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.

Help. Thanks. Wow.

Anne Lamott, or as others call her, St. Anne, claims that the Essential Prayers sound this simple:
Help.
Thanks.
Wow.

I have prayed many, many words over many, many years, but I’m not sure I could come up with a prayer, petition, or praise that wouldn’t fit those three categories: help, thanks, wow.

Other than Tween staying home to vomit all day – and yes, this almost feels normal in a skin-crawling, crazy-making kind of way – today had been a good day: gym time, coffee with a friend, productive meetings; a friend brought her kids over to help Tween with homework (read: play), which meant moms also had time together.

Too much of an almost-good day? Teen locked his jaws on a potential outing to which I’ve said a solid, emphatic “NO!” I know he wants freedom, and I get that I represent his jailer, but I can’t say yes to this one. But ADHD hyper-focus shuts down his compassion and he bites hard, and long, and it’s all I can do to breathe and answer in a whisper so as not to provoke him further.

Interruption: the splash of Tween being violently ill.

Breathe. Pray. Breathe. Pray.

I made dinner and left it on the stove. I mentally went back to work to avoid my life’s chaos. When I thought I’d heard the end of Guy and Teen hashing out the same conversation I’d endured earlier, I cautiously emerged. Also, Tween was feeling better and able to eat.

I ate a few bites. Teen apologized and hugged me harder than ever. Even so, I spied my little eye into the liquor cabinet (Mexican food = margarita, right?) before Guy mentioned he’d chilled chardonnay. And then I noticed the pinkish light through our windows.

I poured two glasses of wine and invited Guy outside. Glasses clinked, we stood silently and watched as blue became grey became pink, peach, plum, dusky purple. The horizon lit orange, fire colors. Hot and intense, casting now yellow, autumnal light. We followed the light from front yard to back, where we sat to watch the colors change through our tree-silhouetted skyline. I thought, “This is what I needed. I am putting myself in the way of beauty (my “word” for 2015). This beauty, this WOW, will help me breathe.”sunset

Help: Help us make it through this abdominal migraine cycle. Help Doctors discover a way out of future cycles. Help Tween persevere through this mountain of work. Help Teachers respond with grace and kindness. Help Teen put his focus on Needs rather than Wants. Help Guy and I to stay on the same page in this whole parenting deal. Help maintain my sanity!

Thanks: Thanks for these three fantastic men you’ve put in my life. Thanks for Friends who surround us – with prayer, moral support, offers to cook and shop and even tutor, pop-in work and play dates, even tangible gifts (Homemade feed corn ice-heat packs? Awesome! Essential oils? Escential!). Thanks for killing our blender just as Guy was in Costco, and Big Thanks for the VitaMix he brought home to replace it. Thanks for holding us safe in Your Great Big Hands.

Wow: Seriously, this gorgeous sunset? WOW! The picture doesn’t do it justice. That these vibrant colors came from smog, sure, but I am wowed that you continually choose to bring beauty from bad, redemption from our rubbage. Tonight, I am wowed that you are an ever-present Help; that you are the source of any good thing for which I can say Thanks; that you are our WOW.

And just in case I sound too precious, Teen demonstrated his love for me – his goofy-kid way of saying sorry yet again – by trusting me with his beauties just as I finished writing (evidence that I’m growing in love for him, too, that I let these two crawl around on my lap).snakes

Salvation: Search & Rescue

Mother’s Day Sunday afternoon the neighbor’s cat caught a small bird, a sparrow, perhaps? Neighbor was able to rescue the terrified bird from the over-excited cat’s mouth – Have you ever seen a pet cat with a bird in its mouth? They’re funny about it, growl-y and amped, racing about but not injurous – and brought it to our house.

Which seems like an odd decision unless you know my family and the zoo we call “Home.” This is not the first time a bird has recovered in Teen’s room. He has a red shoe box that might as well by now be designated for this purpose. It contains an old worn-out soft dish towel in which he places the bird in need of shelter. He shuts the lid tight and leaves it alone, for hours at least, or until he hears fluttering.

No bird has ever died under Teen’s watch, mostly due to playful but not mean cats.

Mondays are my work-at-home days. As I soaked in silence, working hard and fast, I heard a Thump! from across the house. No one was home, so I had to get up and check.

In Teen’s room I found a red shoe box on its lid, our own cat batting at the side; she must have heard fluttering wings. And Teen must have been overly distracted to uncharacteristically forget about Bird in Box.

I shooed the cat away, grabbed the box, and ran outside. Well, not entirely accurate. As I snatched up the box, my first instinct was to open it and see if the bird was okay – first one cat, and then another… sheesh! Thankfully, I thought twice and did not open the box in the house because that would have been fun.

I ran outside and shut the slider behind me (no more cats in this game). I did not pause to grab a camera of any sort, a non-decision I regretted instantly as I lifted the lid.

This isn't our bird, but it works...

This isn’t our bird, but it works…

There sat God’s perfect creation of a bird, stunned by two cat attacks in less than 20 hours. It blinked at sunlight. It did not look at me. It sat so still that I considered whether I might have time to run inside for a camera, and then it took off for one of our large pine trees and I lost sight of it in the branches. It flew straight-line, not bird-limping, though I’m not sure I’d know what that would look like.

The bird embodied wholeness, perfection, freedom. My mom has always said she’d like to fly like a bird. I’m afraid of heights and prefer my feet on solid ground, though I admire the instinct to soar.

The bird did, the bird was, perfect Bird. Honestly, at first I felt exasperated that Teen had forgotten Bird, and then I felt elated – I got to release Bird, to watch healthy and whole Bird fly away to a hopefully much longer bird-life. This has not been my role in the family, to help hurting creatures. And now I get it in new ways, this desire to love God’s creatures in need of care. I am grateful.

In the same breath, I thanked God for my own creation, redemption, freedom. He created me; I am injured and He rescued me; He freed me to live in wholeness, to be the person He created me to be in the first place. I can soar with Bird, even with my feet on Solid Ground.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you know was involved in a search and rescue (official or unofficial). Who or what got lost, and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Ephesians 2:1-10.
Compare and contrast the “dead” life (vv. 1-3) with life with Christ (vv. 4-10).
How are “this world,” “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and “the cravings of the flesh” spiritual forces in opposition to the Spirit of God?
Notice all the verbs where God is the subject. What does God do? What do we do?
Define “saved,” “grace” and “faith.”
For what reasons does God save us?

Live
How is your life different because of God’s great love for you?
How have you seen people try to earn salvation? When have you personally experienced this temptation?
Why do you think grace can be so hard to receive? To offer?
Read 1 John 4:10-12. How are love and grace related? What will you do to more freely extend God’s grace to others?
What good works do you think God has planned for you to do?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will live more fully into the reality of your salvation by God’s grace and that you will take every opportunity to extend God’s grace to others.

100th Post: Pay It Forward

Guy bought a car last week since our household now claimed three drivers and two cars. We swore we would not buy a car, but this deal was almost too good to pass up.

We almost passed it up anyway. The car was older and bigger than Teen wanted, had a lot of miles, and lacked a good speaker system. Older and bigger didn’t make for major considerations in our book since the price was right (better than, truth be told). As for lots of miles, Teen will drive it around our small community for about two years before he takes off for college with his bike; we don’t need it to last forever. The car had been kept in pristine condition, every service record on file, and in fact, most service done by the local mechanic selling the car on behalf of the owner. The mechanic had his reputation on the line; he wouldn’t sell us a lemon.

Guy figured: this is a reasonable cost for increased freedom, both for Teen and his parents.

teen driverBut, no speaker. There had been one, but it had been removed. Bummer.

Guy did due-diligence, checking the service records and asking the mechanic to do one more once-over. And dragging his feet a little, as suspense does wonders for a teenager’s motivation.

When they finally went to seal the deal and purchase the car, lo and behold, a subwoofer had been installed. Teen was so excited he might as well have been driving on the moon! He admits: the sound system makes the car.

The next day we told our co-workers about the purchase. And that afternoon a co-worker went to have her hair done the next big city over from our small town.

(Not a random fact. Hang in there!)

As our co-worker sat in the stylist’s chair, chit-chatting the afternoon away, Stylist told her about the new car he’d just purchased (same make/model, different year, as the car we purchased). And the car he’d just sold (same everything). He told her that the mechanic who had serviced his car, who had sold his car for him, had advised him to remove the subwoofer because he could sell it for a lot (close to half-again the price of the car). So he had the subwoofer sitting on his kitchen counter. Taking up space.

When the mechanic told him that a dad was “seriously interested” in buying the car for his 16-year-old son, Stylist felt guilt-stricken. What teenager wants a car without a good speaker system? Would he really ever get around to selling the subwoofer? Did it matter to him all that much? Didn’t a kid’s happiness matter so much more?

He decided to pay it forward. He immediately packed up the subwoofer and drove it back to the mechanic’s shop and helped to reinstall it in the car. And he turned down two full-price offers over our lesser offer because we had expressed interest first.

By then our friend had figured out the catch in this story: she knew the car’s new owners! She knew the happy Teen beat-bump-beating down the streets. Small world, great story.

As soon as Teen got his driver’s license he hyper-focused on trying to find a car in a reasonable price range. He got excited, and hopes dashed, over and over. We said: God will make it clear which car you’re meant to have. And He did, as we receive this story as confirmation that God has been behind-the-scenes.

bloggingThis is my 100th post on this blog, and this milestone deserved a good story. We all deserve good stories, and we all live good stories day-in and day-out. Even when our stories are uncomfortable, even painful, they can be hope-filled and redemptive as we seek miracles in our mundane.

Writing this blog has been redemptive for me. I have enjoyed the discipline of regular writing and reflection; I have thought differently, lived differently, as a result, which is exactly what a discipline should do: change you, preferably for the better. I hope my writing has improved with practice, and I know my life has changed as I’ve felt happier and increasingly centered in all the right ways.

And I feel as though I am contributing something new to the world as I share my stories, my small attempt at paying it forward. From time to time (at least), I hope you feel like this blog is my gift to you. Because it is.

Just over a year ago I went to Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference with this blog on my heart – I just didn’t know it would be this blog. The theme of the conference:

What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story?

I bought the coffee mug. And I began writing.

I meet so many people who tell me they can’t write, and yet they have stories to share. And, honestly, I’ve read plenty of writing that shouldn’t have been written. But whether or not you think you can write, we need to hear your stories. Please, tell your stories. Let someone else write them down if need be. The world will be a better place as you pay it forward.

what is your story question

Keep On

Some days life takes a hard turn for the unexpected. We ache, we long for something different, we want to hide.

But God is all about redemption. Where we see darkness, He is painting the background from which He will erupt glory.

For years we longed for a second child. While our coworkers, neighbors, friends all conceived and birthed beautiful babies, our doctors had no answers. We prayed that God would grant contentment if One and not Two was His plan. And like so many stories, we became pregnant as soon as we let go. Fast forward a few years, and we find our deepest friendships among parents of Tween’s friends. Had our child come sooner, we might have missed the opportunity to know and grow with this community.

Also some years ago, we had jobs we loved despite challenges. Those we served turned a blind eye to the issues and held us to impossible standards; with politics at their worst, we left. Slicking off the ugly-ooze that covered us head-to-heart-to-toe, God used the next two years to restore us to health, to beauty, to life and love and ministry. With Joseph we can say that what others intended for evil God intended for good. Yes, the pain was real, but Yes, the redemption has been more beautiful in contrast.

God doesn’t promise an easy life. He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, regardless of the yuck we have to slog through.

It didn’t take long for the early Church to experience persecution. Arrests, imprisonment, beatings, and – horror! – the first martyr: Stephen. The Church scattered, all but the apostles who remained in Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria just as God promised they would. Hardship became the vehicle through which the good news of Jesus spread, Evil the beast on which God’s message traveled to the ends of the earth.

What went through Philip’s mind? He and Stephen had only just been elected as the Church’s first deacons; now Stephen was dead and Philip was on the run for his life. Yet he held true to the gospel, proclaiming the Messiah and standing against evil. Where there had been fear, Philip brought joy. He listened to and obeyed God’s leading, allowing God to use him. The darkness didn’t beat him down. Instead, God turned Philip into a light for His glory.

Connect
When, in hindsight, have you experienced a hardship turned into an opportunity? Explain.

Study
Read Acts 8:1-5, 26-39. 
Compare Acts 8:1 to Acts 1:8. How did God use persecution to spread the gospel (vv. 1-5)?
How would this story have changed had Philip not been attentive to the Spirit (vv. 26-29)?
What stands out about the Ethiopian’s response (vv. 31-39)?

Live
Which is easier for you: inviting someone to church or telling them about Jesus? Explain.
Can you think of a time when you experienced the Holy Spirit’s prompting or a divine appointment God directed you to?
What might it look like for you to become more ‘missional’?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for the Spirit to prepare divine appointments for you to share the good news about Jesus.