Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 2: Everyone’s favorite question

Hi all! Hope everyone had a nice Christmas and New Years, no matter how you celebrated. Trung and I were able to spend Christmas Eve with some of our best friends here, and Christmas day with both my girls and my parents. Successful holiday sharing – woohoo! (because we all know holiday sharing is something you have to tackle when blending two lives….)

You know, after a wedding, people are pretty good about giving the new couple some space to just settle in and get used to their new life together. There aren’t rules on how long to wait before you reach out to them, of course, but inevitably friends and family decide the time is up (whether you are ready or not), and they invite you over, or text or call, and the question they ask is always “Sooo….. how is married life?”

That can be a loaded question, my friends. (cue awkward silence and quick exchanging of glances or arm nudges)

Whereas 20-year olds couples or those that have known each other for years before they got married might often answer “It’s amazing!”… when our friends started asking that question, we were gut level honest: “Uhhh ..we’re adjusting”. I’m not sure our friends knew how to respond to that!

Now, I can’t speak to much of what my husband is going through, but I know having a wife is quite a bit different than all the roommates he had. I am a LOT more particular than they were, for one. I have some demands on his time they never would have placed (like… please call me if you won’t be home for dinner so I don’t cook for two… and what do you mean you forgot to tell me you were scheduled to work? I was hoping to spend the day with you). I know both of us have also had to do some vetting with our best friends these first few months. My sister-in-law and best friend in Illinois have been key to this for me. I have called them often asking “hey.. um.. is this normal? how did you all navigate this when you were first married?” I am sure my new husband has asked his best friend some similar questions.

Just about every book, blog, website, and happily married couple will all tell you that the first year of marriage is hard – so I figured because I knew this, I’d be set. Oh, was I wrong about that! (ummmmmm…yeah.. you can start chuckling now, go on….)

What actually happened when I moved in and started making his bachelor pad our “home”, is that all these expectations I had of how we would spend time each week building our life together started surfacing. It’s like something in me kicked in and started executing some sort of internal “plan” on how I operated within marriage. I knew I couldn’t just live my single life in a new house. The framework had changed, therefore the “rules” changed too.

Need I remind you I’m an Enneagram 1. Of course there is a plan.

My plan included dinner together almost every night, a date night each week, figuring out each other’s love language and working on speaking it, asking each other questions so we could learn… share what we had studied in scripture, go for walks. Oh goodness. When I finally recognized I was operating on some built in “plan” — I was able to own up to the fact it had grown out of having a schedule raising my girls, paired with expectations of what I was looking forward to being an empty nester. That was a hard thing to own up to. I wasn’t used to having dinner “whenever”, having a ton of flexible time, or having conversations whenever they came up.

The day it hit me that we could build this marriage together, and it could look however we wanted it to, was revolutionary on a number of levels, let me tell you.

Whereas I knew this in my head before getting married, now I am keenly aware that I have no clue on how to build this particular marriage with this particular guy. That would leave me feeling helpless, but for one fact:

I know the One who does know how to build it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I guess I take a while to hold onto lessons. The entire time we dated, there have been a few passages of Scripture that the Lord has used to encourage me and remind me that HE is the one building our relationship. Rather than go over all of them, I’ll share one you might be familiar with:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” – Psalm 127:1

He’s built the foundation, sure…..Yet here I go, getting all my own lumber and bricks and mortar and trying to build as fast as I can. Obviously that is getting me NOWHERE.

One thing my new husband has been observant about is that I always am more in a rush for things than he is. He takes time, considers things, trusts that things will come to pass in God’s timing. It’s not that I don’t do that, I just do it in … well.. a much more condensed timeframe than he does. I want to hurry God along if I can (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)

I find that I must continually remind myself that all those marriages out there that are doing well didn’t just happen over night. They aren’t just because they are OUR age either. They took time. Like a vineyard, they needed sun and rain. The vines needed to be tended to and pruned when needed. We are just starting our journey… two vines planted side-by-side….that have yet to see what it looks like to grow together.

We’ve been at this 5 months. I need to give myself some grace!! 🙂

So here are my encouragements to all you newlyweds out there:

* Remember that God knew you would be good together, so learning to navigate your (unexpected) differences is absolutely possible.

* Close friends are there when you join in the covenant of marriage, because you will need them. Take advantage of that, and trust their wisdom.

* Your marriage needs to be YOURS. You may pick a few things from each of your families you want to reflect in your marriage, or you may not. You may (and I think should) learn from books or blogs, other couples, things you read or hear to make your marriage better over time, but it will NOT mirror your parent’s marriage, and it will NOT mirror any previous marriage. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you want it to look like.

*** If you have been married before: No matter how much you have pursued healing and worked through your issues from your first marriage, things will come out once you are in a relationship again. Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are reacting out of fear or hurt from your previous relationship, or when you are projecting. Your new spouse cannot live in the shadow of your previous one.

Above all else, remember this:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Goodness knows we cannot do that on our own – but the Author of Love is willing and able to!

Blessings, my friends! Til next time.

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 1: Moving Boxes

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. I admit, it seems a bit strange for me to be claiming the title of “newlywed” – but alas, that is what we are according to the calendar. I think we can claim that for maybe two more months? Another six? I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ve started the journey of “getting to know the stranger [we] just married” (as a Relevant Magazine article on marriage put it quite succinctly) – haha!

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but mystified a bit as to exactly where to start, and what to write that isn’t too personal and that actually is more than just a newlywed story. I need to have a point. I think I finally found a few, and so this will be Part 1 of maybe 2 or 3 more blogs. We’ll see how the things I have collected fit together. For now… I will start with the pre-wedding event of MOVING.

When we met, I lived over an hour away. We commuted for two very long years to see each other every other weekend – and needless to say, we were very much looking forward to that coming to an end! Although my house was newly built, his was nearly paid off and he had been in his community (which is amazing, I must say!) for well over 15 years. It made more sense for me to move into his house and join him outside of Boulder. So, this past June I sold my house, packed up my stuff, and said good-bye to my beloved kitchen island (sniff, sniff). I had arranged to move all my stuff up to his house 3 weeks before the wedding, in hopes that I could get some things unpacked and empty a few boxes. I lived with my folks for those last 3 weeks so I could spend some last time with them. What a blessing it was!

As I saw the boxes piling up in my house, I knew I needed to warn him. You see, I had moved all my life, so I was well aware that what fits nicely into two cabinets or drawers can take anywhere between 4 and 6 boxes, depending on what you are packing. I also knew that when he moved into his house, he had nothing but what he could fit into his truck, and now he had a full kitchen on his own so….. I was pretty sure the boxes from my kitchen alone would make him break out in a cold sweat. There were, of course, still the book boxes from my office (being an avid reader and in grad school), and clothes boxes…. garage stuff and memory stuff from the kids….needless to say, it stacked up. It actually didn’t seem like a lot for me, but I had a feeling it was going to seem like a lot to him.

I called to give him warning when the truck left my driveway:

“Just giving you a head’s up…. It’s going to look like a lot….I know. As long as your back spare bedroom is empty, we’ll be fine. All we have to do is clear the driveway, and I’ll direct them where things go. You can help get them lunch and water. Shouldn’t take more than an hour to unload.”

Whereas this was normal for me, and I was in all-out project mode…. you should have seen the look on his face when the truck showed up. I had to chuckle. All I could do was reassure him that I had a place for all of it!

Thus began the two month process of unpacking and clearing the back bedroom out. I got some done before the wedding, finished a lot the week after our honeymoon, and then gradually worked on the rest… and I was right. I found (or created) nooks and crannies for just about everything. Every now and then, he would peek in the room, raise an eyebrow, and I could see his mind spinning… “where is the rest of this going??” I imagine he was thinking.

At one point, when I was tucking some kitchen things away in a fabric bin (which fit perfectly into a bookshelf he had he wasn’t really using), he made a simple statement, an observation, and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t honestly know how to respond, so I think I tried to be cute and say something funny. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my “I thought I was done with those” insecurities raged – and I wanted to defend myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to say:

“Look, I’m sorry this all seems like such a pain for you, but its MY STUFF from my life before I met you, when I raised my kids. These are the memories that mean something to me. These are the things that I like to do, the things that are important to me. Did you just think I wasn’t going to bring it with me? You saw all of them at my house…..(and if we’re counting boxes, I can almost guarantee you would have more boxes than me if we had to pack out your house)…”

Instead, I said nothing – because I knew it wouldn’t acknowledge the huge change that he was going through having me move in and take over his space. He’d had housemates, but none that put pictures and candles on the mantle, added pillows to his couch, and put quilts in a basket for folks to cuddle up with. None that added to the stash of cooking stuff already in the kitchen (mixer, multi colored spatulas, baking stuff, my collection of teas…)

My first internal reaction was not patient, or kind, or graceful. I was hurt, and he had no idea.

This is why I being quick to listen AND speak makes a huge difference in any relationship. I asked the Lord to calm me down (after venting in my head, I’ll be honest), and then I started trying to figure out why what he said bothered me in the first place.

However small, I realized his comment made me question myself, made me wonder if what I had to bring really made a difference in this bachelor-now-husband’s life. After I spent some time in prayer, I was able to pull my brain back from the edge and reminded myself of the truth: he loves me, I love him, and God knew we were right for each other. My gifts and uniqueness had a place in this home, even if they are things he isn’t used to yet. And oh yeah, the enemy. Of course he’d start at the beginning to try to create insecurity and division.

Later that week I was finally able to bring the subject up to him and we talked – about how each of us had our own lives before we met, lives that the other person wasn’t a part of. We both acknowledged that we feel on the outside sometimes when the other person shares stories and laughter about ‘life before’. That was a hard recognition. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I think we both acknowledged that each of our separate lives, and the memories that go with them are important. After all, it not only gives us a chance to show grace for each other – it’s also a chance to have a window into how each of us became the person we are now.

Newlywed or not, my challenge for you today is this:

Think about how often God gives us a gift, or puts us in a new situation. We make new friends, have new relationships, experience chances to grow. Maybe we are excited at first, but when we realize the implications of that gift – the extra people living in the house, the new job, new situation…sometimes we just aren’t sure what to do with the other things that come with it or the work it will take, are we?

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the good and faithful servant (Matthew 25), who has invested a little money on behalf of the owner and made a nice return. Jesus says that of course the owner is going to commend him! But more than just commending him, the owner sets the servant over MORE more than he was originally entrusted to him.. I have always wondered… did he WANT the extra responsibility? How much harder did this make things, even if it was an honor?

Sometimes gifts, blessings, good things can be overwhelming. They can cause you to wonder if you jumped too soon, took on more than you can handle, or if you just grossly underestimated your ability to tackle the new road in front of you. I felt like that as a new parent 23 years ago. I distinctly recall that in my job as a technical lead about 10 years ago. Every day I was on my knees asking for wisdom in both cases because I knew I couldn’t do it without God’s strength and courage. It was humbling, but grace abounded and I learned. Needless to say, I am finding myself there yet again.

We have to remember that whenever we are given chances to grow – yes – sometimes those involve HUGE leaps into new things that we will be unprepared for. But we can trust he is there, always, leading, encouraging, coaxing us to depend on his grace and strength for the next journey.

I am learning to depend on grace every day again as a newlywed, because as much as I learned in my first marriage.. this is new ground being broken, and we have to figure out our own new life together.

Truly, a gift.

Now, if I can just figure out where to put my turkey pan we’ll only use twice a year… 🙂

Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Thanksgiving 2020

Hello all! I know its been a while since I’ve published anything. You’d think with all this time from being at home and not going to school this semester would give me a ton of time to write and think (and while it has in some ways) – I am just not really liking writing much at the moment. Strange for me. So this post might seem a bit all over the place, but its the best collection of thoughts right now. Enjoy!

As I see states issue guidelines for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll admit I’m divided: I can see the wisdom in it, yet it frustrates me and leaves me a bit skeptical. I know the threat of this is real, having had two friends who lost people close to them this past year. Yet I also know my husband’s family has had it, and recovered just fine. As I write this, my best friend in Texas and her family are going through the throws of Covid. I trust they will recover, but I’m still waiting for them to emerge healthy.

I guess you could say I am on the side of NOT seeing Covid as a death sentence. That comes partly from the reality that no matter how I ran the numbers – state wide, nationally, and internationally, its still only 3% fatal. That’s larger than I’d like sure – but I’m choosing to not fear the rise in Covid numbers. More people are getting tested so of course you will find it more.

(side note: I’m pretty healthy, and so I know this influences my view of it all. I figure the chances of me getting it are only going to increase as time goes by, but I trust it will run its course just like the flu would. Yet I am well aware that others have more compromised systems and don’t have the luxury of exposing themselves as much, because for them its more dangerous. Please do not misunderstand me: Wisdom must be used here. I am watching my parents navigate this, given my dad’s health after lung surgery last year, and they are troopers. Isolation at times, social distanced fellowship at others. They and their community are taking care of each other. I am so grateful!

I just keep trying to set it in context: 12% die each year from heart attacks (which is 4 times those dying from Covid) – yet we never have that broadcast from the media. So how much is media playing into both education as well as perpetuating fear? Leaders are, no doubt, trying to balance fear and care for their states while grappling with how to keep people safe. It’s natural that some of us will wrestle with the guidelines they issue.

I get it. Frankly, I am glad I do not have to make those decisions!

I applaud those who are front-line doing the testing, taking care of those who are admitted… suiting up in their full gear, air tanks or masks. Every day. This part hits home just as much because I have people I care about on those front lines: My daughter, a friend in BV, and a new friend in Oregon. Millions across the country in the healthcare industry. I am grateful for all you are doing to save others, and to protect yourself. Your sacrifice will NEVER be forgotten.

And although its their job, it seems to me that it takes a certain kind of fearlessness to be willing to step into the “line of fire” if you will, risking contracting Covid – for the greater purpose of caring for the humanity of others. It makes me think of Mother Theresa taking care of the dying in Calcutta, of Jesus, who went to the lepers without fear, and countless others across history that cared for the sick because of their Christian faith (there’s a great article I found about it in case you are interested – see link at bottom of the blog)

You might be wondering what the heck this has to do with Thanksgiving.

I guess I’m saying that its not going to stop me from inviting those that have nowhere to go so that they are not alone. Its what I have always done, and I don’t think this year should be any different (other than maybe not sharing drinks or forks!)

I want to press forward into the Christian calling to hospitality and care, even in this next season – even moreso since the holidays can be hard for people to begin with, and I expect that will be true in greater measure this year.

On top of that, as I have done some reading recently, its interesting that Thanksgiving as a national holiday wasn’t declared until the time of Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed it official in midst of the Civil War. He was spurned on by a woman named Sarah Joespha Hale, a writer and education advocate who had grown up celebrating it and believed that making it a national holiday might help ease tensions and help with the healing of the nation.

Interesting that at this time, in 2020, healing is the cry of many right now. Regardless of your feelings about the results of the election, isn’t a day to be thankful and gather what we need right now? Could our Thanksgiving celebration have a healing, encouraging effect on all of us if we will let it?

Now, ultimately, I know each family / person has to make their own decision – and so maybe you are on the more cautious side. No judgement here.

Regardless, as you consider your own plans for this holiday….. I’d like to encourage you to think of ways to still reach out and invite in those that might be alone this Thanksgiving. Even if the invite is just knocking on the door and leaving them a note, a child’s hand-drawn picture, a plate of dinner, or a cup of cocoa – something small to let them know they are not forgotten and not alone.

Here’s to turkey, or tofu, pumpkin or pizza, green bean casserole or collard greens… good friends and reflection time! (and football, I’m sure my husband would add! 🙂

** reference articles, in case you’d like to read more, are below. All content in the links below are owned by their respctive authors and I am not claiming any rights, just sharing! ***

https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2020/how-did-early-christians-respond-to-plagues

https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving )

Celebrating Mom

So today is my mom’s 74th birthday. I know she reads my blog so she will probably be very embarassed that I am writing this, but how can I not?

I can honestly say I am blessed to have a mom like her. I know that many other women out there, young and old alike, cannot say that. She wasn’t perfect of course – because no mom is – but as the years go by I understand just how strong a woman she has been all these years in spite of the tough stuff of life.

As a family growing up, we moved every few years since my dad was in the Army. So often in fact, that when my mom finished a table top quilt recently, I was counting the houses on it for fun and realized that I had moved almost as many times as there were houses! Mom was always the champion of “the next adventure” – finding the scout groups or sports groups in the next community, getting to know the schools and teachers, and being momma bear when she needed to be. I wouldn’t have known what she was actively doing was making sure we felt safe at home, but we did. We always knew she had our back and that we were well loved.

How hard it was for her to leave the community she had just gotten used to was lost on me as a kid, but she always helped get us connected. She always held hope in what was next, was a voice of encouragement when we hit rough spots, and a model of what it meant to serve her family.

What I have loved most is watching her “grow up” over the course of my adult life. She always believed in God, but came alive to who Jesus was and the sweetness of a relationship with Him when I was in college. Talk about falling in love. Everything about her breathes the love of Jesus. People know it when they see her, when they eat the cookies she eagerly bakes, the quilts she has prayed over and she gifts, and the way she eagerly invites folks into her life.

I appreciate her continued willingness to learn – whether it was about how to think about a current social issue or to understand a portion of scripture that seemed troublesome. Now, as my dad ages, she has a whole new set of things to learn. I know its hard, and I can’t save her from it. … but she is grappling with because she must. Every step of it is bathed in prayer and in love, and it shows. What is cool to see too, is how their community, both in church and in their neighborhood, get to see the gift of my mom too – and they love her as much as I do!

Her life represents so much of what I see in Proverbs 31, especially the way the late Rachel Held Evans talks about it in her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”. She speaks of Prov 31 more as a blessing for difficult things that woman tackle, with great strength. Mom has done that – all her life. It has brought laughter and tears, good times and difficult ones – but she has come out still laughing and finding joy like a little child. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I am blessed to be her daughter, and I can only hope my own daughters (and those that call me “mom” that I didn’t biologically give birth to) are blessed by my life as I have been blessed by hers!

“A woman of valor and bravery, who can find? She is far more valueable than rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life…” — Prov 31:10-12

Eschet Chayil mom… I love you!

5am lessons

The other morning I joined a new friend in a 5:15 am workout. It has been a LONG time since I have gotten up that early to work out now that I live in the mountain time zone and work for an east coast company. I am a morning person sure, but when my calls start at 6 or 6:30 am, I generally do not really want to get up that much earlier. When I do, it’s time to read, reflect, and connect with the God that knows me. I had resolved for a while that my workouts had to be in the afternoons, evenings.. and that early morning workouts needed to be left in the past.

I think I forgot what it feels like.

We pulled into a parking lot, grabbed our weights and mats from the back of my friend’s car, and found an empty space two rows away. The parking lot lights and the moon, still full, brought light to the pitch blackness. I could hardly see the trainer, but I could hear her, already excited and greeting everyone as they joined. My friend was amazed at how many were out that early. I just chuckled.

For the next hour, we ran and lifted, did crunches and lunges and every other thing the trainer had posted on the workout board. My friend kept track of what we had to do next, being more familiar with the specific elements, and then when we ran laps, we talked and shared. She had been doing this for over 2 years now as something to help her through a very difficult thing in her life, a thing that was now past and gone and nearly forgotten. She spoke about it with ease now. Being a new friend, I was still getting to know her… but it was one of those moments when people open up and share – and it was a holy moment in the middle of a workout, of all places. I just listened.

My time in the gym and mountain biking had certainly helped keep me in shape, but as I expected, the workout pushed me in a way that I hadn’t been pushed in a while. It was good. For the first time, I was ok not trying to keep pace with everyone and just keeping up with what I could do (I had to stop trying to keep up with 20 year olds about 5 years ago. I figured that was ok… LOL).

I came home wide awake, hungry and feeling alive.

The only thing I could think as I fell to my knees before starting the rest of my day was this:

Thank you

Even here you lead me, don’t you? You take my hand and lead me to life

Thank you for reminding me who I am

Thank you for people pursuing ME

Thank you for another trusting me with their story, that I get to be a witness to what was a difficult time in their journey – but I get to see them after the fight, after the struggle, and see how beautiful a person they still are, how their faith has survived and even thrived. I needed to see that somehow

It dawned on me that in some way I have let the cynical voices run around in my head for a longer time than I expected, trying to appease them or answer them or somehow logically satisfy them. Voices that question the reality of God, the witness and lives of imperfect people trying to follow Jesus. Many of the challenges are valid and need to be wrestled with, but I have assumed that in asking, these cynics walk away… and its been hard to know I can’t change their mind, so I carry a burden as if I need to do the fixing.

Do you ever find yourself doing that?

I know Jesus talks about leaving the 99 to find the one wandering, but when they are real sheep you can’t just pick them up and carry them around your neck. People aren’t always that convinced. And yet, I will not – I cannot stop being the voice that reminds them of the lavish love of God, the heart that won’t let them go, that One that sees every tear they have cried and knows every wound they have suffered, every limp and every scar and still screams YOU ARE MINE AND I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW!

(spoiler: There isn’t always a timeline that someone is ready to hear that and actually believe it). Be ready to wait. Patiently.

I’ll be honest…. It is a constant battle for me to do this. When we were dating, Trung (now my husband) would ask me: are you patient? I always thought I was, but his question echoes so often in my head now. I’m not so sure that I am as patient as I thought I was. Imagine that!

The truth? I have to be willing to let the faith of someone else actually rest in the hands of the One with whom they are wrestling.

So my friends – today that is my challenge to you. Can you let go some of what you are holding so tightly.. with your kids, your friends, your relatives.. and believe that God actually can work to reach them in more ways than you could ever imagine? Can you walk beside them in love, even if its’ hard?

That is the work of love, my friends… and not everyone will understand that walk – but we must, mustn’t we? Hope is not absent, it has not failed, and it will always, always come in the most unexpected places.

Lessons from Mark’s crucifixion story

Up here in the Boulder area, just like everywhere else, churches are largely still online. There are one or two smaller ones that are meeting in person, but not many. Today we decided to visit one of them, primarily because we know the young lady that is the worship leader.

The congregation must have been doing a full study on the book of Mark, and today we happened in on the story of the crucifixion. I’ll admit that it was hard to sit through a sermon that only seemed to talk about the horror of my sin and how Jesus paid the price. I know he did all that! But it was a bit of a throwback to earlier days when that was all that sermons seemed to be about. Grace, Jesus. You do so much more than save from sin. Grace. So I listened, determine to have an open heart for what I needed to be reminded of.

Two things struck me about the story this time. Chapter 15 tells of Simon, a simple passer by that got pulled into the fray. He wasn’t there for the show – the text tells us he was “passing by on his way in from the country”. Maybe minding his own business, maybe pausing to see who was next being crucified. Yet here he was, being commandeered to carry the cross of Jesus, someone he didn’t even know.

This part of the story gave me pause. Why? Because it forces the question:

Do we ever stop to recognize people that are walking right beside us in our own life-crucifying situations?

I hope we do.

Who those people are might surprise you. You might think it *should* be someone who is spiritually mature, or older, or who has the same life experience. But, like Simon, there is the distinct possibility that the person (or people) God brings to walk along side you might be the person (or people) you least expected. It certainly was for me – but what a blessing it turned out to be in time! Be open to that.

I can think of a thousand reasons why Jesus might have wanted one of the disciples to help carry the cross, perhaps so they would learn how to bear a cross with him, but that is not how the story plays out. When we walk a long road bearing a weight of something so hard… we are changed, even when its not our own burden.

The second thing that got me to thinking was the portion where, after being beaten, they put a robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns and “falling on their knees, they worshipped him” (v19)

One can hardly call that worship. It was outright mockery, and it saddened me, but the reason why was because of the richness of what I now carry having spent 2 1/5 years studying the old testament. Over and over, Israel made a mockery of God. They thought they worshipped, but their lives betrayed the words they said and sacrifices they brought. So we all know the story – God decided to step in and fix a system that no human could ever get right.

In Ezekiel, God says he will rescue his flock, he will search after them and look for them (Ezekiel 34:10-11)… and that is exactly what God did through Jesus. He should have received worship, rightful worship.. and yet they did what they had always done, even when their God showed up in the flesh. When he did not bow to their political ideals, their ideas of power and kingship, they took matters into their own hands and did what the world would have done with someone that opposed their ideas: They ended the threat (or so they thought)

So I ask this of myself even as I type it:

Do I ever try and make Jesus bow to my political ideas, my own ideas of power and the way the world should work? (ouch, yes I know, I have to think deeply about this too). The world is not the way it should be, I think we all know that and long for it to change. I HAVE to remember the kingdom he is building is one that is uniquely his, and one that the world will NOT understand. It is won not by political parties or the right people in office, but one by one, in hearts and minds and by mercy and kindness and grace. It will not make sense at times. It will include people that think opposite me, and that is ok.

Let us be people who walk with the sobering knowledge of the crucified Christ – yes. But because of the reality of his resurrection, let us also be people who seek to love those we consider enemies, to walk beside others bearing burdens, and to hold out the hope that the light HAS shone in darkness, and it will NOT overcome.

Blessings, my friends!

Psalm 139 meditations

Life is shifting in big ways for me this summer. This morning, I sit surrounded by boxes, house all packed except for a few things here and there. Movers come tomorrow to take all my things to the home that will become OURS, and the wedding is just over 3 weeks away. Although I never wanted to be a bride that is consumed with wedding details, alas.. that has happened. The next three weeks all my spare time will be spent finalizing plans and making signs for social distancing and mask wearing at our gathering 🙂 But yes its exciting!!!

Needless to say, the whole reality that I am picking up and moving to a new town to start all over again comes in waves. I have made some good friends up where Trung lives, but there still isn’t history beyond a weekend here and there for the past two years. So, this morning I read Psalm 139 again. It had been a while, and I needed to be reminded of the truth of being known. So of course the text today was encouraging, reminding me that as I navigate a huge life change and move into a new community, I am still known by Him.. and that is enough.

Interestingly enough, what struck me the most this morning was NOT the first part of the text. It was the part that I usually skip over.

The psalmist goes from this poetic sense of how much the Lord knows him, and how precious Gods thoughts are to him, and then he launches into “If only you would slay the wicked!… do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?… I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies! (v19-22)

Then the closing passage, one we quote often: “Search me God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (v 23-24)

What the……

I used to skip over verses 19-22 thinking oh, that isn’t how we are to think about people now, since Jesus tells us to love everyone – even our enemies – so I can just ignore that part.

Today I read this differently. Today it dawns on me again just how radical it must have sounded for Jesus to say “you’ve heard it said… but I say Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”…

But here’s the kicker: The psalmist didn’t even realize that his poetic calling out of how God knows him, knows his thoughts and everything about him — and the closing “and if there is still anything offensive in me still — fix that too” – is like this wonderful, beautiful poem that is sandwiched around a very big piece of ugliness. He couldn’t even see it.

Now, I’m drawing a very wide brushstroke in saying this, but you have to realize that there was a bit of nationalism and pride in being an Israelite back in the day. They had the One True God. They had a way of living, according to Torah, that would invite God’s favor if they walked in his way. They knew that some of the ways the nations around them lived was actually abhorrent to the Lord (think child sacrifice, worshipping other gods or created things instead of God, rampant sexual practices like orgies and temple prostitutes, horrendous war tactics…. etc ). They were told to hate what is evil and love what is good, and so there was this natural tendency to stand a bit taller and hate what their God hates… which they translated into hating the people.

I’m not sure that’s always what God had in mind, yet its easy to read the text and think that God approved of everything that they thought.

Hm. You know, this was not intended to be a political post but you know… the social commentary on that thought.. um… I’m just going to let that sit for a bit.

Hence verse 24.

This verse points out two things that are obvious to me, that we as followers of Jesus must wrestle with:

1. We may really love God with everything in us, and we can ask him to reveal offensive ways, but we may not even recognize them because they are so deeply ingrained in us. We need to be willing to face them no matter how hard they might be to own up to. These could be thoughts or attitudes towards certain ethnicities, countries, people groups… or it could be how we feel about certain generations, family members…. spouses… neighbors…leaders.. the list could go on and on. I think you get where I’m going here

2. We have to be careful to separate hatred of evil from hatred of the people AND/OR systems who cause it. I know, this seems nearly impossible – but if we do not try to separate the two, we will never be able to see the people for the potential for which they were created. We will be tempted or lulled into thinking they will always be that way, they can never get out of their evil patterns.

Isn’t that the point of redemption? Isn’t that why Jesus came, to vanquish sin forever` (Romans 5) so that we COULD be given a new heart in place of our heart of stone (Ezek 36:26). Isn’t that the point of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to choose what is good in the first place?

Keep in mind that this isn’t just at a personal level. It applies to larger systems in towns and cities, in states and our nation as well. The redemption Jesus brought was not just to change us and our hearts, but to redeem all of creation and the systems of the world. So if we fail to separate people from their actions, we will never be able to call out laws and systems as things that may very well have evil origins.

I know this is hard work folks. To see the state of our nation today and lament that things are not the way they should be… but God is not done. His purposes to create one humanity, one kingdom, redeemed and reflecting his full mercy and grace? That is still happening.

We must be willing to let the psalmists cry be our own, letting the light of the holy spirit illuminate that things we cannot see. Only then can they be brought to the cross, traded for new eyes that can help us push through the ugliness we rightly call evil, yet do it with grace and forgiveness that remind other image bearers there is a better way to live.

As we do this, kingdoms of this world and its evil systems are torn down.

I know, its not happening fast enough. I think those that have gone before us would echo the same sentiment. But don’t give up. What you do, how you live makes a difference. Figure out how to do that in your corner of the kingdom, and keep your heart close to the One that will lead you

My book recommendation today:

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Persistent Widow

I have sat on this a while, not quite knowing how to write what I want to say, but I’m going to take a stab at it and hope it comes out ok. We are living in historical times, not only because of the pandemic, but because an even deeper seated issue that has its roots deep in our country’s history has rightfully stolen the show. It’s not that it wasn’t always going on, its just that for the most part many of us (speaking to white people here) may have thought that because of the Civil Rights movement, everything was really equitable and racism wasn’t a thing.

What is obvious is that the events that have happened while we have all been sequestered at home are finally waking us up. It’s not that things like this haven’t happened before – they have. But we hear about them in spurts, we get upset, cry for justice, we lament as common humanity, and then… nothing changes.

Sounds a bit like the persistent widow Jesus talked about doesn’t it?

If I’m honest, that parable has always been a bit hard for me. I know that Jesus shared this story to make the point that God is NOT like a harsh judge that ignores our cries. Luke even said it was to show that we should pray and not give up, because God hears our prayers…. but early in my walk I will admit that just made me feel as if God was like the judge and if we bother him enough, maybe he will move.

Yet Jesus says in this parable that God hears the cries of unjust ways and sees that they get justice quickly.

What exactly does he mean by quickly?

Nothing seems to happen quickly. Especially when it comes to societal change.

The truth is, a large part of those that call America home – and even a large part of the body of Christ – has been crying out for years. I suspect they wonder where God is, and why has He not showed up to change things? The place in time in which we find ourselves now has me (as well as I am sure everyone right now) doing a lot of thinking.

Have we been asleep all this time, forgetting that we are the ones God uses to help justice come to pass? Have we thought, in error, its “not my issue?”

By justice I am not just talking about conviction for officers (or civilians) that take black lives. I know there are many officers out there that take their job seriously and do not treat people differently because of the color of their skin. I also know not everyone cries “help” when they see a black man. But the fact that some do reflects something very, very wrong, and it also reflects a much bigger problem. I am talking about seeing that we, as a nation, have for far too long used unequal scales. We probably have not been aware that there are policies and laws that may never have intended to be divisive (or maybe they were) – but have not ever been reviewed to see if they knowingly or unknowingly facilitated racist views or actions. We have not paid attention or taught our children that history was largely written by white people, and that although there are months decidated to people of color (Black, Asian, Hispanic), their voice and experience in history is largely silent.

I readily admit I spent many years not even knowing what white privilege was. I would hear stories of how hard others lives were and think “wow… that’s hard..” and never go beyond that to enter into their pain, or ask what it was like to walk in their shoes, or even to ask myself about my own hidden biases. I am spending a lot of time doing that now. Frankly I hope a lot of us are. It’s time.. heck its been time for a LOOOOONG time.

I also admit I didn’t get why people were protesting so much. I know that sounds horrible. Lest you think I am heartless or blind, I absolutely know it was because of the events around the deaths of George, Brianna, and Ahmed. But I think in logical ways and so I was trying to wrap my head around why people protested in cities where none of this happened? Solidarity, yes. That I get. But why so long?

Then I remembered the parable of the persistent widow. I got it, finally. People standing arm in arm crying out for their states to bring justice locally. Review your laws. Review your police training, your state policies. See if they are really just. If not – change! (Colorado legislators making some huge changes in how they train their police force is a great example). We collectively must be the persistent widow, crying for justice and working towards it however we can, until things change…. for everyone. But let’s just be honest. If you are white, you most likely have not sufferred and do not have to walk in the same amount of caution the way our black brothers and sisters feel they must. Therefore, the focus IS on equality for black lives right now. I am not saying others do not matter. They do…. but we are not the ones suffering from unequal treament. They need our voices, not our attempts to jump in and say “we matter too!”

(on a side note, if you don’t know what I mean by what I just said, I’d encourage you to google some podcasts or some check out some books or movies that might expose you to an experience outside of yours. They have been extremely helpful for me. Resources are belo.w)

You may feel like you can’t make a difference because you are not a politician, a lawmaker, a police officer, a reporter, or a textbook author. Those are all the visible and prominent roles we see. But what you ARE is someone who should work towards reconciliation in your own place in the world. Especially because we serve a God that invites us -or should I say EXPECTS us – to be ministers of reconciliation, because in Christ there is not supposed to be racism or ethnic judgement. In Christ we are to see each person, with their background and ethnicity, as image bearers with the full capacity to bear his image well. We are to defend them. When there is oppression, we are to call it out and work to make it right. Whether that is in our leaders, at the polls, in our voting actions, or in our protests, it must also be done in our churches, in our ways of being with our neighbors, in our ways of working in our communities.

It might be eay to focus on this now because of course its what everyone is talking about. But it is a long hard work to STAY the course and keep learning, keep educating, and not let the things that are being questioned get shoved under the rug any longer. We must continue to have the difficult conversations, and be humble enough to recognize where we need to change our minds, our hearts, our judgements, and LOVE by walking justly.

I know I have a lot to learn. I hope you will join me and be willing to let God teach you new things in this journey as well!

Resource list: (but note – there are so many others available as well, this is just a start of resources, some I have read/watched and some are on my list for this summer)

White Fragility: Why its so hard for White people to talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison,, Daniel Hill, Jennie Allen

Race in America – video by Phil Vischer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY

Podcasts by Erwin McManus (Mosaic Church) – June 1, June 8, June 15, all on conversations about Race, Justice, personal stories by black leaders in his church

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (book or movie) by Bryan Stevenson

13th – a documentary on Netflix