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faith, hope, soul care, strength, trust, truth

Dear 20-someone

December 29, 2016

The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn't conform to rules of religion. And then there was real God.

Dear 20-someone,

The recently silenced soundtrack of another 80s pop icon brought back realities and memories of my own 20s, prompting my letter to you. So many changes are going on in the larger world – and your own world too. I can’t speak how this right-now-crazy world will affect you with all its mixed-up changes, but I think I can speak to the life changes and confusion in your first quarter-life decade…the search for significance and purpose…hopes of making a difference…making your mark and the future that’s in front of you…surviving it all. I think too, that I can speak a little bit into the small world that’s right in front of you, that might matter a little too much than it should to you right now, the friends, the trends, the drama. Three whopping-fast decades ago, I’ve been there. And yeah, a lot has changed. But some of it remained the same.

Is every onramp to the twenties launched on a portion of luck, fierce independence and a small dose of angst…or was it just mine?

I entered college at seventeen, ran a fast pace through school and before my senior year, accepted an invitation to work in the field of my dreams and finish school at night. Before my twentieth birthday, I stepped into a pretty cool career not fully knowing how it all happened but whisked into the wonder of it all. The world of advertising handed a new rhythm of crazy-creative antics with people who thrived on fresh ideas and very big budgets, to this young designer who probably had more chutzpah than promise, but right-brained zaniness with left-brain practicality.

I audaciously adapted to working hard, and, at the end of our long days, playing harder. It was the decade of excess…music drove culture; drugs and sex drove music. Everything was at our fingertips or only a delivery guy away.

As I began searching for who I was, the beginnings of that quarter life decade brought a ton of fun as independence birthed new hopes and dreams, fueled on travel, relationships with the wrong people, relationships with the right people, champagne, frustration, loneliness, ways and means to numb it, preachy people, adventure, and frankly a lot of sin. I found myself in the middle of intense tension with heartache, on the edge of a future that I had never fathomed, and was convinced I didn’t want. Funny how you grasp at pleasure in the pressure, isn’t it?

But God…

I didn’t want Him. I knew what was best for me. God had rules in that book of His that I didn’t want anything to do with. The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn’t conform to rules of religion. I knew about the God behind all the rules, the one I learned of in grade school religion classes, the one I was graded on. The one I put on the cross. The one who looked down on me with a painful-looking, accusatory scorn on his face, hanging from a crucifix against a two-story red velvet curtain as incense made me gag and sometimes throw up. The one who was stuck hanging forever in a cold, echo-y church that they wheeled dead bodies into in caskets and sang in Latin. That God was untouchable and mean…just like the hypocrites that followed him, and I didn’t want any association with them.

I bought into the lies when the world said there was no God. And if there was, I didn’t want him, her, whoever or whatever. I didn’t need God to mess up my life.

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction… So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 20)

However, there was this subtle love that kept pursuing me in my own crazy mess and I didn’t quite understand it. He kept showing up. Annoyingly. In little, gentle ways. Until things got under my skin to the degree that I went out and got my own bible to actually read and to prove that it too, was hypocritical, outdated and biased.

But I couldn’t.

God continued to pursue me. In my fight for independence, I found freedom: Jesus, the real person. He wasn’t a statue who hung with scorn on His face, and He wasn’t something made up by a bunch of yahoos who continued a myth like Santa Claus. But instead I got to know the person Jesus, who, out of love, offered living, open arms to hold me.

Jesus is as real as my husband sitting next to me right now. He’s as real as the three children I have raised, and as the parents who raised me with my brothers and sister. He’s the friend who meets me for coffee every morning that I ask Him to, and He’s the gentleman who waits to be invited in. He’s not trying to hide. He’s just waiting to be noticed.

I thought I knew better. In acutality, I didn’t need God to mess up my life because I was able to manage that all on my own. Can you relate? On the crest of this new year, I challenge you to just explore Him. He’s pursuing you and simply waiting to be seen.

“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)

The world offered so much to me in the first part of my twenties. What it delivered though, was heartbreak.

But God…
He extended grace I never knew about through Jesus, delivered my life from anguish and remorse, and replaced it with peace that I can’t describe. I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the past three decades without Him.

Sure 20-someone, I know the church is full of hypocrites, and you don’t need the institution. The church has made mistakes and we’ll continue to trip up and make mistakes. But instead of looking at our failures and missteps, will you take a chance and look to Christ, whom we follow? We still have decades ahead to learn and grow in holiness in this lifetime…through Him, through His love, together. And we have so much to learn from you.

Follow HIM, He’s waiting quietly for you. You have so much promise ahead. And there’s a lot of fun, creativity, and freedom in Jesus; more than I ever found without Him. Encounter Jesus, and don’t go it alone.

Much love,
An Old(er) Friend

 

community, strength, trust

I’m Not Like You, But I Need You

October 31, 2016
We're disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, and Jesus shows up

When the battle’s the hardest

…it’s love that fights the strongest. Don’t go it alone.

As I clicked the latch on the front door near the noon hour on Saturday, the quiet of the room echoed the holy hush of God’s presence. He dwelt with us. We went well over the time we committed to run back into the busyness of errands, celebrations, sports and activities of our weekends. But we barely noticed, as the viral threads of love stitched hearts and souls, and hemmed us in at the edges to keep each one from unraveling. I sat and wept over the sheer witness of transformed lives in the midst of battle. How does God do this?

I later asked my friend, “How do you duplicate this?

What I was asking myself was, how do you share this experience–Jesus in the midst in big ways–and hearts so wide and so pliable that it exposes triumph and tragedy…

and we all win?

How do we transfer what happens between my kitchen and living room as ten to sixteen weary warriors trudge in, choosing to re-create an Acts 2 community over hot coffee instead of the warmth of a comforter on a dark morning, because the great Comforter offers so much more in the context of community?

How do I convey to the church that it’s missing so much by making community elective when we choose to be so selective with our time and our choice of people outside of Sunday mornings? This is so much more than Connect Groups. It’s disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, who make room for Immanuel to step in and break down walls of independent, self-sustained cocoons…and make them stronger. The bravado of stepping out into community returns more than just discipleship numbers. It rewards the one who says I’m not like you, your age nor your color, I don’t understand you, but I understand why I’m here; I’m an adopted heir of Jesus, and that makes me your sister or your brother.

And the reward is an encounter with the living Christ.

All we do on Saturday mornings is come with transparency in our souls and a longing for more than what we walk in with. But we come to connect; then God shows up. Some carry cumbersome burdens, some hidden insecurities, some secret sins, some silly stories and all we seek is to know and be known. Yes God shows up in, through and around each other.

How do I convey to the church that it’s okay to let down your guard… that it’s okay to need each other? …That yes, it’s important to gather as a large Sunday body and collectively honor and worship the risen King, but you pour out your heart in a large, darkened room, with an empty seat positioned between one another…and that’s not Christ’s best for you? Your Sunday check-in and polite smile is not going to pick up your self-contained, self-maintained brokenness when life kicks your butt and no one’s there to take your hand but maybe a spouse or parent if you have one.

Sweet church, it’s okay to need each other.

faith, fortitude, soul care, strength, trust

The Perfect Storm

August 10, 2016
Sometimes it takes a storm to get you to the other side of the lake

Sometimes it takes a storm to sweep you to the other side of the lake.

It was the perfect storm, a collision of two air masses with rapid change in wind direction and violent gusts that blasted me off my feet. Howling winds and furious squalls picked up debris as it raged; I bent my head into the gale.

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

I cried in the nights, “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m drowning?”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:35-41

There are times when storms crash and dark skies will open to pour out a deluge. Sludge may muddy your path and rock your faith in the Creator and the created. No one is immune. This is when it’s most important to hang on, because sometimes it takes a storm to put you exactly where God wants you…anchored in His presence in ways you’ve never known before.

It was actually this perfect storm that rescued my soul.

I was hurrying to catch up to who I was becoming, but the hurry made me become who I was not. I began losing myself in the whirlwind…adapting for someone else, and succumbing to the rushed expectations of who, and demands of what, others said I am and should do in the midst of a fast-paced world.

Christian philosopher Dallas Willard wisely warned, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Cutting through the vicious wind, Jesus’ rebuke whispered to me, “Silence! Be still!”  I heard His sweet voice urging:  “Quiet your life, unhurry your soul…submit your will, settle your thoughts, decelerate your body and stop doing what others expect of you. Rest child, and wait, I’m in the boat.” Suddenly the wind stopped and there was great calm. Shipwrecked, yes, because the storm swept me to a different place, but anchored in His love. Jesus restored my faith and breathed abundant life back into my soul.

If a storm blasts you, invite Jesus into your boat. Rebuke the darkness, and assert your authority in Christ over the wind and the waves. Remain steadfast in spirit, keep your heart focused on Him, get to the back of the boat and rest with Jesus. It’s all grace.

You keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

community, strength

We can do this together.

July 26, 2016
We can do this together. Pray.

We think this is hard,

and we’re alone
and we’re walking a road that humanity has never seen.

Cutting edge. Yeah, we think we’re cutting edge…
Forging new paths.
Trending.

#multiculturalchurch

We are.
But we’re not. This is nothing new.

Hey guys, we’ve even been given a manual, the how-to book, a what-now guide.

But North American church…did we overlook it? Yes, we cry out to God when the tension is high and lament over fear of stories we don’t know…
or pridefully,
maybe ignorantly,
gloss over to say that’s the past. Get on. Relax, and would you please…

stay in your own lane
or…
I’ll go back to my own pew.

#multiculturalchurch This is hard.

We have different ways to worship and my way is right and your way is right and I like my way and you like your way so we worship in our ways but we missed grace and peace.

#multiculturalchurch How did we miss grace and peace?
Let’s not cover up our pride with assurance and affirm our mirrors we have grace. And let’s not settle with a sliver of rested souls and say we have peace…

if we dare not to embrace grace and peace, #multiculturalchurch, grace and peace together.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, greeted the saints with
GRACE and PEACE.

Grace, the Greek greeting.
Peace, the Hebrew greeting. Together.

Paul greeted the six-year old #multiculturalchurch with not grace alone, not peace alone. He knew the two cultures needed to hear the other guys’ greeting: “grace and peace”.

Ephesus was a port city in Asia with a thriving international trade, tourism, and attracted people of many ethnic backgrounds from all over the Roman Empire. Diversity was rich. The Jews and Gentiles, two divergent cultures…they didn’t mix. Sin was abundant. Strongholds bound the city.

When Paul planted the church in Ephesus he knew he was walking on the enemy’s turf.

Grace and peace.
In that order. He knew that bringing two cultures, Jews and Greeks together to be called church as one body, would require lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering…bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit. He knew it required Greek grace and Hebrew peace…two worlds colliding.

Grace first, then peace…because only after grace has dealt with the sin issues, then peace can be known.
The very first #multiculturalchurch needed grace and peace. God knows, so do we.

Hey #multiculturalchurch, we’ve got the manual, the how-to, the what-now. It’s the book of Ephesians. It’s pretty simple too. The first three chapters teach us who we are in Christ. We’re not Greeks, not Jews, not African American, not white. In Jesus, we’re
chosen (Eph 1:4-5, 11)
rich (Eph 1: 6)
redeemed (Eph 1:7)
forgiven (Eph 1:7-8)
blessed forever knowing our future (Eph 1:9-10)
and have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that yes, we are all of these (Eph 1:13-14).

Those chapters form our beliefs. The next three in the book of Ephesians focus on our walk…how we live…together. Let’s focus on our walk from a posture of who we are.

We have to quit the ground wars, the black and white wars, the worship style wars, the pride wars, the offense wars, the narcissistic wars, the color-of-the-walls wars, and you know we’ve fought them. But Paul’s manual says no, no…you’ve got it all wrong. Stop bloodying one another in the battle on the ground. Stop! Change the battlefield.

The ground war is won when we lift it up in the air. Look, it’s right there in the handbook, chapter 6. We fail on the ground if we’re indifferent to prayer. So pray church.

Gather. Pray. Be strong #multiculturalchurch, in the power of God’s might. Switch the battlefield and put on your armor. Your efforts aren’t trending. You’re not forging new paths, but you’re bringing grace and peace. Hear the call of heaven…together, togather, and pray.

gratitude, love, strength

I’m rich!

June 30, 2016

The fullness of God is as free as the air you breathe. (John 17:22)

 

God does nothing half-hearted, half-done or with partial love. Open your hands and heart to all He’s given you.

community, fortitude, love, strength

Can we talk? A mom’s thoughts on disabilities

May 31, 2016

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. His works are wonderful, I know this full well.

We waited in the crowded reception area at our family dentist fulfilling six-month check-ups. As my two boys tackled the day’s homework waiting for their sister, I caught a glimpse of a woman across from us staring at my son working on math problems in his notebook on the floor. He looked up to ask me a question about borrowing from the next column; his peripheral vision snagged her. His brow furrowed. I quickly answered and directed him back to his paper. While his pencil slowly formed the number eight, I heard a low growl emerge from him. His eyes darted to the opposite side of the room, locking eyes with the woman for a split second, then back at the paper. It happened again, as awkwardness grew inside me, yet curiosity didn’t stop her stare. By the third growl, I poked my son with my foot and asked him to pay attention to his work. He tried. But it happened again. Slapping the page, he abruptly threw his pencil down, stood up and declared to the room of people sitting in the circle, “That’s it. I can’t concentrate with that lady staring at me.” I wanted the floor to swallow us seeing smirks and shoulders bobbing, others suppressing laughter. I prayed. I understood the woman’s curiosity. I also understood my son’s frustration of trying to live life unnoticed with unspokens in the divide.

To redeem the situation and provide a small element of grace for the woman who immediately closed her eyes, bobbed her head forward and pretended to suddenly be sleeping, I said quietly, “Say hello. Maybe she wants to be your friend.”

“She?…
Her?”, he demanded loudly, walking toward the closed-eyed woman, finger pointing directly at her. “She doesn’t want to be my friend. She just wants to be rude.” A few snickers emerged from the circle, as his older brother leaned in towards me and confessed, “He’s got a point.”

We are not strangers to being noticed, stared at, or to the hushed conversations of parents trying to cache the thoughts of their children before words tumble onto their own field of humiliation. And that’s okay. With time my son Connor became more aware of who he was…a boy who [by the way] was born with an extra chromosome…and learned to stand in the gap for those teetering between the reality of the person with special needs in front of them, and their muted questions and fears. Above all he learned to embrace the important: he was a boy, loved by his family, he loved back deeply, and he was created by a masterful Creator. To this day, he continues to absorb that God created his inmost being, He knit him together in my womb. And Connor praises God knowing he is fearfully and wonderfully made; God’s works are wonderful. He knows that full well. [Psalm 139:13-14]

I can’t say why the woman in the dental office stared so blatantly and so buttoned up. When called to accountability by a second-grader who had Down syndrome, she chose to feign narcolepsy sitting amidst a circle in a large, sun-filled dental office, and we were unable to talk to her. It was that awkward for her. While my son Connor may have felt the sting and stare of his disability in that moment, I wondered if she was more fascinated with his ability to independently add and subtract double-digit math problems. I reflect on that moment…maybe it ripped the “r-word” label off a little boy and it rendered her speechless.

From pre-school through fifth grade, Connor attended public school in classrooms with ‘typical’ children. He rode the school bus with his siblings, attended birthday parties and was wholeheartedly embraced by his elementary school peers. As children asked questions in school, they were answered in school. Connor knew he was different, but he knew he was more “same”.

Questions are okay. Questions are good. We have to allow each other’s stories to be told in the context of God’s handiwork…that every person God creates is a reflection of Himself [Genesis 1:27]. When I was approached by a Sunday School teacher sharing her grievance over a classroom of nine-year-old boys beginning to snicker and tease Connor in the class she taught, she invited me in to talk about Connor…with Connor. He delightedly shared their commonalities (the NY Yankees and Ninja Turtles) and I was able to explain the disparities, while celebrating the differences. Outfitted with a bag of supplies, we talked about why it was challenging to sometimes understand Connor when he spoke. I explained that his chromosomes, the same things that gave each of them the color of their eyes, their hair, their skin…gave him a mouth that was narrower, a palate that was much higher and a tongue a bit thicker…and then pulled out a big marshmallow for each child. As they took turns popping marshmallows into their mouths and encouraged to say, ‘hello my name is _______”, each one giggled as the awkward, garbled expressions that emerged; and began high-fiving Connor. Pulling thick children’s ski gloves out of my bag, I explained the development and difficulties of Connor’s fine motor skills as they practiced writing their names with a gloved hand and pencil. The bridge narrowed with each new prop and discussion. Within the next week, Connor was invited to church kids’ homes for play dates, and for the first time without me. The more we seek to know a person, the divide narrows.

We cannot fear what we don’t understand. To be known as a follower of Christ…or even just a good person for that matter, we have to choose to embrace the tension of getting to know each other deeper and seek to understand what we don’t know about each other. And do it with grace.

If you (or your children) are wondering about people with special needs, here are a few thoughts for you. Nothing scientific or focus-group insights…just observations and thoughts from my corner of the world:

  1. People first. My husband and I have not raised a ‘Down syndrome child’, but rather, raised a child who is now a young man. He happens to have Down syndrome.
  2. People with special needs are the same.
  3. People with special needs are different.
  4. It’s better to talk rather than stare. Say hello. Some parents of children with special needs may not be ready for a barrage of questions as they may still be emotionally grieving the “typical” child they had dreams for, but talk to them and allow them to share to the level they are able. Celebrate the beautiful child they’re raising!
  5. Words matter. Words like retarded, deformed, crippled, suffers from, victim of, handicapped, unfortunate, pitiful are offensive. Handicapable and able-bodied are patronizing. Replace the term “normal” with the word “typical”. Please stop using the word “retarded”, whether you use it to describe a person or a situation. I’ll say it again. It’s offensive.
  6. If a person uses a wheelchair, be respectful. A wheelchair is an extension of a person’s body. Don’t lean or hang on the chair. Ask permission before pushing it. Make an effort to position yourself at his/her eye level when talking.
  7. When greeting a person who is visually impaired, identify yourself and anyone with you. Ask if you may assist him/her. If the answer is yes, offer your elbow and guide them.
  8. If communication is a challenge and you encounter a person you may not understand, communicate honestly. Don’t say you understand their speech when you don’t. Simply ask the person to repeat him/herself or show you what they are trying to convey.
  9. If a child with special needs is with his/her parent, don’t ask the parent the child’s name or other questions about the child. Ask the child and enable him/her to answer to the ability he/she is able to.
  10. Get to know people with special needs and I guarantee you will discover countless facets of God’s character and reflection.

By the way, Connor loves the Jesus who walked the earth in dirty feet, and asked a lot of questions. I love the people who are willing to walk across muddy boundaries and ask a lot of questions. They help us learn and grow and enter into each other’s stories.

(Written by a not-so-special parent…who just happens to have been blessed with a special kid! It’s all grace.)