heart. When we refuse to hear, we refuse to be the image of God we were created to be.

Because God is all about seeing and hearing. Always.

God is given the name “The God who sees” almost from the beginning (Genesis 16). in the same verses, He declares that he is also the God who hears. From the very first covenant with His people, God sets himself up as the One who sees and hears his people. And for God, these are active verbs. They mean to deeply see, to recognize, to delve for need and hope and hurt and to provide for their remedy.

God is not the spouse who nods and assents, “Yep, I hear you,” all the while checking text messages and Buzzfeed. God is the one who looks you in the eye and sits until it's all out there, vulnerable and raw, and then begins to heal. That's his version of hearing.

How good are we at that?

  • Jesus saw the woman at the well's thirst, when no one, never mind Jewish men who were not “supposed” to see her, would look her way.
  • Peter heard Cornelius' faith when by law he should not have stepped into his house.
  • God saw a lonely, homeless, hopeless single parent when those responsible for her refused to take responsibility.
  • Jesus saw Zaccheus' shame when his neighbors overlooked and despised him.
  • God heard Hannah's pleas when no one listened to a woman in pain.


We must see and hear, too.

In all the sins that have been recently cast on the church, deserved or not, the common denominator seems to be this defensiveness. We are so busy defending ourselves, we forget that Jesus never told us to do that.

In this world you will have trouble.

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6.27-36)

It seems Jesus told us, repeatedly, to do quite the opposite of defending ourselves. But still, we don't get it.

I understand. It's so counterintuitive to what we believe. All that we've been told. Everything that screams the American way. We've been immersed in a culture of rights, independence, and individualism our entire lives. We equate it with “right” naturally, because it's all we've ever known. That's what all people everywhere do. Humans see what is as what should be, because no one else's reality has ever been part of their experience.

Unfortunately, that means white, (usually male), American Christians most often see the status quo that retains their position as what is right. It is what has always been. How would we know any different?

The only way to know is to listen. To hear. To see. To look someone else in the eye and say, “I want to know what your experience is. And I want to keep my mouth shut while you tell me.”

I know this is true because it's true in my own house. And human relationships are all basically the same. We just want to be heard.

In the last few months, how many issues have drawn the defensive shots of Christians?

*Millennials are leaving the church? Well, they just want a watered down gospel. They're looking for weak truth, and we aren't compromising.

*Gay people want wedding cakes or photos? They're targeting and persecuting us for our beliefs.

*People of color still believe white privilege exists? They're delusional hoodlums.

*Christians should be accountable for their historic atrocities? How dare anyone suggest that? We don't go around starting holy wars or abducting people and enslaving them. Now.

Here's a radical response: What if all many of these people really want is to be heard?

What if they're not saying Christians today are responsible for it all? What if they're not demanding we find a solution? What if they're not insisting we agree? What if they don't need a lifelong commitment to change our ways but simply a recognition that this is their experience? And it's worth hearing?

What if my knee-jerk reaction was not to defend my way of life but to be the image-bearer of God, to be the eyes and ears of the One who sees and hears?

You are someone worth listening to. My need to be right does not outvalue your need to be recognized. I see you as a fellow image of God. And however flawed we both may be, the one thing I must commit to is “acting as a child of the Most High, and being compassionate, just as (my) Father is compassionate.”


Acting as His child is irrevocably linked to acting with compassion. Jesus would not separate them, and He did not put my rights above that command. if I find one thing necessary to defend, that could be it.




Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday -- Why So Many Are Looking and Why Evangelicals Needs to Listen


“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters 
was plunged beneath them at the hands of a 
wild-eyed wilderness preacher.”

She got me at the beginning with the sheer beauty of that sentence and never let go. Rachel Held Evans, in her new book Searching for Sunday (out today), calls the church to regain its sacredness, passion, and yes, even its weirdness. As an evangelical who dearly loves my tradition and (usually) its people but has her eyes wide open to its harmful aspects, I breathed this book in. I live her frustrations and her passions about the church.

I don't always agree with Ms. Evans. But I always love her humor, her willingness to “go there” on tough issues, and her heart for God. This book is no exception.

This book is above all a call to listen to, respect, forgive, and love beyond all of our abilities and even preferences for the greater reason that there is a Kingdom at stake, and we are spending too much of our time arguing over who should be in it and far too little making it look like Jesus.

We spend a lot of energy, time, and research in pinpointing why younger generations are leaving the evangelical church. I know I do. It's a writing project I'm working on now, plus a topic dear to me as the mother of three in that generation and a former high school teacher with an unaccountable enjoyment of young adults. Yet the church tends to get defensive whenever someone actually tells them the truth about they 'whys' we wring our hands over.

Ms. Evans tells the truth. Her voice speaks for thousands who are feeling the same doubts, concerns, and fears but who simply leave without voicing them. Of course, “simply” is a poor word choice, because that decision is often anguished, never simple.

An excerpt of that truth in her own words:

“I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known for what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

To flesh this out, she discerns our sacred need through themes such as baptism, communion, confession, and marriage. In each section, she poetically, theologically, and compassionately examines why we find these sacraments meaningful. What attracts Christians through the millennia to these same rites, these same words, these marks of Christ in life?

And how can we come to them trying to bring reconciliation and renewal to a church that desperately needs to see and hear those who don't feel welcome in its doors?

In the chapters on baptism, for example, I love the bottom line truth of what it stands for that we can and should all agree on, whether or not we agree on dunking, sprinkling, or just about anything else.

“Baptism declares that God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead- on-arrival corners of this world—including those in your own heart—because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens.

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.
There’s nothing normal about that.”

The book is a cry to the church to stop trying to fix people or give them checklists to make them 'OK' before God (and more importantly, before us). It's a call to come beside people and hear their faith cries. It's a passionate request to be with God being with people, not over them.

Searching for Sunday should be read by anyone in ministry, and there are many definitions of that, whether or not the reader is an Evans fan. In fact, I'd say especially if not. If a person truly wants to be a minister, he or she needs to delve into the truths of how the next generation (and many above it) are feeling about church and all its baggage. We dare not ignore the warnings that people are giving up on the institutional church (and their faith). We cannot pretend the reasons behind it have no basis – not if we say we are people of the Word who speak and believe the Word. We need to have the courage to listen.


Searching for Sunday is an informative and beautiful step in doing that.

I have been privileged to be on the launch team for Searching for Sunday, and I am lucky enough to have read its words before everyone else. But now -- you no longer have to wait.

Find it on Amazon now.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Do It Again


A week ago was Easter. Today is Easter. Every day is Easter, from my point of view (and the point of view of some pretty reliable historic sources). True story. Because if what the Christian church says happened on Easter really happened, then every day after that is a repeat celebration. An encore. One more chance to stare up into the heavens in what really should be daily freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me!" 

If Jesus truly--physically, spiritually, historically, existentially, and any other 'ly'--was dead and then wasn't anymore forever,  then today is still Easter. And that needs to mean something. Quite honestly, if such a thing happened, and you don't think it merits more than one day's notice in 365, you're not taking this whole life and death thing we're all in very seriously. 

At one point in my life, I did look at that cross in freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me." I cried, right there in front of late night TV. No one had ever told me about Jesus, but somehow I knew. It happened when I was watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. Not a conventional conversion, I admit, but a fact. It took a few years of being around better people than I to realize exactly what that belief meant. I'm still working on it.

One thing a conviction that Easter is a daily celebration means is that we face those days with anticipation, not fear. My personal ministry revolves around helping people be freed from fear. Easter is the ultimate release from fear. Without Easter, I'd have nothing to say about fighting fears. I might try, and I might unleash all kinds of pop psychology to make you feel better temporarily, but really, without Easter, I've got nothing.

On Easter, it seems appropriate to point out that fear comes from somewhere. It was never innate to human nature. Humans started this gripping emotion called fear by running away from God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because they knew they had messed up, they knew He knew it, and they didn't know what He was going to do about it. 

It's the same basic principle that caused me to hide in my closet when I was eight and I skipped out on dishwashing duty to go out and play even though I knew that my name was clearly on that chore chart and my mom would find me. No one who knows in her soul that she has deliberately opted to go against the established order of rightness feels good about that choice for long. We may go through all kinds of emotional gymnastics to pretend and believe we do, but eventually that delusional behavior bites us from behind. How long we choose to run from it depends on how stubborn we are. 

We don't like accountability for our actions. We don't like the notion that any behavior could actually be wrong. (It's just different.) And we certainly have lost all enchantment with the word 'sin.' It's quaint but irrelevant. 

Except no matter how far or fast we try to run away, we have soul-deep-knowledge of a variety that won't be suppressed that there is wrong; that in fact, there is wrong in us, and it scares us. We hide, because our Parent might notice our name on that chart at any minute and realize we aren't doing our job.

Then hiding hits the blinding light of Easter, and it has to make a choice. Run farther into that dark closet, or stare at that cross in the morning sunlight and surrender to the inconceivable surprise that it happened because I couldn't stop hiding. And now I don't have to. 

Personally, I've come to realize that hiding in the closet because I'm afraid of the consequences of my own behavior comes with a few problems:

One, the anxiety about what my parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it? Or a lifetime. (God's reply--“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.23)

Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be--a parent and child teaching and growing. (Which is what God wants, too. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.' For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8.15-16)

Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don't want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet. (Which is not what God wants. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27.1)

Four, it's really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.


It's Easter. Still. Running was never part of the nature God intended for us. He proved it by walking straight into the consequences of our behavior, facing the terrors there, and blasting them to bits with one shove of a stone away from a tomb and a sunrise beyond our craziest dreams. Today, instead of turning around and going about your day like it's a normal day, look up. Stare into the sky. Say in freaked-out surprise, "I can't believe you did that for me." Yell it if you want to. Then close your eyes, and let the Easter light do its freeing work.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Would You Rather--Tend a Grave or Hold a Spider?

These guys?
I am fascinated by insects. Yes, I like them. They are interesting to watch, amazingly varied, and just plain cool. You know the odd thing, though? Add two legs and subtract one body segment, and what does that make an insect?

A spider.

They are awesome.
And they are decidedly not cool.

I cannot explain this.

All I know is, there is family lore about me involving a bathtub, multiple shoes, and one large spider. Also another involving me and a spider on the shower wall and a subsequent non-family-friendly dash through the house, but that is another story . . .

I do not like spiders. I used to hyperventilate going down the aisle in Petco where I know they are kept. Actually looking in the aquarium would have required an EMT situation.

So what, oh what, could have ever inspired the picture below? (Warning—graphic picture below. No, not of the shower dash. Worse.)

A refusal to give in to fear.

Not. So. Much.
I know I've told the tarantula story before, and some of you have read it. But there's more. We need to know the power of fear to take our identity from us and keep us from moving toward growth.

We fear too many things that steal our identity.


I forced myself to stop in front of the tarantula cage one day and allow that nice young man to put a spider in my hand because I knew my fear would hold me back from being what God wanted me to be. It sounds silly, I know, to say that fear of spiders can get in the way of being used by God. But whenever fear, whatever the fear, controls your choices, it blocks who you were made to be.

In this case, it would control my choice to lead a team to Costa Rica to minister. In the middle of convincing other team members to cast off their fears and go for the trip, I had to face mine or be a hypocrite. After all, they grow some big spiders in Costa Rica. (I never actually saw one in two weeks there. Only a hole where the tour guide told us we could see one if we looked. I did look. I didn't see.)

The older I get and the more I go through, the more I am adamant – I do not want to give control over to anyone but God. Certainly not an eight-legged critter with a brain the size of . . . I don't know . . . do spiders have brains? Conventional ones? No clue. But I do know they have to be smaller than human brains, based on fundamental laws of physics.

“Get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike 'What’s next, Papa?' God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8.14-15, The Message)

What do grave tenders do? They make graves neat and lovely. They ensure pretty, clean plots. Over dead things. Past things. Things with no life and no future. I don't want to be a tender of dead things. I want to live adventurously expectant.

So why don't we? Why don't we feel like we are created for incredible purpose? Why don't we wake up every morning asking, “What's next, God?” Why don't we expect wonder?

Because we fear. Rather than jump into our days, we dread them. We look at our lists and groan. We plan our next escape. We're terribly afraid to step into identity as those children of God, because it might mean risk, conflict, change. We may dread mornings, but at least we know them. Being God's representative – Stepping into our identity as His children and taking on whatever that means? That's a scary unknown. It could involve things I'm not ready to give up, risks not I'm ready to take, changing values and ideas I'm not ready to reexamine.

Look what I might have missed in Costa Rica?
It could involve holding that spider. And we hyperventilate at the thought.

Sadly, I could not get over fear of spiders by thinking about them. Pondering their purpose. Looking at photos of them. I just had to jump in and face that stupid fear head on. It's the only thing that works. And it's in doing that we realize the anticipation was far worse than the actual execution.

We're more afraid to start than to follow through. So just start.

Observer or Participant?


Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” In is fullest definition, “rich and satisfying” means “over and above, more than is necessary, exceedingly, abundantly, supremely, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon, beyond imagination.

Wow. That's a whole lot of satisfying.

So the question as we work through Lent and prepare to jump into the power of Easter is: Do we want to observe an extraordinary, uncommon, abundant life--or do we want to participate in one?

If the latter, how are you being a timid grave tender today? How are you listening to voices that steal your identity by telling you to be less than extraordinary? (Extraordinary is not, by the way, always newsworthy and show stopping. Extraordinary is simply getting yourself off center stage and looking for all kinds of ways to love like Jesus loved.)



God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!