As we head into December…

I know the holidays are mixed with emotions for most of us. Multiple voices challenge even why and how we celebrate Christmas. Yes it was initially a pagan holiday celebrating the sun, but was revamped as a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus by the Church in Rome. I know there wasn’t anything as Santa or Father Christmas before the 17th century. The “Christmas Spirit” of kindness and good cheer, helping others and providing for those who have little is something everyone can get on board with. And there is just something yummy about hot chocolate and gingerbread and peppermint and… yum!

But today I guess I wanted to send a simple reminder.

You are NOT living in an outdated story.

It is the very power of God for all who believe, those who can have a mustard seed of faith.

The message of Jesus speaks to the core of the cries of the human heart, in every generation, every nation, every ethnicity, educational, and economic level.

Love and acceptance. Not just the surface kind but the deep “I see you for who you are and love you even more” kind.

Purpose and passion. Not just the generic “you matter” but the actual truth that what you bring to the world is something no one else has, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.

Anger and frustration. Not just a rant on social media but the deeper longing, the mourning and lament for the things that are wrong and desperately need to be made right, and the reality that it takes people committed to justice to make a difference

You are living in a story that started reclaiming God’s reachability…..

Walk this season knowing He’s still there, still reaching out, still bigger than we can understand, more mysterious than we can explain, and more real than we can imagine.

I know most times this year those of us who follow Jesus are challenged by a pastor or a card or something to kneel at the manger. Its always a good reminder. But I’d also encourage you to bundle up in your warmest clothes, put on your hats and gloves and boots and scarves and go lay out in the snow and make a snow angel and be a kid and laugh at the goodness of (or in defiance) winter. Or lay on the ground and gaze at the stars and find wonder again… and invite others to join you in it.

The kingdom may have broken into our world in a new way when Jesus was born as a baby… but His kingdom has always been relevant in the past, and it still is today. Sometimes, it just takes new eyes to be reminded 🙂

Blessings!

Tama

In with the new?

As believers, we might easily quote verses and pictures proclaiming “Beauty for Ashes”, holding to the image that God can bring anything good out of something hard. Or, we find encouragement in a song like “God’s not done with you” – clinging to the fact that our unfinished stories can still hold purpose and promise in the years ahead.

I honestly believe this is true, yet the reality is that until you have had this truth tested, it only feel so real to you. It’s not “yours” – until you walk it, own it, and come out the other side. Then… its no longer just a cute little picture. Its a deep truth, burned into your life, built into your theology.

I will share this as a precursor to the post: I look back, and have to admit there was a day where I once felt like a piece of my heart died with my marriage, and I wondered if it would ever return. I trusted God would bring me back to life. I thought for sure all of my heart would be resurrected…. Then I would hit a day every now and then and wonder if I could ever experience delight and joy in a relationship like I had before. It was on a day where those feelings were right on the surface that I wrote this.

I share this just as a testimony to how much the Lord heals our memories, how much he can shift things for us that need to be shifted, even when we seem stuck. Because in reading this over again – I guess I was stuck. I hope it will be an encouragement for some of you that may be stuck in your own way.

P.S. In case you’re wondering.. Joy has returned and I am floored at quite a number of things right now 🙂

______ ________ _______ _______ ______ ________ _______ _______

Today I ran for the first time in a while. Spring finally in full display, from the trees to the flowers blooming, to the scents that mark a holiday weekend floating in the air (everyone was grilling out for Memorial Day cookouts). It was beautiful. It reminded me of when life was simple, and all I cared about was life and loving Jesus more and more. Sometimes I wish I could go back – back before the scars, before the hurt of life marred the way I see the world. Before I had to start over all again.

I keep thinking of a verse the Lord gave me a while back:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing; Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” Says the Lord (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)

It’s hard for us as people, not to look back, isn’t it? Back to before when we were younger, or when we were single or married, or before we lost our job, our loved one, our whatever we built our life around before it got so complex. Before we gave into the addiction, before our body started breaking down, before we left the life we had and moved across the country. Before we started asking questions or …. before whatever.

You know we’re not alone in thinking that way, right?

The Israelites did the same thing. Over and over, when God was bringing them to freedom in the wilderness, they longed for the things of Egypt. They longed for when they had meat in abundance and luxuries, obviously forgetting their great slavery. They forgot that the idols they worshipped were powerless, that the gods they served were but figments of their imagination.

I’m not saying things in our past were idols necessarily. After years of fearing anything I enjoyed was an idol, I have set down that way of thinking, and I’m not about to take it back up again. Yet what is it about looking back and longing for things that were?

Sure, sometimes its because we are afraid of change, but that’s not always it.

More often, I can’t help but wonder if its because its what we know, and the new seems unfamiliar and strange. There is no map, there isn’t a pocket guidebook for what’s next or what to do when we get there.

Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the Lord reminds them that the foundations of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. He will move on their behalf, even though they don’t remember him

Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)

“I will go before you

and will level the mountains;

I will break down gates of bronze

and cut through bars of iron.

I will give you hidden treasures,

riches stored in secret places,

so that you may know that I am the Lord,

the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Poetic. Mysterious. Something to make them wonder. He never tells them what the “hidden treasures” will look like, or how He will move, but he says He will.

Even though they still forget him.

Maybe we are more like them than we realize, unable to see or even perceive what He is up to in our years to come. Maybe we wonder, how could what is to come ever be better than what was?

Oh… but if we remember the heart of our God… He is a God that always keeps His promises. His love is true, it is faithful and never gives up. It was offered to us over a sacred meal with a cup of wine, a new promise.

We question how the new could ever be better….yet if we are able to dwell in the mystery that is the Lord, and swim in the love that He offers us, somehow I think we will find it that the new – however different – is still just as full of joy and delight in ways we could never imagine.

Are you willing to keep pressing into the One who loves you, to let Him do this for you? I hope so my friend….I am praying for courage for you for the journey forward!

Back up the mountain?

Somewhere along the road, we learn to cope with the things that knock us down, don’t we? We figure out how to do life again, maybe limping, but we keep going. We kind of have do, don’t we? Life doesn’t give you an option, but you can always figure out a way forward, even if its not what you expected.

I was was with a friend yesterday, someone with whom I have walked with for the past year or so, ever since she was diagnosed with a number of health issues. A group of us prayed for her, that God would bring healing; she has three young kids and they need her desperately. Dad’s unfortunately not very present. At that time, it seemed she’d be gone in a few months.

That was a year ago. Her health issues continue, she has more blood clots than anyone can imagine. Constant pain, a blood disease that renders surgery not an option, and failing lungs. Every day is hard. Yet she keeps going, she keeps leading her kids in faith, she keeps her home bakery business going to support her family. Doctors cannot explain why she is still here – and her answer is always “Well, I have a big God”. Yes, yes she does.

After I met with her, I kept thinking of a story in the book of Exodus (note: not because it described her, but because of the encouragement it could bring her) where Moses has just come down off the mountain and dropped the commandments God had given him, in anguish over the idol the Israelites had formed. This God that had delivered them from their slavemasters had just promised to be their God and lead them. He had spoken purpose over them – going from being slaves to being priests and a light to the world. They had agreed! But they so quickly went back to their old ways, not yet knowing how to trust in the God that had met with them nor how to follow his ways.

The description of them is as a “stiff-necked” or “obstinate” people, and Moses had the great task of leading them. I cannot imagine how frustrating it was for him as a leader. I can imagine if this happened today, his social media post would read something like:

COME ON, PEOPLE – GET WITH THE PROGRAM! Pay attention to what is being offered to you! Seriously. (#frustrated #leaderprobs #arewethereyet? #getmeouttahere)

I have a feeling that for those of you out there in leadership, or those serving in the body of Christ, or those helping your neighbors, or those raising teens – many of you get this, you feel the frustration Moses felt. You wonder “why me, God?” Why do I have to put up with this stubborn people, these kids, this situation? I’m trying to lead them, teach them, do my best to steer the Titanic away from disaster……

Maybe we can learn something from Moses. And friends, I do not say this lightly, because I need to hear this as much as you. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t need to be reminded of this very truth.

(I know I am skipping over a bunch in the text, but bottom line:) Moses asked God to show himself, after crying out for God to go with them into the promised land…. and God answered:

“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, Jehovah….”

Can you imagine what that would have been like?

THIS IS WHO I AM. Not just “el”, the other gods people speak of. I AM YAHWEH God, that speaks.

God first reminds Moses who He is, before he reminds him of his character:

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

My friend, I know – you have probably asked God to show up, and maybe He has, or maybe God seems silent. Or maybe you haven’t had the heart to ask.

Yet the question remains – and will always be, no matter what trial you are facing, what stubborn people you are dealing with – are you willing to go back up the mountain, and let your soul be reminded of the God you serve? Will you let the Holy Spirit, in that mysterious way He comforts and speaks to us, bring these words to life again in you? Let the character of the God we serve, embodied in these words, wash over your tired and frustrated heart, and give you courage

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

He has not left. You are not alone. And He goes with you. That is his promise to us!

Another side of worship

I’m in a class on worship now in seminary, and its reminding me of some things I just haven’t talked about much. But I found some old journal entries from about 3 years ago when I was cleaning out a closet, and after reading them I realized one fit perfectly.

I have to give you some background first. I started running my senior year of high school, actually as a psychology class assignment (maybe I can explain that another time). I found I loved it, and I ran all through college. So, needless to say, the entire time I was raising my family, I ran. Three miles turned into 5, then 7 after we moved to Ohio. It became my coping mechanism out of anger, frustration and loneliness. I wrestled with God many times on my runs there. Then it turned into 13 and I realized I like distance. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs and my goal began to be to run marathons and stay trained for half marathons in the winters. Enter the treadmill, which I hated, but was necessary due to the winters. I acquired lots of winter running gear, needless to say!

There was a distinct difference for me between a training run and a run that I was on just for fun. I liked both of course, but sometimes they felt like runs that I had to prove myself on…. and so the runs I went on just for me, just to get out and enjoy running – were always the best. Eventually I added biking to the mix, and sometimes there were just these long rides on country roads that felt the same way. I was free. It was exhilarating.

Side note: I know this might sound weird to most of you. Jon used to always say he never got it – he’d only run if he were being chased by someone with a machete! But that was my thing. I loved it. You probably have your thing too, where you love it and no one else gets it, but it makes you come alive in ways you just can’t explain. Maybe its quilting like my mom, or singing or playing the guitar, or painting or taking amazing pictures like a couple from my old home group. Maybe its fixing cars or tinkering around the house and making things with your hands. Maybe its planning and coordinating, or cooking or playing hockey… well.. you get where I’m going, right?

Don’t get me wrong – my family supported me and were always there for my races, they thought I was weird but never complained. We’d go on walks together, which I loved! But because I felt like was the only one who liked being outdoors, pushing myself and being active. I have to admit there were times where I felt lonely in it.

I remember the day when the Lord clearly spoke to me that He had made me like this, given me this love of everything outdoors and challenging. That was groundbreaking for me. The thought that God in his wisdom made me with a love of being outside and liking physical challenges??? Woah.

Have you actually every stopped and looked at that thing that you are good at, the thing that you love love love – and considered that it is both a gift to you and a way you worship God when you do it?

Romans 12:1 is always the passage that I come back to when I need to remember that our entire lives are an offering to God. I love how it’s phrased in the Message:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.”

That means everything. The things we LOVE to do, that are uniquely ours and we feel like we were made to do them, and also the day to day mundane things that just have to be done because – well – its life.

Jesus talked about how God was looking for people who would worship in “spirit and in truth”, and my friends, that has a lot more to do with our everyday life than it does with what goes on Sunday mornings. Oh, I know that what goes on Sunday is and should be worship, but we can’t mistake going to church on the weekend for the only way we worship God. You might question “yeah but how can what I do be worship?”

My friends, when you have chosen to walk this way of Jesus, when you are trying to live this life in a way that reflects the reality of God and his grace for others, his love for people around you, and a life where the Spirit of God is evident, you need to know that it is in the very act of the offering that we worship.

And that is beautiful to God.

So whatever you do today, offer it to God.

The fact you tried to get out of bed when things were hard today –

The fact you did your best on that presentation at work –

The fact you made your kids PB&J for lunch or did laundry or watched toddlers and taught them (or tried to teach them) how to share.. again.

The fact you sat at the hospital with a friend or loved one going through a hard time.

That nice thing you did for someone that no one will never know about.

Those are all ways we worship, when we offer our lives to God.

So offer. Thank God for what you have, right where you are, and offer your life.

Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

Oceans reflection

Today I ran out at lunch to get a few things for dinner tonight, my mind spinning as to how I would get everything done in time. Yet, I chose to see those few minutes as time to fill the space with worship and really pay attention to the lyrics on the radio. The song “Oceans” came on, a song I haven’t heard in a while, and it took me back to the last time I sang it in a worship service. I was at the last women’s retreat I led at my church back in Illinois. I knew at that time I was going to be moving (even though I hadn’t told anyone yet but my best friend and the elders at church)… and the words were pregnant with truth for me. I knew I was headed somewhere I didn’t know, that God was calling me out on deeper waters with Him… the great unknown where my feet certainly could fail.

I knew I would find Him in the mystery of change. I had no doubt my faith would stand. After all, What could go wrong?

Ah. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while know what I’m talking about.

I had no idea just how much I would have to trust Him. How much life would prove that He would never fail me. I look back at that song now with different eyes, and see how far He has brought me, how much I have had to hold to the truth that I am His, and He is mine.

Things are so different now, yet so very, very good. I can confidently say I never thought I’d be doing the things I’m doing, walking the paths I’m walking, and loving the people I am loving.

This time, though, it was the chorus that got to me:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

Do we really know what we are asking for when we sing that song, pray that prayer?

Do we really long for whatever will strengthen our faith to come to pass? I’d venture to say that sometimes we may not realize what life will bring that draws us closer to Jesus.

What does it mean, really, to have trust without borders? (Wow, even as I write that, I know its a loaded statement, given the current crisis at the border of our own country….)

For me, I see this playing out in some of the people the Lord has brought into my life. I am now friends with and mentoring a handful of young women in their 20’s and early 30’s. Every single one of them stretches me to have grace in ways I never imagined possible. A club dancer, a young girl that has just come out as bi, one living with her boyfriend, one getting divorced and amazingly alive after a stroke and a ton of blood clots in her lungs…. and one that is married and happens to also be the one that cuts my hair 🙂

I know after reading a journal entry from my 20’s I prayed for this. There isn’t much of a script I have to go by, and I question nearly every day if I am really doing enough to love them and help them to know God better…. but it has given me a front row seat to seeing God transform their lives and I am literally blown away every time I talk to them. One is growing in her prophetic gifting. One is growing in leadership and her passion for reading the bible, one is seeing so many ways Jesus is setting her free from the things of her past. One talking to God but not sure she wants to really be in relationship with him yet. It leaves me realizing just how much I may have trusted how transforming God’s word is for me, but I have somehow listened to a cynical mindset too much and forgotten how transforming it is for others.

How I have doubted

The work He longs to do in us is real, he starts wherever we are and calls us forward. All of us.

So my question to you is this: who is in your life that God may be asking you to come along side of – not to worry about how far away they seem, but to believe that God wants to reveal His goodness, His freedom of soul to them, no matter whether their life looks like you think it should or not?

Can you risk going where your trust in God is without borders, and let Him show you just how big His grace really is?

Independence Day

Happy July 4th! This is the first year I have ever had two sets of fireworks. One last night and another tonight. I’ll take em!

Today has been relaxing (one of the perks of working for a bank is that you get holidays like this off. I can’t complain). So I went on a nice long hike up in Boulder and exhausted myself… yes, I know I’m weird like that. I have always held that to physically exhaust yourself is the easiest way to put away your “flesh” and find your heart more open to God. And so the writing begins. This is short, but I didn’t really feel like copying over my entire journal entry :-).

As I hiked up the mountain, looked over the entire valley, and then walked back down through a field full of wildflowers, I was reminded of Jesus words of how we are cared for even more than the lillies of the field. I wondered how many people hike up there and instead of just think “wow what a great view” – their minds go to the verses in Psalms and other scriptures that speak of how the whole earth is the Lord’s. That the rocks will cry out if we don’t.

Do any really listen?

Jesus used so many analogies of life around his world to show people what the kingdom was like.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

Let him hear what?

That there IS deeper. There IS more.

And you know what else occurred to me today? There is so much of Jesus life we don’t know about. Not just his childhood and 20’s but much of his 3 years. We hear the stories that prove he is God-in-flesh. We hear the stories of his triumph over sickness and death, of how he loved and raised up people others ignored, and challenged the idea of religion and faith and what God really cares about over and over again.

But so much we don’t know. What did he do when he and his disciples just sat around the fire? Did they tell stories? Did they laugh at the things their kids did, the things they did in their own childhood? He lived everyday life just like we do, and it was the moments that grace broke through, that the kingdom life sparked that were written down.

I am surrounded by people just like the rest of you – some who love Jesus with their lives, and some who are not yet awakened to the life He offers, the forgiveness and mercy we need. Some of my favorite moments are when I can speak of that truth, of the ways I sin and miss the mark oh so much – and am reminded over and over of mercy.

Today, as we celebrate our Independence as a nation, I am reminded that yes it means we are free to think and believe what we want, But I am also reminded that I am dependent on this story of faith, the story of the cross that I cannot let go of, this truth, this reality that most may not care about – but one that reminds me I can never achieve the perfection I crave, the rightness in life I long for. Yet its been gained, the beauty is in the everyday moments where this perfection, this beauty and mercy breaks through.

So enjoy the time with friends and family. Realize the richness it holds, and keep your eyes open for moments that grace breaks through.