Saturday, July 30, 2011
I’m learning – and accepting – that God equips us all differently.
Some days I still yearn to be more like other men and women, but I’m discovering effectiveness is within reach when I unfold the talents God has given me rather than attempting to imitate others. Life has enough discouragement of its own.
With this discovery has come the freedom to say no. And to say yes. When I work within my giftedness, I’m refreshed rather than exhausted. It’s crazy how surrendering really does bring ease sometimes.
This has been a great way to live the past few years. Truly engaging in marriage and parenting and community and work calls for a tremendous amount of intentional balance. It’s almost ironic that self-discovery helps us lead others-centered lives.
But God and His Great Story can not be put in a box. And while He’s faithful and just and eternally true to His character, His ways are radically unpredictable sometimes. (That must be where my daughter gets it :). After all, she bears His image.) Sometimes God calls us out of our talents, away from our “natural bents”. Far from the ways He’s gifted us. And it’s okay.
There are tension-filled scenes in my own story where both fear and peace are present. I’ve wrestled with the simultaneous presence of insecurity and the inexplicable knowledge that I’m right where God intends to use me for the moment. Or the day. Or the season.
It happens to everyone as it happened long ago when captives returned to redeem their grandparents’ rebellion. Priests became construction managers. Construction managers. Their family line dictated a life of teaching and leading worship rather than learning a trade. Oh, the invasion of awkwardness and humiliation when clergy instructed those with calloused hands and developed muscles and sun-kissed skin in how to build God’s temple. There must have been lessons learned for everyone involved. God’s Story is so, so big.
"My power is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He indeed calls us beyond ourselves sometimes.
And as the sun rises boldly out of a morning fog, His purpose emerges through our weak attempts to help redeem His world. After the struggle, after the fight over being used by Him when we didn’t feel capable, we can finally look and see His beauty. Not our own.
Monday, July 25, 2011
It seemed a rather simple thing – a monthly book club for our daughters and all the girls in their grade. And their mommies. My friend, Kia, and I desired to teach our girls a love for literature while being thoughtful and discerning readers.
We hoped to build an even more authentic community of little friends in order to withstand the pettiness, the jealousy, and the gossip that often enters women’s lives when we’re not looking.
And we longed to strengthen the mother-daughter bond represented across all the families in first grade.
But as usual, our little girls ended up being our teachers.
Last school year our girls were open. Real. Eager to share. They laughed and laughed. They made connections between the pages in books and the chapters in their own life stories - chapters of conflict with friends… of the world’s injustice… of dreams to do something meaningful with their lives. We tackled difficult themes like regret, making fun of others, loyalty through adversity, oppression, and prejudices. And we saw analogies of the Gospel in many of our secular selections – redemption following brokenness, time and time again.
Many of you around the world have girls that might be interested in some special mommy-daughter time over books. Believe me, starting this book club has been the most non-stressful thing I’ve done in a long time. With some organization up front, an entire school year of book club meetings (with a summer brunch and ice cream social thrown in) unfolded into a year of thoughtful discussion and deeper relationships.
We designated a day each month that we’d meet (with our school calendar, the fourth Monday of each month worked well). Last fall, we perused a local book store and consulted with our school librarian. We found books to correlate with different themes when appropriate such as holidays and Black History Month. And after directing the first meeting, Kia and I opened it up for other women to lead. We knew last October which moms were helping each month through May.
The meetings lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes after school in a reserved classroom that was quickly transformed into the “excitement zone”. Extra time after school to share with your friends?! To a seven year-old girl, what could be better? Moms and daughters – together – read most of the book ahead of time at home in preparation for finishing it together at book club. After a discussion lead by a mom, we’d enjoy a snack and craft that somehow correlated with the story. Sometimes just one mom would lead all three aspects of the meeting. Other times, two or three women would lead different parts. Different moms have different gifts.
And we gave grace. If books weren’t finished, we encouraged everyone to come anyway. If moms couldn’t leave work, we’d adopt their daughters for that meeting. This group was about learning how to be thoughtful and reflective – and about building authentic relationships. It was not about perfection.
Our books were generally all on a first to second grade reading level:
We hoped to provide a place of safety as our girls took risks in honesty during the discussion – even when their reactions were different from their peers. We learned listening skills as well as fluency and comprehension skills because it’s sometimes hard to show patience when it’s another’s turn to read. Even book clubs reinforce that life is about being others-centered.
We’re organizing our book club for next year, and our plan includes broadening our genres. Each discussion leader will make her own book selection or choose from a list Kia and I have created. And we’ll once again invite all the second grade girls and their moms to join - even if they couldn’t participate this past year.
Taking steps toward community has never been more fun.
Friday, July 22, 2011
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Two verses. Two verses nestled in a heart-wrenching Psalm of regret. Utter remorse. Shame.
One of my greatest lessons learned in college came not in the lecture hall, or the lab, but in my dorm. We were sitting outside my room, whispering in the dark hallway as other girls were heading to bed.
“You need to be real,” Susan dared.
And this new friend my own age became my mentor in authenticity. And, oh, how I’ve wrestled against this teaching! Almost twenty years later, I sometimes find myself needing a good dose of solitude to reflect on how I’ve strayed from her challenge.
Yet its right here in Scripture… not only do those in my life beckon me to live authentically, but so does my Maker. He delights in truth and wisdom at my very core. My core.
And He anticipates the ugly. Not shocked by my blackened heart, my Maker provides a solution before I’m even aware I need one. Again.
Hyssop. It was the very cleansing used with leprosy, the awful disease that stripped away dignity along with physical extremities… the disease that caused others to turn their faces and send you to a nearby exile. Uhhhh, just like exposing my authentic heart could do. Oh, the risk that being real involves.
And hyssop played an even greater role, cleansing not only those threatened with death, but also purifying those left behind when their loved ones slipped from the earth forever.
Cleansing in the face of ugliness, and the absence of hope, and the grief of reality. My heart, my realness. His hyssop. His restoration. And the hope of rediscovering joy (v 8, 12).
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Feeling the sun wake the earth while running on the beach with my dad and brother’s wife. Watching my husband discover his childlike joy again. Spotting dolphins from our rustic dock as we dine.
Connecting. Restoring. Realizing the world is much, much bigger than our everyday. All gifts.
But pain is also part of the puzzle we’re trying to piece together here on earth. Even on vacation.
And with experiences only the beach can etch in our hearts and minds comes the sting of the jellyfish. The oldest grandchild, the youngest grandchild, and the husband discovering his childlike joy again after life’s deeper sting - all victim’s of its randomness.
And I have to answer our youngest ones’ tough questions. Why did God make jellyfish in the first place, Aunt Christan? When exactly did they start stinging those around them, Mom? Was it before or after the Fall? Before or after sin entered the world? Together we ponder marine biology and ancient history and theology. And I cringe. I cringe knowing my daughter’s sting today is so tiny compared to the pain she and her cousin will experience as their lives unfold. Sometimes its easier to look back on the mysteries of history instead of looking ahead.
But oddly, the puzzle is not complete unless every single piece is connected. Even the ugly pieces. Do I choose a complete picture with pieces of beauty and pain? Or do I keep my puzzle incomplete with gaping holes to avoid joining the heartache with the good?
Oh, that’s right. I don’t get to choose.
“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.Help me see your glory, God. Help me want to see your glory. Guard me from bitterness. Give me the perspective of eternity to see the story you’re writing. And help me trust you when I can’t see it. The power to do this – this all-surpassing power – has to be from You.
For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18, 6-7
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Upon returning from our honeymoon in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, we opened our wedding gifts. Oh, how I wish the American custom was also to have a 15th anniversary gift registry like you do when you first get married! It was intriguing to discover what registry items our specific friends and family chose for us. What drew them to those specific gifts?
To my delight, friends of my parents purchased the complete twelve Pottery Barn place settings for which I had hoped.
These cups still welcome me to morning darkness and solitude and coffee each day. These plates still comfort the four of us as we retire from another square on the calendar while eating dinner.
But in addition to the twelve place settings, I also registered for two additional bowls that were part of the same design. They are deeper and more narrow than the soup bowls that came with the set. Pottery Barn called them “cereal bowls”.
These two bowls were purchased by our college friends – a married couple - and came with a note saying, “One of the most special things about being married is getting to have breakfast together.”
They had no idea at the time that God was numbering his days and that cancer would escort him to our Maker nine years later. But their insight - life’s greatest pleasures found in the simple moments - has remained with me my whole marriage.
The strength of the simple moments – the strongest intimacy fostered in the everyday – has sustained our marriage during the fiercest of trials.
Cereal bowls. Walks after dinner. Impromptu talks in the kitchen after the kids are asleep. Fifteen years worth. I’m so grateful.
Monday, July 11, 2011
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. Matthew 11:28, 29
“Many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. Instead of the real, messy you meeting God, you try to re-create yourself by becoming spiritual.
No wonder prayer is so unsatisfying.
…The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.” - Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Recreate. Not re-create, but rec-reate. I’ve never used the word before this summer, but its one of my favorites now.
One night last winter, my husband and I were pondering how time slips so quickly away. Our children have raced from stage to stage and our exhaustion has often clouded how quickly they’re moving. “You know what’s really important?” my husband asked. “This right here.” Motioning toward our kids’ bedrooms while they slept, his voice got quiet. “Clayton is halfway out of our house.”
So this summer we cashed in our credit card miles for bicycles, and we’re hoping that time no longer steals our awareness of childhoods slipping away from us.
Joining our son and daughter in this ever so common form of activity has redefined summer for us. Recreate. Mirriam-Webster defines this verb form of recreation as “to give new life or freshness to”. New life. Freshness. Why did it take us so long?
Among the benefits of exercise and being together are lessons to be learned. Living with an others-centered orientation… choosing self-control… getting back up when you are beaten down… admitting when you have caused your own crashes… recognizing that not all physical activity has to be a fierce competition. Our children are learning deeper truths from bike riding.
And their mom and dad are learning to recreate.
And all four of us our learning a new way to worship.
Eric Liddell, a prospective missionary to China and a 1924 Olympic gold medalist in the 400 meter race, understood it even though others misunderstood him. Embracing himself as a complex being, the movie Chariots of Fire portrays him as saying, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Liddell’s sanctuary extended beyond the borders of churches and prayer closets. He knew His Maker delighted in Him. And by using his gifts – even his physical talents – he worshipped.
The concept is so different it’s hard to wrap my mind around it sometimes. In exercising, I rest. In resting, I worship. In worshipping, I sense God’s pleasure.
Recreate. I am loving this lesson.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Today, Independence Day, marks a special day for those of us in the United States. But regardless of where you are in the world – regardless of your country’s political situation - today I celebrate the deeper freedom we all can know.
My brother found this human Statue of Liberty picture created with 18,000 men. Faceless men to us, yet 18,000 different stories.
“At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’…With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last... The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:33-38)
Christ’s sacrifice – authentic love – ripped not only His body but also the veil separating man from God’s presence in the ancient temple.
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12)
Happy Independence Day. For eternity.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
It was adorable across the lawn. Nestled into some of the most mature trees in St. Louis, we eyed a darling stone cottage.
The backdrop is one of my favorite places – a park larger than NY’s Central Park. Home to our art museum, our history museum, our zoo, and more, many structures speak the mystery of history built for the 1904 World’s Fair. All offering free admission, this haven is one of the few melting pots in St. Louis where people of varied socioeconomic statuses and ethnicities willingly pursue. Together.
But last week we were just there for dinner and stumbled upon these stones of enchantment with their blue-grey door. A peek inside, though – a peek inside quickly screamed of need. And messiness. And reality.
It’s a bathroom. And a very park-like primitive one at that.
And while grace is slowly chiseling away at a lifetime of impressions, strivings, achievements to hopefully become good enough, I still sneak back to my idols. Actually, I still sprint to them during some of my most stressful moments.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus uncomfortably challenged. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:13, 27, 28)
My messiness. It can breed hypocrisy when I build stone cottages to hide it. Or it can actually glorify my Maker when I acknowledge that His redemption, His grace, His cross is all I have on which to stand.
Friday, July 1, 2011
It wasn’t intentional.
Last month I shared my efforts to protect my ferns from a storm’s wrath. My morning’s race to our daily life included bringing in my hanging foliage because of a forecast. I was acting hastily but not maliciously.
Yet in doing so, I made five eggs remain eggs forever. The long leaves hid a tiny nest, and the tiny nest cradled the eggs. And I never even noticed them until I returned home that evening. Yes, my plants were protected from a rage of a storm, but the mama bird never came back. Ever.
It was a strange feeling - strange to be the unknowing perpetrator of halting God’s design for nature. For life. I thought about what could have been quite a bit.
But I awoke this week to grace, for nestled in the other fern is now a second nest in one summer. A fresh start. Hope born after the dying.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22, 23)
His grace is the calm during my storm, even the storms I have created… my healing in the midst of the drama… the shaping of my heart rather than the end of my struggle. Forgiveness and mercy is poured out to me as I struggle to extend grace, wrestle to release myself from resentment’s grasp.
A morning bike ride to the drug store with just my husband… The return of my parents – back from Egypt – deeply impacted from the year’s events but unharmed… A birthday phone call from my brother’s family. All undeserved. Grace in my own little life.