Upon Further Inspection…

I’m going to guess that I was around six or seven. We were leaving the no-name gas station—my mom, brothers and I—when I saw a brand new brown backpack lying in the grass in the front of the station. I mentioned this to my brother. We excitedly discussed how awesome it would be to grab that bad boy and have a free backpack! Funds were tight, yes, but we also had a way of building things up until we pulsed energy strong enough to send rocket ships to the moon.

When you are six or seven, you are convinced that your mom sees and hears nothing. It’s not until your teenage years you learn that she sees and knows all. “What backpack?” she asked. I spilled out my detailed description of a brand spanking new backpack with two pockets on the front, a dusty brown color that had almost certainly never been used. She wanted to know if I was sure. By this time, we had already left the gas station and driven several minutes down the two-lane highway towards the restaurant my dad managed. I was so totally sure. Was I about to get a free backpack? Was she about to turn this car around as she so often threatened?

Sure enough, my mom turned the car around so that we could collect my free, dusty brown, two-pocketed free backpack from the ground. The whole way back mom threatened my life if there was, in fact, no backpack. We pulled into the station and I pointed to the pack. Mom got out and strolled towards it. My brother Matt and I might as well have been high on an illegal substance because the thrill of free finds just might be equally intoxicating. I looked over at my mom just in time to see her pick up my dusty colored, two-pocketed backpack to find her shaking a rusty muffler in the air at me. I sent us back to the gas station for a rusty muffler. Huh. I was really sure it was a backpack. I sunk down very low into my seat dreading the moment my mom got back into the car. Upon entering, she very graciously offered to take me in to be checked for eyeglasses.

I thought about this very thing on my drive this morning when a large crane on the side of the road magically morphed into a black tarp, as I got closer to it. Sometimes we think we want these things, we are POSITIVE we want these things. We know exactly what they are! They are a two pocketed, dusty colored backpack. But the Lord knows that they are really just a rusty old muffler and he saves us from a trip back to pick them up. How we cry and complain about the muffler, all the while we are so sure we missed out on a backpack. Maybe our backpack is called a job, a relationship, a trip, a car, an opportunity. We are so angry with him for not taking us to get that backpack. Can I tell you that he can see up close, what you could only see from far away? I know that from far away it looked really awesome, like exactly what you wanted and needed, just what you’ve been waiting for. But it’s possible that had you seen it up close, you might have found that it was really just a rusty old muffler.

You can trust the God you serve. If he didn’t stop to get it, it wasn’t for you. Leave that rusty old muffler back there, knowing that what he has before you is GOOD.

If you are still mad about some rusty old mufflers you passed up, can you release those today? God is FOR you. He loves you. You can trust the plan he has for your life!

Now, you be on the look out for backpacks on the side of the road for me while I go and get my eyes checked…

Rejoice

Beautiful and inspiring words!

layeredhearts

Eyes open, first thought, I’m still tired. Next, oh well, you must keep marching on. Then, ok- I have so much to do, where do I even begin? Upon rising and brewing up hope for energy in a cup, I begin- already feeling behind. My whole day seems in the deficit. Not enough. Not enough energy, time, patience, self-control. All I see is lack. Everywhere. I hear the ‘shoulds’ in my mind. My children should know better. I should have exercised more. My house should be cleaner. Maybe I should be working. Should I wear this? Should my marriage be more? Should I serve others more? Should I have said that? I’m plagued, worn down, depleted. Day after day, the exhaustion, the frustration, just piles. I don’t even have energy to sort my piles. The piles eventually become a mountain. The mountain becomes hopelessness. How did I get here? How…

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All that’s right in the world…

In honor of the late A. Martin Lerner

aliferepaired

He walks with a bit of a limp; I don’t know the origin. But his gait is one of effort and determination. His eyes alternate, studying intensely, monitoring and dancing, twinkling even. His smile is a burst of warmth and light on the coldest, darkest of nights, a hot loaf of bread to a starving man, a burst of color on a blank canvas. His demeanor is at once, protective, fierce, nurturing, precise, quirky, seasoned, wise and overcoming. And when I look at him, I see all that’s right with the world.

The first time I met him, I was opening the door to leave my urine sample in the restroom. But there he was mid stream. It’s not an ideal first encounter with one’s world renowned physician. But when he came out and said, “We have to stop meeting like this,” I knew we’d be okay.

His story…

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Washing Away The Shame Of Yesterday

Can we be honest about some things? Really, painfully honest? My story doesn’t look the way I thought it would. I made some stops along the way that I wish I hadn’t. When I look back, I shudder at some of the choices I made, and if I let my mind dwell there for any time at all, I could become easily convinced that those choices define me.

But they don’t.

You see, Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins. He redeemed my past. He washed away my shame. I don’t have to carry regret any longer. I don’t have to cringe when people ask about those dark days because, you see—– light broke forth.

Not long ago, I was standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house talking about how much I wanted to be there for one of my kiddo’s events when I had an epiphany. I needed to be perfect. I needed to attend every event. No matter how sick I was, I had to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect everything because I had to make up for the choices I’d made in the past. I had to redeem myself.

Ever felt that way?

Can I set you free? You can’t redeem yourself. And you don’t have to. That’s what the cross was for. I can’t and I don’t have to earn redemption because my savior already did it. All I have to do is walk in it. He washed away the shame of all my yesterdays.

Here’s how good our God is- what the devil means for harm he uses for our good. (Romans 8:28) So, those things that the devil hoped would bind us and destroy us, keep us locked up and ashamed forever—– when we surrender them to the Lord and allow him to redeem them, he adds them to our ministry tool belt using them to free others.

You see, whom the son sets free is free indeed. (John 8:36) – free to be used by God and to set others free.

If today you are carrying around the shame and regret of yesterday, can I remind you that he has washed away the shame of yesterday? Lay it down. Walk in the freedom and redemption purchased for you on the cross.

Go tag someone else. Share the good news that they don’t have to carry that shame a moment longer. There is no demand of perfection, just an invitation to love and be loved…

Consumer Christianity

Yesterday, I was sitting comfortably on my favorite spot on the couch, during one of those rare moments when Avery is otherwise occupied and there is no competition for the T.V. I settled on one of the popular home-buying shows I’ve come to love but never have the time to watch. You know, the kind where they state their max budget and wish list and then end up with the home of their dreams within the hour?

And it struck me, how this has become our approach to life in general. Here’s what I’m willing to invest and here’s what I’m expecting to get in return. I’ll spend x amount of hours with my children each week, doing homework, playing games and in general edification. In return, I’m expecting children who excel in everything, graduate at the top of their class, marry someone who takes them on nice vacations, and for them to obtain well-paying jobs which afford them a standard suburban American life.

I’ll spend 4-5 hours a week at the gym and 1-2 hours a week entering my meals into my app. As a result, I expect to be enviably fit, be healthy all of the days of my life and to appear 10-20 years younger than I am at all times.

I am willing to drive 10-20 minutes to a church where I will spend 1-2 hours a week. I will place twenty bucks in the offering basket every other week. In return, I would like programs that make all of my children all-star Christians, people that become my best friends, a brand spanking new marriage (meaning, I expect to actually like my husband within six weeks or my money back) and free child care for my infant, on demand.

Have you noticed this consumer Christianity in your churches? What about in your own faith journey?

I’ve been to the mega churches where a mass spiritual meal is provided to everyone. As first, this really bothered me and I wondered, “What if you needed something different, something not on the prepackaged plate?” But then I thought maybe that’s what your Monday-Sat walk with Christ is for. I’ve also been to the smaller churches where you could walk right up to the altar, join hands with your brother or sister and fight together for what you need. Some churches offer small groups or mid week bible studies for the more customized spiritual meals.

But I’ve also seen pastors who have 70-80 hour work weeks, killing themselves trying to meet the demands of their consumers, I mean members. I’ve often wondered if, over time, the members were becoming more dependent on Jesus, or their pastor.

In my mind, the local church body is a place where I am served, and I serve. It’s a place where I have community and where I share what I have with those who don’t. It’s a place where I do life with others, worship side by side with others, and experience the miraculous grace of God with others. It’s a place where a use my gifts, a place where I grow and where I train up others behind me. It’s both a training center and a hospital.

It’s a place of beauty and laughter, living and loving. Imperfection and grace, power and anointing. But maybe not shopping?

So, I’m curious. What does church look like to you? Do you believe our modern churches are a reflection of Jesus? Are they effectively loving and revolutionizing the world for Christ? Are we playing the part we were created to play or still trying to decide if it’s worth the investment? How many amazing churches have we passed up because they didn’t have everything on our “wish list”? Is it possible that we’re missing the point? Are we consumer Christians?

The Power of His Voice

Over the weekend, I went on a crazy adventure to Austin, Texas. There I finally met over two hundred of my favorite people for the first time. We’ve all been on this wild ride of launching the (wildly fabulous, must-read) book “For the Love” together. Within our online group, we’ve laughed together, cried together, grown together and been challenged together. But, for the most part, we hadn’t actually been together—until this weekend.

I think we were all a little overwhelmed and I know I’ll be processing it all for weeks to come. One thing I heard over and over again was, “It’s so weird to finally hear your voice” or “It’s so cool to finally put a voice with the face.” It’s true. I had failed to realize how much of someone we come to know through voice alone. The way they pause on a word, the love they somehow communicate or the life they impart just with the sound of their voice.

My husband Ryan has a voice that drew me in from the beginning. It’s just like him—stable, strong, peaceful, kind. We spent many hours on the phone in the early days of our dating relationship. How I looked forward to the sound of his voice.

My daughter Avery crinkles her nose when she’s saying something with extra emphasis. Her voice tells such story, sings a song.

My son Hayden’s voice tells what the rest of him does—he’s becoming a man and ever so quickly.

Lately, I’ve felt a deep, persistent need to hear more of my Heavenly Father’s voice. But there was just so much LIFE in the way, you know, trips to prepare for and recover from, kids to raise, decisions to make. So much noise. I was talking about one of those decisions I was trying to make with one of those amazing new friends when she stopped me and said, “I think you just need to slow down and trust because you sound kind of frantic when you talk about this.”

First of all, Praise God for friends (both new and old) who aren’t afraid to step on your toes or up get up in your business a bit when it’s called for. How deeply grateful I am for the people God has surrounded me with who are constantly sharpening me, inviting me to a deeper place in Christ. But secondly, anytime I start to sound or feel frantic I know that I haven’t been spending enough time listening to my Father’s voice. Because he speaks peace to storms. He quiets my heart when the wind and waves pound the shores. When I feel insecure, unsure of who I am, he speaks and I am reminded that I am HIS and that is all that matters.  When I feel unloved and unseen, he speaks and I reminded that I am seen, known and loved by the God of the universe—anything, anyone else is just a bonus.

Before I even got home, I began quieting those other voices, the ones drowning out the voice of my Father. All the noise, all the distractions—they had to go. In the silence, do you know what I heard? His voice. Can I gently remind you that whatever you have to release, whatever you have to silence in order to hear his voice, it’s worth it?

How he longs to speak with us, to walk and talk with us in the cool of the day. This is what we were created for, to commune with him, to know him and be known from the depths of our being.

What can you lay down today? What voices can you quiet in order to hear THE VOICE? I promise you, it will be worth it.

On Ending the Suffering

Once a month I travel to the great state of Michigan to receive IVIG (an infusion of donor antibodies to help a sister out) I see my hero/mentor/doctor/favorite person, get my infusion and then head on home. This month I was about midway through my infusion as well as my book when my daughter’s preschool called to say that she was running a temp of 102 and would need to be picked up immediately. I could hear her crying in the background. Did I mention I was in Michigan? Unable to rescue her? This shattered my mom heart. A dear friend came to her rescue until Dad could get there from work, but not before she started throwing up. I changed my flight from my phone while I was still mid-infusion. My baby girl just couldn’t do this without her Mommy. I had to be there.

I awoke the next morning to the sounds of whimpering from my feverish little one who promptly crawled into bed with me so I could snuggle all the yuckies away. It was mid-afternoon when I started to feel like maybe I had picked up some sort of brain-eating amoeba during my travels? But the infusions can cause headaches, even when you follow all of the instructions, so I attributed the sudden and overwhelming pain and fatigue to just that. By nightfall, it was ugly. I couldn’t keep anything down. The infusions dehydrate as a side effect so the number one instruction is always to “stay hydrated.”

By midnight, I was hoping that if I had an amoeba of some sort it would just hurry and finish the job. Seriously. I’ve been in a lot of pain over the last few years, but the headache was literally unbearable. As dawn broke, I knew it could be dangerous to let this continue on much longer. Husband called the doctor and the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.” Actually, he said for us to head to the ER. And the thought of having to ride in the car, or sit in the waiting room when I didn’t even have the strength to put a bra on or walk by myself was more than I could take in.

As we were driving the 2.5 miles from my house the local hospital, me with a bucket in my lap, just in case—I thought about a stories I’d read in “Half the Sky” and “Kisses from Katie” of women traveling 18 hours over dangerous terrain to get to a hospital to give birth, dying from complications before they ever arrived or delivering on sidewalks out in front of the “hospitals” because there were no delivery rooms available.

The hospital was merciful and efficient. My wait time was less than five minutes before I was back in a room, covered in warm blankets. Ten minutes in they were putting in an I.V. and telling me that they would get the pain and vomiting under control and then administer fluids. They turned the light off to keep me comfortable. My room was massive, clean and fully stocked. And I thought,” What would today look like if I didn’t live here, in America? What if I lived in that village in Uganda? Who would ease my suffering?”

Within minutes of the administration of my meds, I was no longer sick to my stomach and it was truly a gift from God. Relief would never cover what I felt. And while it’s taken a few days for the headache to subside, and it turns out that I had a virus (with a side of strep) and not an amoeba — the suffering was real.

Yesterday we took Avery to the pediatrician. She cried about the swab they crammed down her throat but perked up when we handed her some “good job” Skittles. She tested positive for Strep. After just one dose of her antibiotics, she woke up this morning without a fever. But I can’t stop thinking about the parents who don’t have access to healthcare, the ones who can’t go and get an antibiotic for their child. How do they end their children’s suffering? I keep asking the Lord how I help them. I know that their lives don’t matter any less to him than mine does.

How do we help them? I need to know.

How are you helping? Can you tell me? What ministries are you supporting? I know a few that a reputable, doing good work. I’ll list them below. Can we collaborate? Can we pray? Can we join together and do what the body of Christ is called to do?

People are suffering. I want to heed the call to help them.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

Let’s do some awesome stuff for our King.

Legacy Collective

Amazima Ministries

Hope Alive

Global Commision Partners

For the Love of Haitian Moms

On a particularly sick day in early March an application to join Jen Hatmaker’s upcoming book launch team, scrolled across my screen. I hesitated. They would never want me. Plus, what if I slept through all of the super-important deadlines? I scrolled past it, then pushed the home button on my phone and closed my eyes. A few minutes past. Sleep wouldn’t come. Again, I saw the post. This time I decided just to take a little peek at the application, you know, to see how involved it was. Would it require getting up and walking to the office or could this be done on the iPhone? And just like that I applied. And went to sleep.

Here we are, all these months later and my life has been transformed, not only by the words found within “For the Love” but also by the amazing women of the launch team and the beautiful sisterhood that has emerged. You can have that beautiful sisterhood, too- right where you are. Our sisterhood emerged as we took the words of “For the Love” to heart. I believe the same will happen for you. Beautiful friendships will blossom all around you, with the women in your neighborhoods, churches, schools, and families.

One of the chapters that rocked my world and left me never ever the same was “On Calling and Haitian Moms.” Here’s the gist of it: “If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere.” We all shake our heads to this and uh-huh and amen this like its old news, but we sure as heck don’t live or think like it’s true. I mean sure when it’s finally vacation time and we are all looking and feeling our best we throw our heartwarming family photo up on Facebook with the sunset in the background and a little #blessed for good measure, but if we went to visit poor Christian single mom in Haiti would we throw her picture up on Facebook and call her #blessed? Or would we consider her less #blessed than us because she has less stuff than us? Because isn’t that what being blessed means in America, that you have a lot of stuff? But isn’t poor single Christian mom in Haiti blessed because she is a child of God with air in her lungs, redeemed by the cross? Is this enough for us? When did we stop praising God for this? For the work of the cross?

I’ve been so challenged in my thinking as I consider how the gospel that Jesus brought applies to all of us the same- across gender, culture, race, economic factors, on and on. Does the gospel that I preach do that? If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time I checked my gospel against THE gospel.

And while, yes—I did laugh so hard that I peed my pants a little while reading the chapter on turning forty, that single mom in Haiti has stuck with me. I don’t think she’s going anywhere. She’s widened my horizons and I didn’t even have to do on a short term mission’s trip to find her, just to Amazon. (I pre-ordered extra copies of the book to share. I love it that much) So go, go meet the single mom from Haiti and let your thinking be challenged, pee your pants a little, and watch some beautiful new friendships emerge. Just remember that we are #blessed because of who Jesus is, not because of all that he gave us. (Although I agree the stuff is also awesome) AND also, #dependsarefriends.

But, You Look Great!

We’ve all heard it. That confused, perhaps slightly accusatory proclamation that could mean anything from, “You look great, so you must BE great.” To ”I’ve been misled.” If you look great today, than you must look and feel great every day, right? Surely you’ve been complaining for no reason.

I will now tell you an earth-shattering secret. Looks can be deceiving. At some point we’ve all made the determination not to be defined by our circumstances, whether good or bad. You are not your marriage troubles or your financial difficulties even though you may be experiencing those. And me? I am more than sickness and every day I choose not to be defined by the set of circumstances in which I find myself.

So yes, sometimes that means taking my shaky hand- defying sickness and putting some eyeliner on. It might mean that you don’t need to hear about my full list of ailments every.single.time we get together because I am more than ailments. We can talk about more than symptoms and you don’t always have to know that it’s excruciating to walk. Just like there will be some days that you choose to share the details of the big fight and ask for prayer and days when you take them straight to the cross, days when you confess to me that you lost the battle of judging others yet again and days when you go to a quiet place before the Lord and find grace. You are more than your battle and so am I. So when I see you, hours after the big fight, full of joy and ministering to others I won’t believe for a second that you are pretending, or that you aren’t impacted by these things. I’ll just remember that you are more than your battle and you choose not to let that battle define you. Maybe you could do the same for me?

Can I share with you that the inverse is also true? We are more than our bad days. I’m going to say it again. We are more than our bad days. Should you see me on the worst of days and be convinced that I am at the end of my rope- mere steps from my grave- could I gently remind you that not all of your bad days are lovely to behold? Could we wipe some grace all over them and love each other anyway? Regardless of the circumstance bad days, hours, months, years will happen. You don’t have to hide yours from me for me to love you or for Jesus to love you. I’m not afraid of your bad days and neither is he. Can we agree on grace and understanding for the bad days? I’m not talking about a sloppy excuse for poor behavior kind of grace. I’m talking about a we’re doing the absolute best we can with what we have and Jesus knows it and empowers us and loves where we are kind of grace, imperfections and all.

Could we offer that kind of love and grace to one another? To the world? Could we celebrate the good days with one another without suspicion? And could we meet one another with love and grace in the bad days without judgement? How healing would that be? Guys, we’re all just PEOPLE that Jesus was so massively in love with that he died on the cross for. I’m not any cooler than you. And being not sick doesn’t actually make you any cooler than me. So what if we stopped playing whose cooler and we started playing who can love the most like Jesus? I think it just might change the world.

Dear Church- Please Stop Getting Divorced for Stupid Reasons

Dear Church,

Please stop getting divorced for stupid reasons. I know, who am I, to define stupid- ESPECIALLY since I’m divorced? This is precisely why I write you today. I have lived the heartbreak of divorce and it this pain that I seek to protect you from.

I realize that no one signs their name on the dotted line of divorce papers thinking that their reasons for wanting a divorce are stupid. But can I tell you that on the nights that I sat in my car in the driveway of my house, sobbing, after dropping off my son at his Dad’s for the weekend—too heartbroken to go inside without him—that my list of viable justifications was much shorter than I might have previously thought? In light of that pain, much of it was just plain STUPID.

Now, at the end of the day, I stand by the decision that I made as one that couldn’t be avoided for reasons that can’t be shared here without telling a story that isn’t mine alone to tell and social media isn’t the place for that. But I will say this: When I hear women at church who’ve never so much as left their sweet babies in the church nursery talk about leaving their husbands because they aren’t attracted to them anymore, my heart breaks.

I’ve spent much of my life working in ministry in some form or fashion and the same stupid reasons for divorce have been shared with me over and over again. They are usually some variation of the following:

  1. We aren’t in love anymore. Unless you made some serious modifications to your vows, this has nothing to do with the till death do we part commitment that you made to one another. Feelings come and go. Do the work that created those feelings in the first place. Having feelings of love is great, honoring the commitment you made before God is even better.
  2. I’m not attracted to him anymore. Spend some time doing the things that made you attracted to one another in the beginning. Pick out a super sexy cologne or new outfit for him. Write down, think about and praise God daily for all of his positive attributes.
  3. I’m in love with someone else. This is the stupidest and most selfish of them all. If you can have feelings of love for someone else, you can most certainly have them for your spouse. It will take work and time, sacrifice and commitment. Stop cultivating love with this other person and start cultivating it with your spouse. You may always care about this other person, but don’t buy the lie that you are “meant to be with him.” God’s will is for the marriage you are in to succeed. He does not bless relationships birthed in sin.
  4. We’re just not happy. Use the resources available to you to work on your marriage, knowing that the ultimate goal of marriage is holiness, not happiness. There will be seasons of intense happiness… and other seasons.
  5. It was never God’s will in the first place. That may well be true, but you are married now and we serve a God who redeems.I fully recognize that there are cases of unsafe, abusive and truly toxic marriages. That is not what this letter is addressing. This letter is for the folks who are bored and looking for an excuse to bolt—the wife hoping that her spouse cheats first so that she can leave and still be considered the “good guy.”My husband and I are both divorced and remarried. We both married young and for the wrong reasons. I was searching for identity and to complete myself. He was checking off an item on his timeline to do list. Now remarried, we have a child together, in addition to children from our first marriages. I will never forget the night it hit me that our children would spend half of their lives apart from one another, because of the choices that we had made. Church, I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.

Stop getting divorced for stupid reasons-please, I’m begging you.