It’s Complicated

One of the lessons from history that repeatedly presented itself during our recent trip to Washington D.C. was just how amazingly complex humans are. People can do fascinating things–like deciding it must be possible to fly like a bird and, within less than ten years, producing not only working airplanes but aviation schools.

People can create works of intense beauty out of unthinkable destruction, like the artists commissioned by the U.S. government to document World War 1.

People can speak and write on behalf of justice, and still manage to justify living in opposition to their own convictions. Like Thomas Jefferson, who called slavery “moral depravity” and “a hideous blot,” yet owned and directly profited from the work of 600 slaves, freeing only five upon his death.

Does our good work invalidate our bad deeds?
Do our bad deeds make meaningless the good we do?

Maybe. Sometimes. I hope not and, in some cases, absolutely. It’s complicated.

One need only to have participated in church for a few minutes to recognize that some people should not be in leadership. Perhaps they need more help than they offer. Or maybe, in the helping, they are working towards greater health.

Yet one bad sermon doesn’t invalidate a preacher. The occasional missed opportunity or lack of understanding doesn’t mean someone doesn’t care. The Bible is pretty clear that the church is a mixed bag of nuts, sinners redeemed by grace. God isn’t done with us yet. He is bigger than our best attempts and worst failures.

God uses people, broken in oh so many ways, almost despite ourselves. He uses people because He’s good like that, because His grace shines brighter through our cracks, because, in using us, He redeems and restores and heals us along the way.

I’ve long said I’m more Moses than Mary. Sweet, compliant Mary imagined the unimaginable and sang, “Let it be…” My flare for the dramatic makes me, like Moses, prone to argue with God, to be a true chicken squawking that I’m not fit for service.

Thank God, He knew that about Moses before the conversation began. He created me that way, too. And in the push-back, God takes the opportunity to reveal Himself, to teach us more about who He is and what He’s about and how great big GOD can use lil’ ol’ us to accomplish His objective.

“God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” (I think I read this in Madeleine L’Engle’s books decades ago; but I’ve just now seen it attributed to at least three other authors…)

Sure, I have some qualifications: degrees, work experience, relationships all direct my life in certain ways. But all that would mean nothing if God wasn’t behind the work. In so many ways, I’m unqualified; and so are you; and yet, God calls…

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 2-4

Connect
Share about a time when you made a big move (i.e., going away to college, moving for a new job, etc.) and what you learned about yourself in the transition.

Study
Read Exodus 2:1-10.
Where can we see evidence of God in Moses’s early life?
Read Exodus 2:11-22.
Describe Moses as a grown up.
Read Exodus 2:23-4:17.
What stands out to you from the conversation between God and Moses, and why (2:23-4:17)?
What do we learn about God from this conversation?
Read Exodus 4:18-31.
Put yourself in the meeting of Moses and Aaron with the elders (vv29-31). What encouragement did each receive?

Live
God sometimes delivers people from circumstances, but perhaps more often works through circumstances. How was that true for Moses? For the Israelites? For us?
When have you experienced God turn a mistake or failure in your life into an opportunity?
Moses took off his sandals and hid his face. How do we show respect for God’s holiness?
When has God called you to take a scary step of faith? How did you respond?
Have you ever argued with God? How did that go?
Moses had Aaron and the elders. Who has been a partner/helper/encourager to your faith adventures?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God that He works all things together for good.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 3:1-10 individually and with your family.
What amazing things have you seen God do?
How can you show respect for God’s holiness?
How do you know that God sees you and cares for you?
Thank God for being so good to His people.

Hold On

It’s exceedingly easy to bolt (or, rather, drag yourself) out of bed, to hustle-bustle the family out the door–to school and to work, to the gym or to walk the dog–and into the day. One thing leads to another, until you have to get dinner on the table, get the kids on to homework or sports or music, pay the bills, answer the emails, until eventually you collapse into bed, hoping not to toss fitfully through the wee hours before the alarm signals it’s time to do it all again.

And to ignore God’s presence in all of it. Just because we don’t acknowledge God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

Other seasons might find us crying out to God, painfully aware of our need for Him in this crazy, chaotic world, only to hear silence in response.

Just because we don’t see or hear God doesn’t mean He’s not there.

How long would it take a dozen brothers to have families that have families that have families enough to create a people group so intimidating that their host country begins to dread them, enslave them, then try to annihilate them? It’s got to be a while, right?

That’s the set-up for Exodus. The Israelites have their babies–which we understand to be signs of God’s blessing–and the Egyptians ruthlessly use and abuse the Israelites, which (somehow) results in more baby-blessings, this strange oppression-population explosion cycle playing out for likely a whole lot of years.

Where is God while His people are getting beat up?

The new king asks the midwives to kill the Hebrew boy-babies. They “fear God” and make up a clever excuse. And there, there is God, pleased with Shiprah and Puah’s God-honoring disobedience. God is pleased with them, so He gives them families of their own.

Did they recognize their own babies as a gift directly from God? I think they did, but I wonder if others could see God so clearly. All those Israelites “miserable with hard labor, crushed under a cruel workload” (The Message), did they remember the stories they had heard about the God of creation? About the God who watched over Joseph even when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt?

Did they look to the overwhelmingly bad circumstances of their immediate existence and despair? Or did they remember what they had been taught about the God who always sees His people?

I like to think that Shiprah and Puah act as a subset of a whole, that they are the specific example of God-fearing Israelites.

But then, I know from personal experience that it doesn’t always work that way. The world never is as it should be, and we rail against it and lose sight of God in our tizzy. And then, of course, there are the stories yet to come in Exodus of God’s people being just a wee-bit short-sighted and stubborn.

I come back to the main point of a sermon I heard long ago: When you want to ask why, it’s time to worship.

When life gets out of whack, when we can’t see our way past the circumstances, when God seems absent, then more than ever we need to hold on to God’s character and what He’s done in the past, and worship Him.

Journey to Freedom
Exodus 1

Connect
How might your childhood neighbors have described your family? How might your current neighbors describe your family?

Study
Read aloud Exodus 1.
Describe the Israelites (vv7-9, 17-19). What might the specific example of the Hebrew midwives tell us about the Israelites as a whole?
Why did the new Egyptian king perceive the Israelites as a threat, and how did he handle it?
Read Genesis 46:8 and Genesis 1:28. What might the echoes of Genesis in the beginning of Exodus mean to its readers?
The Egyptians dreaded the Israelites. What sense do you think the Israelites made of their situation?
Where do you see God in this chapter?

Live
Who appears in your genealogy of faith? How can a faith legacy make a difference?
Share some things God has done for you. How does God working in your past affect your faith presently?
When have you felt like God was absent? How did you hang on to faith during that time?
“Things are not the way they ought to be, but we rest in God’s promises. We have faith” –Peter Enns. How was that true for the Israelites? How is that true for God’s people today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God for the courage to live faithfully even when the world seems hostile.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 1:8-21 individually and with your family.
Why should you obey God?
Has anyone ever told you to do something you knew was wrong? What did you do?
Ask God to help you do the right thing.

 

Taco Tuesday

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”
–from Hamilton

I didn’t sleep well last night. Having put myself to bed at a reasonable hour, I spun in fitful sheet-tangles trying to find that just-right bodily pose that would release my mind to dreamland. But dreamland itself proved fitful, with vividly distressing dreams from which I woke-wide around 4 am. I finally fell back asleep, hard, just in time to greet this groggy day.

Somewhere in the night, as the stress bogeys pressed in hot and heavy, my brain produced this lovely, lilting line from Hamilton as a prayerful antidote. It played on a loop and stays with me today.

How lucky indeed.

I have not been a political person. In part because I don’t like conflict, but also because I generally don’t feel confident to speak on political issues. My heart directs me toward encouragement rather than confrontation.

I didn’t sleep in part because I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been writing because I don’t know what to say in light of all the literal and figurative whirlwinds decimating our beautiful world.

The kettle cannot contain the steam, so here blows:

Gun control laws need immediate and serious revision. Private citizens of sound mind who have passed a background check may have their guns, but private citizens don’t need silencers and automatic weapons.

Puerto Ricans are Americans struggling for survival and need all the help the U.S. can provide. If you would expect your country to help you in time of disaster, then you should demand as much for them.

Kneeling is a peaceful and prayerful pose. Kaepernick et al. aren’t protesting the flag but police violence against people of color. They aren’t disrespecting the military or our country but using their First Amendment freedom and position of power to shine a spotlight on injustice. Like Jesus, who used His power to get down in the dirt with those who suffered injustice.

Global Warming is not fake news but a scientifically proven reality, and the EPA and our National Parks need protection.

Giving tax cuts to the rich and stripping health care from the poor makes no sense.

We need bridges more than walls, and taco trucks on every corner would be down-right delicious.

October 4 is National Taco Day, and I strongly recommend you try my new fav taco recipe.

The original recipe comes from a partnership between the Sarno brothers at Wicked Healthy and Purple Carrot, a plant-powered meal prep company. I first heard about Chef Chad Sarno through UC Davis Department of Integrative Medicine (follow their blog for great information about nutrition and plant-based eating). And friends have shared rave reviews of Purple Carrot. Though I don’t need a meal prep service at this point, I am grateful that they are willing to share their recipes.

For the original recipe they made tostadas with mango salsa. I dropped the salsa and added jalapeno; and tostadas or soft or crispy tacos, any way you serve it, this recipe = delish!

Lentil Fajita Tacos
Serves 4

1 c red lentils
2 1/2 c water
8 corn tortillas or taco shells
1 large yellow or red onion, thinly sliced
8-10 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 lime, juiced
2 avocados, diced
fresh chopped cilantro
green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, chopped 

Combine lentils and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low until water has been absorbed, about 14-17 minutes. The lentils should become soft and porridge-like. If necessary, use a potato masher or fork to mash them, and stir in the lime juice.

If you’re making tostadas, preheat the oven to 400 and toast tortillas for 10-12 minutes.

In a large skillet, saute onions for 3 minutes. Add garlic, bell peppers, and jalapeno and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 5-10 minutes until veggies are soft and carmelized.

To serve, add lentils to tortillas or taco shells and top with fajita veggies, cabbage/lettuce, avocado, and cilantro.

If you have lentils left over, reheat with a drizzle of oil and more lime juice.

We are indeed lucky to be alive and, look around, we are alive right now. Let’s eat more tacos, kiss one another’s boo boos, love and protect each other and our world, and do something each day to make life on earth a better place for everyone.

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Freedom

Happy Independence Day!

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Galatians 5:1…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Honest: I don’t appreciate anything near the truth of those few words. I don’t think most of us truly understand and live our freedom, even those of us who have been set free by Christ.

To the contrary, I believe most of us take it for granted. I do.

Freedom, especially freedom found in Christ, does not mean freedom to do whatever I want. It does not mean I can do or say anything, without regard for others. It does not mean I can be selfish, seeking good only for me and mine. It does not mean I can hoard home, money, possessions for my use. It does not mean I can waste my time, or spend frivolously, or pursue success at any cost. It does not mean I can wield power over others.

Thank God He also promises no condemnation if I use my “freedom” in those ways. But that’s not what Christ intended when He died to set us free.

Freedom means I am free to love God and love others. I am free from sin, free from selfish pursuit, to instead pursue Christ and live His purpose for my life. I am free to receive each day, each moment, each breath, as a gift. I am free to see my life and my place in this world as a present to unwrap carefully and enjoy thoroughly. I am free to see even those things that look like obstacles, hardships, or hell-on-earth as somehow part of His divine plan, and I am free to continue to seek His face as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

I am free to use all the time He’s given me, the things He has put under my stewardship, the personality, inclinations, and talents He has bestowed upon me–all these things I am free to use for His glory. Any power He has blessed me with I am free to use to empower others. I am free to act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves. I am free to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I am free to love those who have forgotten or sadly never learned how to love themselves.

On any given day, I don’t use my freedom well. And so I pray: “Jesus Christ, thank you for your gift of freedom. Help me to live freely and to work on behalf of the freedom of others. Amen.”

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High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Learning to Let Him Go

norcalfootball2016

Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.