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Friday, October 31, 2014

My Initial Reaction to MH Closing Its Doors

I have so many mixed emotions right now. I feel the pain of friends whose worlds have been turned upside down and are wrestling with hard things that will inevitably unearth more hard things. I mourn the loss of what was good at Mars Hill and the lost aspirations to address a gaping hole in American Christianity—to get back to Jesus, the Bible, and the Gospel through music, art, discourse, and ordinary life in the pursuit of Meaning, Beauty, Authenticity, Truth, and Community. I grieve with the wounded—in the end everyone was run over by the bus. My heart aches with those who feel lost, alone, confused, uprooted, broken, and hurt from every angle of this. I feel guarded. I am watchful over my heart that is very prone to wonder. I am watchful over my engagements and processing, conscious of the need to be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. I am grieved and angry at what I did to feed the machine, at how I was deceived, and at the effects, both then and now. I am grieved and angry that Mark chose the path of Saul rather than David and burned the house down rather than humble himself to walk in repentance and light, and that he profited from the demise of others. I am grieved and angry that leaders did not lead, shepherds did not stand guard, friends were not willing to wound in love, to lay down their lives for their brother. I am grieved and angry that truth was corrupted, and the opportunity, platform, and resources were not stewarded in love, but rather were squandered in greed, partiality, selfish ambition and pride. I mourn the loss of what could have been. I am also deeply stirred with hope. I am hopeful that in the dying, new life will steadily emerge. I have hope that God is not only stripping away in our hearts, but building up. I have hope that God will restore what the locusts have devoured, and not only that, will use the very barrenness to craft His masterpiece. I have hope that what He has taken away cannot even compare to what He is bringing. I have hope, that even in this difficult time, God will not just show us, but unveil in us, His beauty and glory, drawing us evermore to Himself in and for abundant joy. I am excited to see how this will manifest in diverse forms and places. I also know that God can still move hearts to repent—to come home to be welcomed with joyful tears. I long for that, I pray that He would. I trust in His goodness. Praying for all of us and resting in His perfect peace.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections on Church Conflict/Scandal

My heart has been heavy in listening to recent conversations about church conflict/scandal. 
Is it ever okay to question church leadership?
“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” 1 Timothy 5:19-21
We should not entertain accusations against elders (pastors) lightly, but when two or three witnesses step forward, we ought to pay attention. 

 But before we speak into a pastor’s life (or anyone’s life), we ought to take inventory of our self first. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:3-5


Have we prayed for love, humility, wisdom, and eyes to see our own sin first?


What was our role in the conflict?  Did we perpetuate harm directly or indirectly?  Did we defend or accuse?  Was our defense or accusation warranted?  Did we stand by in silence? Was our silence warranted? Did we ask questions?  Were our eyes opened or closed?  Were we discerning?  If we were ignorant, did we do our due diligence?  Or was our ignorance willful? 


If we have taken “sides” in a conflict, what were our motives?  Did fear play into it?  (e.g. fear of man, fear of the unknown, fear of loss, etc.)  Did partiality play into it?  (Were our judgments based on favoritism, popularity, charisma, position, security, wealth, or any such external factor?) Did an unhealthy obsession with controversy or interest in gossip play into it?


If we have sinned in any of these ways, what have we done about that?  Have we confessed? Have we looked in the eyes of those we have harmed (or stood by and watched)?  Have we listened to those who have been harmed to hear the effects of our actions or inactions?  Have we apologized and done what we can to make things right? 

We have to address our own sin first before addressing others!


These questions of accountability take on another dimension if we are in leadership, especially for pastors. 


Hebrews 13:17 tells us that leaders are keeping watch over the souls of the flock, for which they will have to give account.  Leaders are held to a higher standard!


Once we have addressed our own sin, what is our motivation in speaking out?  Do we have love and hope for the offenders?  Is our goal the destruction of the offenders or their redemption and restoration?  Are we coming from a place of humility and grace or self-righteous judgmental-ism and vengeance?  Are we speaking truth?  Are our words edifying or do they tear down? What is our agenda?


Have we followed the process outlined in Matthew 18:15-20?  Have we gone to our brother directly first (if that was possible)?  Have we persisted by bringing others along to try to help our brother(s) see?  If he/they won’t listen, what does it look like to tell it to the church?  What/who is the church?  What does this look like in a public, widespread ministry?


If we are silent now, what is our motivation in our silence?  (Is this time of silence a time of prayer and reflection?  Are we coming from a place of wisdom and forbearance, or fear and partiality? Or something else?)


If we are unsure of what is right or wrong in a conflict, let us ask God for wisdom.  This is something I have been praying a lot of lately for myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ:


“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11


May our hearts be filled with God’s wise, discerning and fruitful love, and may our action or inaction be born of it.

Finally, the gospel is good news in all our conflict and sin.  None of us can stand on our own merit.  No matter who we are, in Jesus we are free to admit our sin, flaws, and failings.  We are free to walk in the light and in truth.  We are safe to be exposed because He has taken our shame.  When the light exposes our ugliness, He meets us with free and abundant grace, forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation.  It is all right here:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10

For more on this subject, I found this article to be insightful:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on the book, "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

I started reading the book, “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The book makes me very uncomfortable.  I keep thinking they must be taking liberties, or that they are coming from a lopsided overly individualistic Western worldview.  In reality, I think the main problem is that I have problems with boundaries in my life.  I think I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing the difference between the sacrificial love/servant heart to which Jesus calls us and giving out of what I don’t have (and it ends in disaster—depletes, crushes, and depresses me, while it angers, disappoints, and enables others). 

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks.  Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is know what is our job, and what isn’t.  Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.  It takes wisdom to know what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t.  We can’t do everything. “ p.27

An area where the book addresses this is by distinguishing between “burdens” and “loads”:

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.  Many times we others have “burdens” that are too big too bear.  They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help.  Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ.  This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us.  This is being responsible ‘to’.

On the other hand, verse 5 says that ‘each one should carry his own load.’ Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry.  These things are our own particular ‘load; that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out.  No one can do certain things for us.  We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own ‘load’.

The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts.  The Greek word for burden means ‘excess burdens,’ or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down.  These burdens are like boulders.  They can crush us.  We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves!  It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders—those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for load means ‘cargo’ or ‘the burden of daily toil.’  This word describes the everyday things we all need to do.  Those loads are like knapsacks.  Knapsacks are possible to carry.  We are expected to carry our own.  We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort. 

Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry.  The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Lets we stay in pain or become irresponsible, it is very important to determine what ‘me’ is, where my boundary of responsibility is and where someone else’s begins. “ p.32-33.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Love in Strained Relationships--Prayer

A major theme of this blog has been “what does love look like”?  In the past 5 years or so, God has been teaching me about scandalous, sacrificial love—the kind of love that does not return reviling for reviling and the kind of love that treats others better than they deserve.   God has been showing me that this is exactly the kind of love with which He loved me—He has not repaid me according to my sin, but rather He has been merciful and gracious toward me, slow to anger and rich in love.  This is exactly the kind of love He wants me to have for others, out of the overflow of the love that He has shown me. 

There is a Puritan saying, “The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay.”  God’s love has this effect on people.   Similarly, when we love those who have hurt us, this love can lower defenses, soften hearts, and remove shackles.  It can also produce anger, bitterness, and cynicism in the people we love.  

How do we continue to love those whose anger is fueled against us when we reach out to them or show them kindness?  I want to spend some time on this subject, maybe in a series of blogs.  For this first blog, I want to focus on prayer.

We often think of prayer as the last resort.  When we cannot do anything, we pray.  But praying is powerful. 

Praying for someone is an act of love.  Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. 

Through prayer, God gives wisdom and direction to us in our circumstances.   Often, we simply do not know how to love others in conflict.  We can feel confused and powerless.  We can succumb to apathy.  But through prayer, God gives direction about how to love, even if that direction is to simply wait.

Praying open doors and changes hearts! I have seen prayer move the hearts of others in incredible ways!  But perhaps more often, prayer changes us.  Sometimes, it is hard to sincerely love those who hurt us deeply. But I have experienced firsthand what it is like to not feel love toward a person, to ask God to put love in my heart for that person, and to experience God producing love in my heart for that person. 

Through prayer, God opens our eyes to our own sin and the ways we may have acted or seen things in a wrong way.  This gives us an opportunity to repent and grow.

Even when a conflict is not a direct result of our own wrongdoing, through prayer we process and learn from a conflict and grow in character.   All of our circumstances are opportunities to learn and grow.  We all need more wisdom and growth.

Prayer may be the only tangible way of loving a person when we are unable to be in relationship with them—either because they do not want to interact with us or acknowledge the situation, or because being vulnerable with them in any way would simply be unsafe and unwise and we simply need to experience God’s healing before we can engage with them again.

Pouring our hearts out to God brings healing.  It releases our angst and moves us toward wholeness.  As we heal, we are better equipped to love those around us.  Through prayer, we experience God’s love for us.  As we are filled with His love, His love can pour out of us to others.

Prayer is an acknowledgment of our need.  We need God.  God meets our need.

Prayer is a healthy alternative to the unhealthy exercise of stewing on the ways that others abandon, betray, malign,  mistreat, and believe the worst about us.  Through prayer, we are able to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” and whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.  One deadens our souls and the other nourishes them-- creating a place for love to grow.

I have a wise faithful friend to whom I frequently go for advice.  Without fail, the first words out of her mouth have to do with prayer. How I long for more  maturity in this—that more and more my first thought too would be to pray!
Do you have thoughts about prayer as an act of love in difficult and strained relationships?  I would love to hear them!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


One of my favorite songs is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  It’s an old hymn and its melody and poetic lyrics are deeply moving to me because of the nostalgia it produces in me--memories of singing this song with my family in church as a little girl--but also because of what the words have come to mean to me in adulthood.  Here is one of the verses:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”
The word "Ebenezer" is not one that comes up in everyday speech much.  It reminds me of a grumpy old man who hates Christmas.  :) But Webster’s Dictionary calls says that an Ebenezer is “a commemoration of divine assistance”.  I love that description.  In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel erected a stone in the ground to serve as a remembrance of deliverance God gave the nation of Israel in their time of great need. He called the stone an “Ebenezer”.

We need remembrances.  Our hearts so quickly forget.  There are times in our lives when it feels like God has “gone dark”….when trials come, when doors close, when the people we love put a dagger in our backs and walk away, when we struggle to overcome, when our strength and resources are depleted, when we cannot hear the voice of God... 

Yes, Christians have these feelings.
Although He knew the glory that awaited Him and that awaits us, Jesus Himself experienced these feelings on earth, crying out at the cross to God the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is Jesus, God the Son, about whom the Bible says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Right before He went to the cross, Jesus told his disciples in John 16:

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” …20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you… Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8 also compares this life to childbirth—we are in the midst of the groaning and pain, awaiting the new life for which the pain was worthwhile.
But while we are in this childbirth, we need our Ebenezers as a reminder that we are not alone…that God helps us...that God is with us and for us…that although we do not see His hand, He is still steering this ship… that yes, in the world we will have tribulation, but He has overcome the world.
What are your Ebenezers?  This blog is an Ebenezer of mine.  Just today I was feeling discouraged and started reading my 37th Birthday post (written Aug 17) where I wrote down the things that God is teaching me in this season of life.  It encouraged me.  It reminded me, “Oh, yeah”.  This is what I believe!  I truly do.
When my husband Kristian first encountered God’s love—love that is not self serving but rather sacrifices for the other, love that is invested, love that delights, love that doesn’t give up, love that does not return cursing for cursing—his life was forever changed by that love.  He had never seen this kind of love.  God’s love captured his heart and gave him new life.  In this process, Kristian experienced acceptance and freedom like he never knew.  A new passion stirred within Him.  It was beautiful to watch.  In those days, I gave him a Bible in which I wrote: “When in doubt, go back to your first love.”  In our life together, trials and questions have come, causing confusion and disillusionment at times.  The answer for both of us is still the same: “When in doubt, go back to your first love.”

Here I raise my Ebenezer.  Lord, help me to remember what is right and true.  Help me to hold on to truth when I am tempted to despair.  Remind me that this life is a journey that will end in glory. We will be home. As Psalm 30 puts it, there is weeping in the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Romans 8:8 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Walking Wounded

We live in a broken world.  If you turn on the nightly news, it is pretty hard to argue with this statement.  Every day brings news of new tragedies and atrocities. If you have ever been in a family, had any friends, attended any school, worked in any environment, or had any human interaction of any kind, chances are that you have hurt and been hurt by others.  Even if it was possible to avoid all human contact, nature itself inflicts harm—natural disaster strikes, weather causes accidents, the sun burns us, gravity causes us to fall, etc.  Whether we admit it or not, life is full of wounds that we inflict on ourselves, that others inflict on us, and that come to us through nature itself.  While it is true that some people are more “thick-skinned” than others, no one is invincible.  We can ignore our woundedness by charging onward in life. We can surround ourselves with “positive thinking”.  We can act like we do not have emotions. We can distract ourselves through all sorts of pursuits (pleasure, the path to success, our routines, even serving others, etc). We can shut our eyes to the deep questions of life.  But none of these things solve our problem. 

It’s like we have been in a terrible car accident.  There is glass shrapnel lodged into our right arm.  We walk out of the car and resume our normal lives.  Maybe we don’t even see the glass in our arm.  Maybe we see it, but we are afraid to acknowledge it.  Maybe we do not know what to do with it. So instead we move along, compensating with our left arm.  Our left arm becomes sore, but we adapt.  Our right arm gets infected, but we adapt. As we do life side by side with others, the glass in our arm scratches, pokes, and stabs those around us—particularly those closest to us.  This is often unbeknownst to us, and sometimes it is known but we do not know how to stop the effects of our injuries on ourselves and on others. Others react to being scratched, poked, and stabbed by the shrapnel sticking out of us.  We do not understand their reaction because we cannot see the shrapnel, or we do see how we have hurt others but we simply do not know what to do about it.
(If you think you are an exception to this, ask those who know you the best and those to whom you are the closest, "Have I been wounded? Do I have wounds that have not healed? Do I wound others?" If you have no one who knows you well enough for you to ask them, then you may have your answer right there.)
The more I study the God of the Bible, the more I pour out my heart to him in prayer, the more I ask Him to show me, the more He does show me how this phenomenon works in my own life.  He has been exposing to me ways that I have been hurt in life and ways that I have been damaging myself and others in my woundedness.  He has been showing me that, while we may be wounded at no fault of our own, what we do with our woundedness is our responsibility.  He has been showing me how I wound others.  Sometimes it is out of my sheer selfishness, and other times it is out of not knowing what to do with my own woundedness. 
Seeing this in myself only reinforces my belief that I need a Savior.  I can confess my sin to Jesus, and He forgives me. He doesn’t excuse my sin, but rather pays for my sin.  He washes me clean of my sin and the sin done against me. He doesn’t leave me defenseless in my woundedness, but rather gives me help.  I do not have to live in shame or in secret. I don’t have to fend for myself. I don't have to defend my reputation. I don’t have to puff myself up and pretend to be someone I am not. I can be real with Him.  There is help, not judgment, when we run to His arms, when we are transparent, and when we admit that we need help. He continues to reveal to me truths about Himself and about myself.  He is patient with me, not revealing everything at once, but rather revealing things slowly as He prepares me. As He reveals problems, He also brings strength, peace, people and resources to help.  He helps me forgive, as He has forgiven me.  He helps me to bless those who curse me, as He has done the same for me.  He helps me speak truth and set boundaries.  He satisfies me with His love when the people who are supposed to love me don’t love me. He helps me change. He helps me ask for forgiveness from others. HE REMOVES THE SHRAPNEL FROM MY ARM! This process is painful, but it also brings healing to me and to others.
Psalm 147: 3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Psalm 34:4 & 5 “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Psalm 34:18 & 19 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Psalm 34:22 “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
Psalm 103
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me,bless his holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22 Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!”


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Story for My Nieces

I am blessed to have wonderful nieces who range in age from a baby to teenagers.  As I think of what girls go through with regard to self image and worth, my heart aches for them.  My feelings are heightened when I think of all the new types of media with which they will be bombarded--telling them that they are too dark skinned or too light skinned, too fat or too skinny, too tall or too short, and that their features are too small or too big.  I want all of them to know that they are precious inside and out.  I want them to know how deeply they are loved and treasured by God and by all of us.  I want them to know that they are beautiful, and that their uniqueness makes them beautiful.  I want them to know that they are far more than what is on the outside and that cultivating inner beauty is a far more lasting and meaningful investment than obsessing on what is on the outside.  I want them to feel the kind of confidence that gives them freedom to be themselves, to love lavishly without being weighed down by fear or insecurity, to be true to their ideals, to respect themselves, to ask questions and learn, to treat their hearts and their bodies with wisdom, and to pursue dreams big and small.  I want them to know that we believe in them and will always be here to cheer them on.  This is my prayer.

These thoughts are the inspiration for the children's story below.  I wrote it in honor of my nieces and it is dedicated to them. 

Asha pushed open the front door, dragging her backpack on the floor behind her.  Mama’s face lit up at seeing her dear little girl after her first day of kindergarten.  But quickly, Mama’s smile faded.  “Asha, what is wrong?”  Mama said.  Mama’s words triggered the pool of tears in Asha’s eyes to spill one by one down her soft brown cheek.  “Mama, I’m not pretty,” whispered Asha.  Mama could not believe her ears!  How could her sweet little Asha believe such a terrible thing! Soon tears started to pool up in Mama’s eyes too.  Mama kneeled down, wrapped her arms tightly around Asha, and stroked Asha’s curly dark hair.  “Asha, why would you think such a terrible thing?” Mama asked gently.   Asha looked up at Mama’s clear blue eyes.  Mama’s golden eyebrows always crinkled when she was worried.  “Mama, today Teacher read us a story about a Pretty Princess with silky golden hair and clear blue eyes like yours.” Asha twirled a piece of Mama’s shiny hair between her fingers. “And then at recess, some girls asked me to play Pretty Princess with them.  Sarah got to be the Pretty Princess because she has silky golden hair and clear blue eyes.”  Asha buried her face into Mama’s shoulder. “Mama, why can’t I have silky golden hair and clear blue eyes like yours and Sarah’s and the Pretty Princess?”  Mama sighed.  “Oh, my sweet Asha.” Mama said.  “Let us go for a walk.”  Mama sang softly ask she took Asha’s little hand in hers and opened the front door.  Out they walked.  Mama and Asha walked down the steps, through their yard, past the white fence, onto the sidewalk, across the street, into the park, and onto the trail in the woods.   The slight chill of fall made their faces pink.  Their boots tapped on the ground as they stepped and the branches above them rustled in the wind.  Suddenly,  Mama stopped.  “Shhh” she told Asha quietly.  “Look!”  Asha’s eyes darted in the direction that Mama’s finger was pointing.  “What, Mama?” Asha whispered, craning her neck to see what caught Mama’s eye.  “There, behind that tree,”  Mama said.  “The horses!”  Just behind the tree was a field, and in the field were four horses—two smaller ones and two bigger ones.  Asha loved horses and the way their manes danced in the wind.  Mama exclaimed, “Oh, Asha, see how beautiful they are!  One is white like the snow in the mountains we hike in winter.  One is brown like the bark on the tree you love to climb in the spring.  Another is red like the fire that burns in the campfire we build in the summer.  And the last one is black like the night sky we watch from our porch on a crisp fall night”.    Asha watched in wonder.  Mama asked, “Asha, which horse is pretty?”  Asha looked at the white one.  How she loved hearing the white snow crunch under her feet as she hiked in the woods with Mama and Papa!  Then she looked at the brown one.  How she loved climbing on the rich brown bark of her favorite tree in the spring time!  Then she looked at the red one.  How she loved sitting around the campfire watching the flickering red flames in the summer time!  Then she looked at the black one.  How she loved cuddling in Papa’s lap in the fall, as they sat on the porch and counted the stars in the black shiny night!  “Mama!” cried Asha.  “I love them all!”  Mama kneeled down and held Asha’s face in her hands.  “Asha, your hair is dark like the shiny black night sky.  Your hair is curly like the waves that crash onto the shore.  Your eyes are deep like the rich chocolate we sip.  Your skin is brown like the toasty smooth sand that warms our feet at the beach.  Your voice is sweet like the song of the birds that wake us up each morning.”  Asha listened to Mama with amazement and thought to herself, “Could it really be true?” Mama continued, “And Asha, like the horses, princesses come in every size and color!”  And then Mama leaned in really close and said, “Asha, do you know what makes someone the most beautiful?”  “What Mama?” Asha asked, eager to know.  Mama grabbed Asha’s hands. “Using your hands to share with your neighbor.  Using your eyes to see the lonely people around you.  Using your mouth to smile with gratitude.  Using your voice to speak the truth with love.  Using your arms to work hard.  Using your brain to think deeply.  Using your feet to run to the aid of someone in need”.  Asha looked at Mama.  Mama was the most beautiful person Asha had ever seen.  And it was true, Asha had seen Mama do all of these things!  Mama stood up with Asha’s hand snuggly tucked into hers.  They turned back towards home.  Asha looked up at the sky, watching it fade from blue, to orange, to purple, to pink, and then to black.  She pondered the words Mama spoke to her in the woods.  The next day at school, Teacher read a story about a princess in a far away land whose hair was as dark as the night.  At recess, Asha saw Sarah crying.  Asha ran over to Sarah and put her arm around her.  “Sarah, what is wrong?” Asha asked her friend.  Sarah asked Asha, “Why can’t I have hair as dark as the night?”  Asha hugged Sarah tightly, just like Mama had hugged her the day before.  “Oh, Sarah,”  Asha said.  “Let’s go for a walk….”

The End.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Learning in my 30's

Tomorrow I turn 37 years old.  In all honesty, I have to say that my 30’s have been my least favorite age in many ways.  These years have been a wilderness for me—filled with trials, uncertainty and doubt.  My heart has been broken by people I trusted, people I was supposed to be able to trust.  My dreams have not materialized in the ways I thought they would.  I have seen un-pretty things about myself that I have never seen before.  And yet these dark days are winning for me a new hope, a new confidence, and a new freedom I have never known.  I am truly learning to believe not just with my head but with all of my heart that my identity and value are in Jesus Christ and not in my accomplishments or what people think of me. 

As a Christian, I have believed in theory that all people are created by the God of the Bible who is all wise, all loving, all knowing, all powerful, all sovereign, and all good.  I have believed that every human life has value bestowed by our Creator because he loves every one of us.  I have believed that we cannot earn God’s love or ever be “good enough” or do anything for God as if the God of the Universe had “needs”.  I have believed that God’s love is a free gift that we can accept, for which we can be grateful, and in which we can find rest and joy.  I have believed that God is worthy of our love and obedience and worship. I believed that there is more to this life than going to school, finding a job, finding a spouse, having children, accumulating things, pursuing short-lived pleasures, and then dying.  I have believed that I am part of the family of God through faith—that He is my loving heavenly Father, that Christ is my brother, that the Spirit of God lives in me, and that I am connected to His people.  I have experienced love that is out of this world—Christ’s love that is pursuing, enduring, sacrificial, generous, courageous, powerful, honest, and that does not return reviling for reviling. I have believed in God’s forgiveness towards me—for all the ways I have not loved him or others as He has loved me.  Out of His forgiveness and love for me, I have experienced an overwhelming desire to learn to love others in the way that Christ has loved me.   And yet, there is something about being at the end of myself, about stepping out in faith into the abyss of uncertainty, and about watching my crutches fail, that causes me to engage with God with a greater urgency and with a greater honesty.  He meets me in that raw and vulnerable place.   He shows me beautiful things about Himself there. He gives me peace that makes no sense.  And He painstakingly carves into my heart truths that previously only floated around as abstractions in my head.  Below are some of the things I am learning. Some of these are not yet developed thoughts, but God is at work teaching me about all of these things in this season.   I'm writing them down so that I do not forget and so that I am not tempted to think this confusing and difficult period of my life is in vain.:

1)      In Christ the Solid Rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

2)      So many things compete for my worth—my accomplishments, whether I am liked or admired, my experiences, the way I look, what I do for a living, my relationships… none of these things are 100% secure.  Christ’s love for me is secure.  I am valuable because He loves me.

3)      I love because God first loved me.

4)      I can do many great and noble things, but if I do them without love, these things are meaningless.

5)      I am in the middle.  I cannot judge my life through the perspective from which I stand today.  God is at work in me and through me even when progress seems imperceptible to me.  I have eternity ahead, but I cannot see it clearly from my current vantage point.

6)      People are more important than things. A person should never be an agenda or a means to an end.  I want to love people who can give me absolutely nothing in return, just as God has loved me in this way.  I never want to use people, but rather love them because God loves them and He is honored in love itself.

7)      There is infinite joy and peace in being loved by God.  This is a source of unending strength when loving others breaks our hearts.  And loving others will break our hearts, and we will break other people’s hearts as well.  God is the only one who loves perfectly on this side of heaven.

8)      Love is motivated by the good of the beloved, but what is good for us does not always feel good.    

9)      It is healthy and loving to set boundaries with people rather than enabling them in harming themselves, others, and ourselves.

10)   Most of us get anxious or upset and even lash out when others draw boundaries with us because it disrupts what is comfortable to us (even if what is comfortable to us is also highly destructive to us).
11)  People will assume the worst about you and misrepresent you to others.  We all do this to others in one way or another, at some time or another, out of ignorance or malice.  It is possible in Christ to not return reviling for reviling.  It is possible to return love for hate. It is possible to do good to those who harm you.  You do not have to defend yourself when you are misrepresented.  This is not easy, and I simply cannot do this in my own strength. But our ability to live out of Christ's character is not dependent on others living out of that same character.  Christ modeled this character for us, and he helps us live it out.  He loves to help us be true to our identity in Him.  We will fumble, bumble, and stumble in this, but He will give us grace to walk.
12) There is a time to speak and a time to be quiet.   Ask God for wisdom to know the difference and to do either always in love, always in truth, and always with faith.
13) Truth is essential to genuine reconciliation and meaningful relationship.

14)   Some of the greatest gains of life come through walking through circumstances that cause us anxiety and discomfort rather than avoiding these things.

15)   It is okay to take a break from people who hurt you.  It does not mean that you are not loving them.   As the flight attendants tell us, we must put on our own oxygen masks before attempt to help others. When others wound us, it is okay and often wise to let those wounds heal before re-engaging with them. When we find ourselves in a position to re-engage, it is okay and wise to re-define the relationship and set appropriate boundaries.
16) I can only be responsible for myself.  I can't control what people do or think.  It is not good for me to carry what God intends to be carried by someone else.  I need to resist my urge believe that I am helping in these cases.  There is actually a lot of arrogance in that belief. I need to take responsibility for that which God has placed in my domain and release the rest.  I need to trust Him in both.   There is much truth to the serenity prayer (pasted below in its original form written by Reinhold Niebuhr). 
17) As much as it is possible, we are to live peaceably with others.  In certain seasons it is not possible.  Sometimes standing up for what is right means that we disrupt the peace.  Sometimes setting a boundary means that we disrupt the peace.  Sometimes telling the truth disrupts the peace.  Sometimes protecting others requires disrupting the peace.
18) Love covers a multitude of sins.  Jesus has looked upon me with grace and mercy.  I am to look upon others with love and mercy.  He has been patient and long suffering with me, and calls me to be the same with others.  In this kindness and grace, love can transform like nothing else can.

19)   Our love tanks must be filled up in order to pour out love to others.  God fills us with the kind of love that can be given to people who cannot love us in return.  God graciously provides us with people who can love and pour into us.  But even when we feel lonely, unlovable, or unloved by people, God is always there ready to show us His perfect love for us.  He is the only one who can love us perfectly.

20)   Our hearts are so deceitful.  This is why it is good to seek counsel and to listen. I know this because I have had many moments where my instincts seemed “wise” to me in my emotional distress and where a trusted friend has counseled me against these instincts.  99% of the time,  I could see down the road that my friends were right. 

21)   I should not make decisions when I am sad, angry, lonely, tired or sick. This is hard for me because I am an activist by nature.  But praying, seeking counsel, and sleeping are usually better things to do before acting. 

22)   Seek out truth, do not hide from it.  There is freedom in the light.  We are often afraid to seek out truth, to ask questions, to speak truth out loud, or to be honest with ourselves, others, and God.  But truth sets us free.  Truth kills shame.  Deceit, hiding, and ignoring feeds it. Adam and Eve hid from God and each other after the fall.  They were enslaved by shame.  In Christ, we have no reason for shame because He has covered our shame with His love.  The shame we feel by what we have done and what others have done to us is no match for His love.  This is true freedom.

23)   Deal with the past. Everyone has a past.  It may seem wise to let sleeping dogs lie, but this is not the same as making peace with our pasts. Many of us ignore our past in ways that appear functional on the surface.  However, upon further digging, the ways that we have been wounded ourselves and the ways we have wounded others will affect the way we see and relate to God, ourselves, and others.   Sometimes we cannot see this in ourselves, but people who love us and see us often can see this in us and may even be bleeding themselves from the shrapnel we’ve been carrying around.  We would do well to ask wise, safe, and trusted people in our life about this, as we often cannot see and do not know how much we are hurting ourselves and those we love. Facing our past with honesty is the only way to be free of it.  We do not have to face any of it alone, there is much help to be had.  We need help from God and each other.  In acknowledging the truth and getting help, we will experience freedom and functionality that we never thought possible before.

24)   As much as we may have been wounded by wounded people (and as much as this is not our fault and is often beyond our control,)we must take responsibility for the direction we want to go with our lives.  We can seek healing for our wounds, or we can continue to perpetuate the destructive cycle by wounding ourselves and others.

25)   We are not alone.  If we humbly and sincerely seek help, it is there. God delights in helping us.  He provides help in so many unexpected places and through so many unexpected people.

26)   As long as I have breath, it is never too late to change course.   I am not a slave to my circumstances or my age.

27)   God does not promise us a rosy or pain-free life.  He promises to walk with us through everything.  He promises that His perfect love will satisfy us.  He promises He will not withhold good from those who seek Him.  He promises that He knows what is good because He is good and wise and just.
28) God looks on me with grace and delight--not because I am perfect or even competent at many things, but just because He loves and enjoys me. I have had a small glimpse of this heart in having nieces and nephews.  These children are a gift.  They bring me joy.  I love them so much.  They screw up.  They throw fits.  They do not know how to do a lot of things.  And sometimes they hate me for saying things like, "No, you can't play with scissors" or "Yes, you do have to go to bed".  And yet, I love them and enjoy them so much.  I would give my life for theirs in a heartbeat.  Their sweet words, hugs, gifts of artwork, time, etc. are priceless to me. I want them to come to me when they are sad or mad or confused.  I want them to share their hearts and dreams and joys with me too.  If I have this heart toward them, how much more does the God of Love have this heart towards His children, His creation!

29)   There is indescribable peace in learning about and meditating on the character of God.  As I read the Bible, I find that He is more wise, more loving, more powerful, and more gracious than I could ever imagine.
30) In all things, I can rejoice and give thanks because I have already received the greatest gift I could hope for or imagine through Christ's love for me.  And I have only scratched the surface of what this gift is.  I have the rest of my life and eternity ahead to attempt to plumb its depths.

I will close with the original form of the "Serenity Prayer" written by Reinhold Niebuhr and also with one of my favorite songs (written by Todd Agnew):
Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Come Ye Sinners by Todd Agnew

Come ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power

Come ye thirsty, come and welcome
God's free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh

And I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

Come ye weary an' heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
And if you tarry until you're better
You will never come at all

And I will arise and go to Jesus
And He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Ten thousand charms

And I will arise and go to Jesus
And He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Yes, there are ten thousand charms