The fruit of a life

This past week I received a relatively thick envelope from a name I had not seen in years. Opening it slowly, I read the typed letter I was holding in one had, with a bundle of letters and envelopes in the other. The letter was from Dave, an old youth group leader of mine, sharing with many of those who he had mentored in the past that he was in the final stages of lung cancer. He was returning to all of us the letters we had written to him when he was deployed in Desert Storm and when he later lived in Germany, sharing how much of an encouragement they had been to him during that time.

I stared at the letters and cards I had written him my senior year of high school and first year of college, 1989-1990. I could hardly believe my eyes.

For one thing, no one else I have ever known has saved letters I have written, even though I have saved many other have written to me over the years. The other thing was I noticed (quite humorously) that my handwriting was still the same!

I looked at the weathered and tattered pages and re-read them all, for they documented for me some of the earliest years of my faith. I skimmed them some, recalling things I shared about living in Germany, tough classes I was taking, and how I tried to encourage someone who was also investing in me and my young faith. What struck me the most was a line from a letter dated January 1990:

“…I am no longer befuddled at the thought of living every single moment for Christ…”

I was still 17 when I wrote that, but the statement came nearly three years after my good friend Jill swooped in and latched onto me, a quiet 14 year old that had just left a small school in Germany and got plopped into a high school of 5000 students. I found myself surrounded by people who loved God and just invited others in, along with a few very Godly men and women who simply spoke of their love for Jesus and all they had found in him. They didn’t try to “convert” me – they just loved me, encouraged me where I was, and talked about what it was like to surrender your whole life to him.

I honestly do not know where I would be had they not invested in me. Oh, I was a good kid and so I am sure I would have done well, but I don’t know that I would be someone whose greatest joy is in helping others know Jesus.. the same thing they did for me.

I think that’s a lot of what Jesus meant when he talked about “bearing fruit”. It’s probably similar to what the world would say when they talk about leaving a legacy for people to remember you by. What works were done in your name, what stories will be told about you…

Not that any of that is bad, but the reality is unless you make some huge contribution to the world, you’re probably not going to go down in a history book, right?

Yet fruit. The reality is that Dave and others walked and talked and showed me Jesus, even when I wasn’t necessarily asking to figure him out early on. I was just there. But his life had an indellible impact on mine, as did the other youth leaders that were part of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Big or small, it had an impact.

As I am watching the young women in a bible study I lead surrender their lives to Jesus more and more, it leaves me dumbfounded – primarily because I know I didn’t pray for all that God is doing. Imagine that.. He has his own plans for others we know nothing about, no matter how we pray. I sit back in awe of all GOD is doing in their lives, blatently aware that it is all Him doing things. Just him. I often feel like I’m just sitting on the sidelines.

In the big scheme of things, I have to smile. That commission of Jesus in Matthew 28 where he tells his disciples to “go and make disciples” – this is exactly what that looks like, and what it’s supposed to look like (note: sometimes this verse gets a bad rap.. I wrote about it in another post a few months back). One generation helping the next to wrestle with their questions and walk along side of them to understand what it is to be in relationship with a living God, what it is to surrender and let go and trust someone you cannot see.

  • It makes me question if, in struggling with that Matthew 28 verse, we have forgotten how to pursue people? Or perhaps we either do not really trust the power of just what Jesus does when someone really seeks him and finds him, or we never really understood what the Holy Spirit does to open eyes to reveal Jesus and help people wrestle with their own stuff in the first place.
  • I’m not talking about reaching people with the “they need Jesus” attitude that people can smell a mile away, but one that just walks alongside them in the stuff of life, patiently waiting for the hunger and emptiness of life to cause them to want something real. Waiting to see where they might trust you have no agenda but to love them. Waiting for God to show you the when and how to speak spiritual truths to ears ready to hear them.
  • Sure, an inspiring sermon or blog might get people thinking, and I know God can speak through any medium He wants to. But we can’t underestimate vision casting for people what it is to really BE in Christ, to follow him and surrender and be transformed by him. When we share how he is our strength in the mess, how we struggle to trust when the trials come, but how our souls are finding rest in the journey – the Holy Spirit really does work to transform others to draw them near.

    Do we believe that any more? I hope so. But for some of you, its going to mean risking getting over your fear of knowing exactly what to say. Not everyone is afraid of talking about spiritual things – the conversations just look different now. NOTE: If you’d like to read a refreshing take on making disciples in today’s world, I’d recommend “I once was lost” by Don Everts.

  • Walking beside others to show them what it is to follow Christ isn’t just for your pastor, your bible study leader, or those with “theological training”. Its for every one of us. And good news! You are fully equipped, whether you realize it or not, to invite others into a life of faith. Giving people room to ask questions goes a long way. Think with them, wonder with them, struggle with them in their questions… and know that in all of that searching God’s right there.
  • Today I leave you with a quote I found recently online, for I think it says it perfectly. As we go, what we say, what we do, good or bad, gets woven into the lives of others. So go be an image bearer, and let your legacy be that people wanted to know Jesus because they saw Him in you.

    “What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

    Blessings!

    Tama

    Loving Millennials

    I saw a post on an instagram story yesterday that made me shake my head with a resounding.. “yeaaaah, very true.”

    It was Morgan Freeman sitting in an armchair, with the following quote over his head:

    “Toxic mothers are just as bad as absent fathers, but ya’ll ain’t ready for that discussion yet”.

    It was the exact topic that came up the other night with the young women in a bible study I lead. One of them was sharing about some difficult things about her relationship with her mother, and the others just sat there and nodded, acknowledging how true that was for them as well. It made me wonder.

    I have heard so many teachings from the pulpit about the impact that a person’s earthly father can have on their image of who God is and what He is like, but I don’t know that I have ever heard one about how children ever form the same understanding of God from what their mother is like. Because we were created to reflect God’s image and character, male and female, it stands to reason that each gender has a unique way they reflect God and show God to their children… so I asked them the question: “Has your understanding of God been shaped by your relationship with your mother? If so, how?”

    I was blown away.

    Literally, I was speechless as one of them went on to explain just how their image of God and how they relate to him was very much formed by their absent father, yes… but also from how they were parented by their mother. They then also began to explain how the Lord slowly but surely was revealing to them every step of the way that he is NOT like what they had learned. He is not absent, he doesn’t expect them to carry every burden on their own, he knows what they need and provides. All these lies, not about themselves, but about God that were being undone! It was so beautiful to hear how God was working in her life to do this!

    Now I know, of course God can defend his character. Yet this young woman had to have a safe place to begin to unpack all that, and it was in the midst of these girls she found it. And here I was thinking I had nothing I could offer but my home and a meal.. yet that is exactly what the Lord used to create that space. Of course. He will always use what we offer, when we invite him to be part of what is going on.

    But back to my point about parenting.

    There is so much I want to say here, and I just hope I can say it right. I know those of us who are parents would say we did the best we could, and maybe we look back and have regrets (or laugh that we’ll gladly pay for our kids therapy!) . None of us are perfect, and at some point our kids figure that out and have to forgive us for things we didn’t understand ourselves. I get that. But there is a whole deeper level of hurt and pain that many millennials are facing – and they have to dig even further to even know they are worthy of love. I see many struggling to just have a sense of self that is worth fighting for, to know they can make it in the world, let alone get out from under so many hurtful words that came from home.

    Even as I type this I know.. its no different than previous generations, as I am sure many of you have had to do the same thing.

    So why am I pointing this out?

    Because those of us who are older (yes, I would put myself smack dab in that now that I am parenting 20 year olds myself) cannot underestimate the role we play in the lives of the younger generation. I don’t care if they are in our families, our churches, our workplaces, or our neighborhoods. Some of them are struggling to find or keep faith, or figure out who God is, but they are wrestling it out from under some very difficult stories. Some of you get that, because you had to do the same thing…..some of you, like me, probably don’t get the struggle. I am grateful that when I think of my own mom, I know she played a big role in making sure I knew I was loved, and that is probably why it wasn’t hard for me to believe that about God.

    Whatever you do, don’t give up on the millennials around you, and don’t set them to the sidelines just because their lives look a bit messy or misdirected. Go find them. Be willing to feed them and just sit and ask about their world. Ask the Lord to show Himself to them, and then pray for them in the quiet and let the Holy Spirit do the work only he can do. It will take a lot more time than you think or might want, but God is infinitely patient, and things often work on his timeline, not ours (imagine that!)

    Trust that truly, he is able to “make everything (and everyone’s story) beautiful in its time” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

    Blessings!

    A new take on Ephesians 2

    June is Pride month, for the LGBTQ/ queer community, and usually I don’t post much. Not to ignore it, but more because I can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it. This year, I have been ruminating on a few things. Specifically….I have been reading Ephesians…. and yesterday morning I was stuck on chapter 2, specifically verses 14-18:

    “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

    He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

    Let me just start by saying I realize not everyone is going to track with where I am going, and that is ok. I have to be faithful to the heart God has given me for the LGBTQ community. If you are open at all, I’d encourage you just to listen. Not judge, not condemn, but listen. That’s all I ask. I’ll trust that if it’s something the Lord wants to teach you about now, he’ll do that. I’m not here to argue or debate. Just share…and plead.

    I know we all see this passage in Ephesians and read it literally, that yes, we who are not Jewish by heritage now have access to the savior promised to them. We are grafted in. Having been married to a Messianic Jew for 25 years, I get that so clearly. I used to joke that I am about as gentile as they get (haha!) But I am trying to put myself in Paul’s shoes, at how revolutionary it might have been for early believers, to include the Gentiles in all the promises of God. After all, for generations the Gentiles were people who they just knew were outside of God’s favor. God didn’t love them, they were just sure of it. Heck, the honesty of Psalms shows they prayed for God to smite them and bring judgement on them. Granted, they were worshipping another god, bowing to idols, I know. But still.

    I can’t help but wonder if here, even in a country full of such richness of culture and heritage, we get stuck in reading this as Jew/Gentile and we forget it has such larger implications. Could we (shouldn’t we?) begin to read this that Jesus has brought peace to us, between those who are “same sex oriented” and those who are “opposite-sex oriented”?

    Call me heretical, but what if we could, in grace and mercy, read Paul’s words to us like this instead:

    “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united queer and straight into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us….Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

    Isn’t that what this passage really means? In Christ, people who were at opposite ends were brought together to reflect the goodness and richness of the glory of God. In times of election, I could say the same for Democrats and Republicans, frankly. At the cross, we are supposed to be equals. Yet somehow…. this seems a bigger bite to chew.

    Back in Paul’s time, I’m sure some Jews thought “but those Gentiles are not holy! They do things/think things we aren’t supposed to as Jews”.

    Hm. I thought Jesus made us holy and that settled the score. Holiness, sanctification, being made whole and complete into who we were created to be, to reflect God’s glory in all its fullness, to a world that thinks there is no hope – isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t that what happens to all of us when we submit our lives to Jesus and walk out his principles? More than than that, sure it feels risky but we have Peter right there in Acts arguing for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises of God in our sacred text. What if this became us, arguing for the inclusion of those who are LGBTQ in our own churches?

    Too often we shut the door at even considering and asking questions. We tout verses “The Bible says THIS”! I know what it says. I have done the research on original language, original usage, passage context, and read things on both sides of the argument. But do we ever enter into conversation to see their humanity, ask their story, see that they too bear the image of the one we claim? Or do we stay away because we don’t know how to start? All it takes is an invite to lunch and a humble heart willing to learn.

    If they are seeking Jesus, they are part of the body of Christ – just a part too afraid to bring their whole selves to church because they fear how everyone will react. If you have reached a place of trust with someone so they actually TELL you this is part of their story – LOVE THEM. They have not “changed” who they are. You are just now seeing a part of them they don’t show too many people. Defend them. Include them. Have them to dinner. Help them grow in the gifts God has given them. Pray for them. Then help others get to a place of compassion and understanding too.

    The larger LGBTQ community needs the life of God just like the larger straight community, people. We all need Jesus. We all have massive glaring inadequacies, we have all failed, we all want better for our kids, our communities, our families and the world. Can we make it more about that than their sexuality? They are SO MUCH DEEPER than that. We all are.

    Not the only one

    So often, we feel like we are the only person going through [insert experience here]. The thought of sharing what is really going on can be terrifying, intimidating, and vulnerable, no matter how big or how little it is. I remember when our kids hit the teen years and we started to deal with some… teen stuff. Let’s just say I did NOT want to share that with too many people, partly because I thought it reflected on how I was doing as a parent (it didn’t) and partly because I was afraid of what people would think – and let me just tell you, God is pretty faithful to not let you stay tied to that fear 🙂

    We had some friends that we would share holidays with since our family wasn’t local, and these holiday gatherings (in addition to the occasional coffee or margarita / chips /salsa double date) always led to catching up on how we were really doing. I remember how risky it felt to share was what going on, how it was affecting us as parents, and in some ways not really knowing what to do but walking through it anyway. What always amazed me was how much THEY were going through the same thing – whether it was attitude, friend concerns, sneaking out, low self esteem in their kids – you name it. Our oldest two were nearly the same age as theirs, and so if they weren’t dealing with it now, guaranteed by the next holiday – they were as well.

    It was so normalizing to know that someone else was struggling, just like us. Someone else was trying to raise their kids with respect and honestly, with a faith foundation and with hope towards the future. Someone else who was doing the best they could but things were not turning out like you’d expected. Someone else who “got” parenting being hard.

    I’m guessing you know what I am talking about – whether its talking about having a newborn and walking through life half dazed from lack of sleep, or talking about the terrible two’s (or three’s) and how to manage four under the age of 5. It could be the weight of having aging parents, or having mental illness in the family. Being an alcoholic and finding others who get the struggle.

    It helps you know you are not alone, and somehow, that brings strength. We need each other!!!

    Well, with all that was going on in our family, I figured that I would never find anyone who was going through the same thing, so I had settled to just having a story that no one understood.

    God obviously had a different plan (doesn’t He always??)

    This past January I went to the Queer Christian Fellowship conference (formerly Gay Christian Network) in Denver. I’d wanted to go in the past, fueled by a desire to see if what I hoped was really true – and it was. I had written about this in a previous blog (search Part 2: Caught in the Middle on my home page) about how I felt stuck in the middle in a way – because I believed in the gifts of the spirit, the presence of God in worship and in fellowship, and yet I was gay affirming. I have never really seen the two exist together, outside of some very brave communities in other states. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to see both old and young in the LGBTQ community there, worshipping Jesus, just like me.

    For once I was the one that didn’t really fit in, but they didn’t care. There were singles, couples, friends and allies, pastors and parents that had been rejected by their churches because they came out in support of their own kids that were LGBTQ. They were a family of their own, a minority, because the larger “C”hurch didn’t know what to do with them or how to answer them.

    I mention this because of one of the sessions I went to on Mixed Orientation Marriages, as they called it. I wanted to hear what they had to say, and if they had anything to offer – given that my marriage was now ending due to having been in one (although I never had heard that term before.)

    Although the leaders didn’t really have much to say that spoke to my situation, they gave some good advice to the younger folks there, that they need to go in eyes wide open, because it will present some challenges. [to which I add a resounding YES IT DOES]

    Someone in the session asked how faith made a difference, when a marriage was ending because one spouse is straight and the other is not. I couldn’t stay quiet, it was just too personal. What did I have to lose? I stood up, and with determination (and a few tears) spoke up:

    My faith meant that my vow to honor my spouse was going to stand, even as we dissolved our marriage, no matter how painful it was

    My faith meant that we were going to commit to remain friends and raise our kids together, not just walk away

    My faith meant that I was committed to facing my bitterness, anger, grief, feelings of betrayal, and whatever else the process brought , and not stay in that place

    My faith meant that even in this, I knew I had to honor the Lord.

    It was in this strange place that I found, of all things, a few folks that made me feel not so alone – because they were going through the exact same thing. I cannot tell you what relief I felt, to know someone else GOT IT.

    Because this is the stuff you can’t talk about in church circles……

    Releasing your spouse and your vows as an act of love and sacrifice

    Tearfully coming to the recognition that someone who is gay or lesbian marrying someone who is straight doesn’t always work… and the shock that comes when you realize the truth

    Knowing you have a story that no one else is really going to get, and people might very well condemn you for making the choice you are making. And that you will forever live in the tension of having broken covenant in order to set one person free

    What I found that weekend were people who got me and what I was going through – and others who would cry with me because they were the gay spouses who had also gone through this or they were couples just starting the process.

    I know it sounds crazy, but there was something hard and holy about that weekend for me. I can’t say there’s any verse or lesson I learned, but what I walked away with was this invaluable truth:

    We are never alone, no matter how strange or hard our story is. Sometimes you just have to look in more nooks and crannies to find the ones who get you.

    The other thing I landed on, as I pondered the events of the weekend is this, which – again – if you cant go here with me, all I ask is that you consider the challenge I am raising:

    The church needs to change its message so very badly. Please, please do not ever tell someone who is struggling to understand their sexuality to marry someone to “fix” it and “make” them straight. Jon and I have been there, done that. We have prayed, we have fasted, we have cried out to God and leaned on him for everything… and nothing changed. His orientation is the same as it was before we got married (even though I didn’t know til after we were married…. and that is a whole other story). Please love them as they are, not as people that need to be fixed.

    I know clearly what the Bible text speaks of is husband and wife, and that is what I long for… but I am straight. I have no earthly idea what its like to be told you can only ever marry someone who you will never be attracted to…. but can we let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters make that decision on their own, and not demand it of them? Can we trust their discernment for their own lives?

    I have hope though, hope that this next generation and the wave of grace that is being shown and cried out for in scattered places might just allow our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to stop being rejected, might stop judging families and parents and making them feel like outsiders because their kids aren’t straight.

    Hope that one day, we will be able to read Paul’s words in Colossians 3 and know that we have brothers and sisters who identify as gay or lesbian, but they too are “taking off their old selves, being renewed in knowledge in image of their creator”…and that in Christ, gay and straight are no longer dividing factors. That in Christ, we are equal at the foot of the cross.

    In closing, if you are looking for some books to read on this topic, I’d recommend the following:

    Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin (great book about the heart cry of the LGBTQ community as well as building bridges in churches)

    Torn, but Justin Lee (his story of growing up in a “perfect” Christian home, and how he realized he was gay at a young age, even loving Jesus and crying out to God for change, yet believing he has been given the freedom by God to seek a relationship instead of being celibate)

    Washed and Waiting, by Wesley Hill (about those who are in the LGBTQ community and are holding to celibacy in the church)

    Unclobber, by Andrew Marin (his story as a pastor, as well as digging into handling of the verses that address homosexuality in the bible)

    A confession

    Tonight, I struggle to write this blog. Why, I ask myself? I know a piece of it is because I have had a hard time putting it into words myself. It has taken a few weeks to even understand exactly what I have feeling … or “wrestling” with, if you will. So what do I do? I pack up my backpack and head to the newest coffee shop I found, about 20 minutes from my house. I have become a fan of lavender lattes as of late, and they make some pretty darn good ones! My hope is that somehow the atmosphere and getting out of the house will help me craft what I want to say…. so here goes.

    As some of you may or may not know, I moved to Colorado just last year after having been planted in northern Illinois for almost exactly 13 years. Me and the family left a wonderful little church in Plainfield, one that will always hold a special place in my heart. I knew coming to Colorado Springs would afford us a plethora of churches to visit, and I am thankful that God helped me find the one I am at now. I have a great home group and am growing in relationship with them. I am helping with something small every week, and I am gradually getting to know people. Yet last week the very last thing the youth pastor said in his sermon on Jonah hit me harder than I wanted to admit:

    What are YOU running from?

    That question sat in my soul like the ones that do when you know the Holy Spirit is speaking to you oh-so-very-directly. The kind where you might want to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la-I-cant-hear-you!” — but you can, of course, because, well, it’s the Lord and He is pretty gentle but persistent when there is something He wants you to pay attention to.

    Sigh.

    Yes Lord, I’m listening. What AM I running from?

    The more I sit and think, the more I become very aware of the fact that I am running from diving in and getting more connected, and I hate that recognition. I know that here, the best way is to join one of their book studies, and that is the LAST thing I want to do. I frankly have no desire to open up and share my entire life with strangers right now. The 8 friends I have made are keeping me connected just fine, thank you.

    Yet the sense that is no longer sufficient for me is relentless. I know I am in a phase where I have a lot to learn, and my argument that school starts in the fall so of course I won’t have time – seems petty. Somehow I realize that sitting on the sidelines is no longer going to be an option for me if I am to dive in and find the life here that I want….

    And suddenly I realize I have to face something I have not wanted to face. Maybe you’ll get this, if you’ve been there, or you know someone who has:

    Because of other peoples’ hurt and pain over the church, I fear what they will think when I dive in again. How can I go back to the church (big C) when she sometimes gets it wrong, when she has hurt and caused pain and brokenness in so many lives, lives I have had front-row seats to watch?

    I certainly have been the recipient of some of those wounds. I have had to keep secrets and hold my tongue for the sake of showing respect (or out of fear); I have seen hurts be perpetuated and felt helpless to make a difference. I hear the voice of the critics and those who have walked away … and sometimes all I can say is… I know.. I hear you.. and I am so, so sorry… how I wish I could take away your pain…

    With so many of her flaws, why could I ever go back?

    I know that is probably a question some of you have asked as well.

    For me – my answer is this, no matter how much it might not make sense to some:

    How can I not?

    Because I still think the Church is beautiful when she gets it right. I can’t give up on her. God is doing new things in her, every day, and yes it takes a long time to move mountains but I can’t let go because the deep love of Jesus is so much more than we have ever understood. I want to be part of what helps fix the wrongs and mends the wounds, if that is even possible.

    Because I know this thing of faith is still a treasure in a field that is worth selling all I have. This kingdom where everyone has a place – old and young, Republican and Democrat, black and white, native and immigrant, rich and poor, gay and straight – they all belong.

    Because this project God started is still a good one and the world still needs to be transformed by radical acts of love and mercy. The poor still need Justice, the forgotten and ignored still need to be lifted up and told they are beautiful and made in the image of and amazing God who loves without limits. Because we still need to learn how to look someone we don’t understand in the eye and give them the respect they deserve, and I firmly believe it is the work of God in someone’s life that can make that kind of lasting change if we will submit to it.

    That is the kingdom work, my friends, and our world is crying out for it.

    So wherever you are – if you are in church, if your relationship with church is tenuous at best, or if you have given up – know that the treasure you once found is still in that field. Push past the fights over land rights and ownership crap, close your eyes to everyone picketing around the piece of land that say its not for sale and you can’t buy it because you aren’t worthy or because its not going to matter anyway.

    The treasure is still worth holding onto, and your Jesus is still there waiting, just for you. I’m pretty sure he is hurting for what you have had to put up with too.