The creativity of “calling”

Early in my years as an evangelical Christian, the idea of calling was huge. Every question, every prayer, everything it seemed was designed to make sure that we, as college students, were seeking to follow God’s “call” on our life.

It was if there was one thing and if you missed it, you were destined to live life in the shadows of faith. Of course that is totally NOT the way to see it or understand calling. Yes, sure sometimes people hear or sense God leading them in a certain direction, but that doesn’t happen to everyone.. and if you are one of the people who (like me) who never “heard” God tell them to do something specific… you didn’t miss a thing.

Now, let me state for the record: I know I am certainly not the first to write about this, nor am I going to sit and write about what calling really means or how to find it or the plethora of other approaches one could take.

Instead, I want to just ask you to sit with me in the wonder and vastness of the creativity of God, when he created people of every nation and tribe and tongue, with brilliance and intelligence that I can just not fathom. Then I want to invite you to think of what “calling” really means, in the wake of this vast, creative passion.

I work with some brilliant solution architects, data gurus and programmers. The way their minds think boggles me. I’ve worked with them for 26 years and I still cannot do the things they can.

A good friend of mine from back in Virginia is such an amazing cook, he can make a gourmet meal no matter what he has in his kitchen. He was like those apps that you enter all your ingredients and they find you a recipe… before smart phones ever existed. I’m pretty good in the kitchen given a recipe…. but its no comparison to what he can do.

Two new friends are so musically gifted that I often sit in their music studios in their houses (well, one is in our garage).. and marvel at their screens and mixing tools and ability to blend instruments and voices and produce these beautiful melodies. Where do song lyrics come from? How are they inspired to write? I could never do that.. I just enjoy the fruit of their labors.

Then there is the whole architecture thing. How in the world do architects know just how to build bridges so they will sway with wind and storms, but not break? Did you know that there are people that climb them to check them, because their climbing skills are such that they can handle it if something happened, and they aren’t afraid?

What about this. Do you ever sit in the doctors office and look at the body charts they have on the wall? I did, the other day, waiting for my yearly eye checkup. The eye is crazy detailed. The reality that someone delights in learning all that and studying it so that they can help people see, or do eye surgery? Fascinating.

When my older daughter decided she wanted to head into the medical field, we took a trip to MTSU as she was considering nursing school at the time. One of the things I will never forget was a questionnaire they gave her as a screening tool. It had a bunch of true/false questions on it like “I faint easily” and “I can handle the sight of blood” to “I am generally calm in a crisis”. Appropriate questions for any medical career.

She just laughed reading them. “I watch brain surgery videos for fun,” she commented.

All I could think of was this:

Sure.. God called some to be prophets and teachers and pastors and stuff… but others he has called to be firefighters and paramedics, doctors and nurses, brain surgeons and every other surgeon you can think of. Only some people are cut out to see all that blood and guts … and its definitely NOT me!

Then there are the quiet ones, the ones that do things no one may seem to notice but play really imporant roles too. They type 90 words a minute and transcribe legal cases, or notes from a meeting with a CEO, or they work with people who have had their houses burnt down to and do all the paperwork to rebuild, or they design buildings, or they come up with new and creative ways to help sustain entire communities in other countries.

Some run non-profits and barely scrape by, but they are changing lives by getting people out of debt, or building wells for fresh water, or making sure people have shoes.. or that they are pulled out of slavery. They knit or sew or make candles or soap, or provide micro loans so people can get back on their feet.

Then you have your moms and dads of little ones that are so creative they can build forts out of the collection of toilet paper tubes and a few sheets and make $100 last a week when they need to, teenagers that are like little kid magnets that give their parents a much needed break. Teachers. Oh Teachers, the ones that have had to learn how to do things online when they never have before, how to engage kids and try to make it interesting, whether they are 4 year olds or 17 year olds. The ones that fork over hundreds out of their own pockets to finish their classrooms and draw their own diagrams and teach history in a way that kids can relate to it.

So

many

more.

I could go on and on – and so could you, I know. The thought of how people are drawn to certain careers or things they do to make a living or to help others just blows my mind.

So calling? Its ALL of it. All of it is a calling of God to take care of the world he has given us. Its right there in Genesis chapter 1 – fill the earth, take care of it, manage it.

He knew we were going to need all types of skills to do just that. … and no one can limit the breadth and width of what they are.

I love that even in the Old Testament, trades workers were called out. Bezalel and Ohiliab were specifically named for their craftsmanship, intelligence, and knowledge (and I’d say creativity too) – read Exodus 35:30-36:2 where they are highlighted – but really chapters 36-38 explain everything they and their team built and designed.

So my friends, whatever your job is, whether you are paid or not, whether you spend hours doing it or just a few – know that you are gifted and talented to dig into that and do it WELL, because YOUR job is important.

I also want to pass along a few GREAT resources I found – check them out if you are struggling to understand why what you do matters!

BOOK: Work Matters, by Tom Nelson

WEBSITE: http://www.theologyofwork.org

Lessons of a (late) newlywed, Part 4: Out of the Shadows

A good friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Sarah Bessey’s new book “A Rhythm of Prayer”, and have been reading it little by little. Today, I read the benediction even though I’m not even half way done. Why? because.. well because why read it in order?

It got me thinking.

There are these two huge canvas pictures that hang on the wall in our house. They hold a central spot really, visible when you sit at the dining room table – you can’t miss them. Both are from the rafting trip through the Grand Canyon Trung organized and led over a decade ago. At the start – 16 people, sitting on a raft with the oars and paddle boards, helmets and PFD’s (personal flotation devices .. aka lifejackets).. and in warm jackets. At the end, still 16 people, but some gone and some new ones, sitting around a cooler with the sun in the background, all a few shades darker from three weeks of having been on the river.

I have heard stories about this trip from nearly every person I have met since Trung came into my life a few years back…. enough to make me wonder if another trip can ever live up to it (but we’re hoping we can get a permit some day for another one-so we will see!) I can name and have met almost every single person on that trip as well. Of course by now, everyone is a bit older, some are more grey-haired…. and some have less hair. One no longer has her dreads, having traded them for a shorter cut that her (now 3) children won’t yank on.

If I’m honest, I have felt like I have had to walk in the shadow of this great life of adventure my husband has lived before he met me, hearing tales not only of this one rafting trip but of other grand adventures he has both done and invited others into. They make my meager family camping trips and races seems so small in comparison.

and yet

I am reminded of the following truth:

He and I have spent lifetimes investing in and becoming experts in our respective worlds: his, adventure; mine-family/relationships and ministry. They both have been deep and noble pursuits, and neither is greater than the other. They are just different.

It is easy for me to look at all he has done, and think I have nothing so exciting to speak of (which is crazy, it’s all a matter of perspective, I know)

So as I sit and think… a smile comes to my face, as my imagination and the (hardly) poetic side of me tries to put words to the picture that comes to mind.

He has lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are no disasters, of gear packing and outfitting, of navigating rivers and rapids. He has camped in sub-zero weather, carried the heaviest of packs and walked for miles. He has rappelled down ravines and climbed up frozen waterfalls. He has done back-country skied and snow-shoed. I’m sure he has had some harrowing rescues in his day, stories yet to come out.

He has climbed mountains and seen the stars more brilliant than you can imagine. He has found solace in the silence of nature. He has taught so many the things he knows, calling them to lives of character and respect for the great outdoors. I could go on – and should you need proof, there’s a room in our house full of gear that can attest to any one of a thousand stories.

Me?

I too have lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are not disasters, only mine included snacks and diapers, sunscreen and sun hats, pack -n-plays for nap-time and books for reading before bed. I have outfitted and gear packed, but it came in yearly cycles with the changing of school seasons and backpacks and new supplies, whether it was crayons, dry erase markers, or the newest graphical calculator. My miles were to and from the bus stop, along soccer field sidelines and in the green room or ticket booth at theater shows (along with the miles I ran for my own sake). I can’t say I did any rappelling, but I got pretty creative with a pulley system in a two story house to avoid running upstairs to get something small.. does that count?

I have navigated rivers of moody teenagers, more than I can count, waves of emotion that seemed endless, covered in prayer. The mountains I have climbed seemed more spiritual than physical many years, trusting God to move the ones that seemed to big and help me climb the ones I needed to see beyond. I think my rescues were more in the things you cannot see, victories won for my kids and the lives of those in our church that only God can see (and of course He was really the rescuer there, I just did my part). I challenged people to lives of integrity, to believe there was more to this life than they could see… and to place their trust in the One that created it all. I have photo albums and journals galore, should you need proof.

I think of all this, how our lives have parallelled in ways I never knew, and I have to laugh…

because true to form,

what he has done with his hands and in the natural for others

I have done with my heart and in the faith lives of others

Not that he hasn’t impacted the faith lives of others – for I KNOW he has.. and not that I haven’t invited others into adventures – for I have (just not the same kind).

The reality is that we have both been living a life of adventure really – his full of gear and the wildness of the outdoors, mine full of tears and prayers and the wildness of how watching how God moves in the world.

Now we get to see what it looks like when those things come together.

It’s pretty darn beautiful if you ask me.

Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.

Hallelujah!

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 3: A trip down memory lane

This weekend we headed back to Nebraska to see Trung’s folks. I had only met them once when they came through Denver on their way out for vacation, and then only for about an hour or so. They couldn’t come to the wedding due to the Covid outbreak, and so, nearly two years after I met them, after we knew they were vaccinated, we decided it was time.

Visiting his parents has been like stepping back in time for me. White slate fireplace, much like my own grandpa’s back in Idaho. Red and white marbled tile in the basement, like my grandpa’s office. An old but beautiful claw bathtub in the basement bathroom. Wood paneling like a house I lived in as a teen. Nothing updated, nothing new, random things crammed in every possible corner… and family pictures displayed proudly on the main wall, for all to see.

I love it.

Pictures of their kids growing up hung on nearly every wall in those multiple-photo-collage-frames. Graduation pictures too, as each one of their kids shook hands and earned their diplomas. Then the family pictures when they were home from college (and yes Trung even pointed out the freshman fifteen he gained that first year – haha!). Grandkid photos on the frig and stuck between the glass and wood frame of the china cabinet. Our wedding portrait with his sisters and their families right there, in the middle of it all.

They welcomed me in as if they’d known me for years. Sharing family stories over tea, passing along family heirlooms, things they had saved for Trung for when he got married…even offering to buy us a new frig if we needed it when Trung jokingly said they could bequeath their frig to us in the will. Sitting there, listening…. hearing other parts of their family story that were new to me, I began to see more of where the man I fell in love with gets it from.

Oh sure, I grew up in a family that would have “given the shirt off their back” to anyone who needed. I always heard that about all my family back in Idaho, and I watched my parents model the same kind of generosity. But this was different for me somehow. These are immigrants who came here escaping a Communist regime. They did anything and everything to make it here, provide for their 5 kids (who are now all very successful). They helped bring other families here. They live on a retirement salary now, and yet here they are offering to help, still. My parents do the same, and I would do the same for my kids, but there is something so humbling about it coming from a family that started with nothing. Literally. It’s not that my parents were wealthy or that I was anything more than average growing up, but my dad was an officer in the military. We did just fine. Mom sewed my clothes until practically high school, I dressed like a dork in the 80’s like everyone did, we hardly ever ate out (and when we did it was Pizza Hut or KFC)… but listening to how they left everything behind to start a new life here? Vastly different from my story. It’s more than humbling.

Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that just because you may have been born here that you had it easy. I know countless people that were native-born Americans (of various backgrounds) but their families have similar struggling stories. Deep poverty where there wasn’t ever food in the frig, families who worked two jobs not only to provide but also to move to safer neighborhoods. People whose parents prayed their kids wouldn’t be the ones shot by stray bullets. White families, black families, brown families. Every color, every nationality. Poverty and the struggle to make it here is no respecter of the level of melanin you have in your skin. But the pursuit to work hard, the goal to provide, not to have the “latest and greatest’ at every turn, but to have what you need, and to have a little extra so you can still help others who have less than you?

Priceless. Necessary. A more than honorable goal.

I have had a number of discussions with 20-somethings, and one of the most striking things I think I have ever heard was a statement that they think the “American Dream” is unreachable for them, because everything has become so expensive and they can’t find the jobs that allow them to earn what they need to get there. But if an immigrant family with 5 kids can sit at the end of their life and look back and realize what they have done…. how can some version not be attainable in the next generations?

Somehow I question if what is sold as the “American Dream” has at its focus the wrong thing. Why does it seem to have a particular expected outcome, so that the next generations think its unattainable? I guess I am just thinking that no matter how you define it, whether its a place to call your own, a secure job that supports you (and maybe more), a travel budget, freedom to work when you want, or whatever else your goal is, its going to take hard work. Long hours. Saving and not going into debt if you can avoid it. Times you succeed and times you fail – and learn to not make the same mistakes. You can’t control life all the time… so I guess I wonder….are you asking the right questions?

Jesus talked some about working really, really hard, only to lose your life. I don’t think for one minute he was saying hard work and providing for yourself (and family) wasn’t a good goal. It’s just that there is MORE than just working. More than just what your hands can produce. Are you looking for that along the way? Are you looking for what is hidden, are you cultivating that inner life and contentment, are you investing in helping others out of their hard places?

There was a song back in the 80’s called “Doubly Good to You” by Amy Grant. I think the lyrics express at least some of the questions we need to be asking:

“If you look in the mirror at the end of a hard day, and you know in your heart you have not lied, and if you gave love freely and if you earned an honest wage…..”

Those questions – aren’t they a better way to measure life? This certainly seems to be more of the lens that I see my parents have used to measure their life now that they are in their 70’s… and I see this in Trung’s parents as well.

So my question and challenge to you, my friends, is this: What can you learn from the lives of those that are different from you? Have you taken the time to listen — really listen? And if you have, is it changing you? For those of you who walk with Jesus, filled with his Spirit.. are you letting it give you new eyes to be grateful, new ways to show compassion to others just trying to make it?

Musings from this local Nebraska coffee shop……

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 )

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.

That craving….

Photo Credit: Free Photo Library provided by WordPress. Whoever took this picture.. I would have loved to be your taste tester 🙂

My kids have always known me for someone who, if you put a bag of almond M&Ms in front of me, will easily eat the entire bag in one sitting. There is just something about the perfect balance of crunch and chocolate. So too, a good chocolate mousse, the kind you take one spoonful of and savor, tasting every bit of the chocolatey goodness. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

I realize not everyone has such a liking for sweets. For some of you, this kind of reaction might only happen tasting a well-grilled, mouth-watering steak or a flavorful soup. Or, if you’re like my girls – it comes with the first bite of some good old Chicago deep dish pizza!

Regardless, we all know what it is to crave something, to savor said craving, to lean back and just smile as all those taste buds explode and send whatever good chemicals firing in your brain that it sends. “Delightful” might be one way to describe it.. “Delectable”…. “Heavenly”… or just down right “Damn that was good!” (Ok, some of you are going to just have to forgive me for that and get on with reading :-).

Why do I bring this up? Well, because its something we can all track with at some level or another. This idea of craving and desire. Oh, sure, maybe for you it’s not food based. Goodness knows there are sundry other things that we crave – some good for us, some not so good. When the weather’s nice, I also crave a good 10-15 mile bike ride to get my blood pumping. In quarrantine, you could say I’m craving a night filled with good friends and great conversations (and amazing food of course)!

Last night I picked up a book I read a few years ago (Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythms: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul) and skimmed the last few chapters again. I realized then that I had never actually finished the book. In one section, he talks about a sermon he preached on Phil 3:16, and challenged those listening to think about things they used to be sure of in God, but somehow had been stolen away, or maybe just lost. The movie “The Stone of Destiny” was a bit of inspiration, and so of course I had to watch it last night.

But it got me to thinking about what I had lost in my own life in some ways:

Delight…. in the Lord.

It doesn’t mean I stopped loving or seeking Him. He’s been true to every promise, faithful to me time and time again. But as I think back through most of my life’s walk, there was a childlike delight about my faith. Even through the tough years of raising teens, it remained. I don’t think I realized it had faltered….. but it did. Somewhere along the way of re-establishing who I was… it got a bit lost I think?

So today, I want to share with you my favorite passage that always reminds me of what my SOUL needs to crave. I hope, as you continue to persist during these times of quarrantine, this can be an encouragement for you too! (and I’m sorry this post is so long. There just wasn’t any other way to do it).

Isaiah 55:1-2

Looking at the first verse as more poetry, it speaks of cravings, and opposites: Thirst – there’s water! No money? – its ok, you can come buy and eat! In an agrarian society where you are completely dependant on the elements for food and water, I have a feeling this sounded a lot richer to the people who first heard it. But look at the progression. Remember that physical representations in scripture are often just natural things we can wrap our heads around to understand the greater message being conveyed.

Hebrew doesn’t have all the words we do and so sometimes translators have to add other words in to have the passage make sense and convey meaning. So I looked at just the Hebrew words. Now, please understand, I am still learning this stuff but still – in Hebrew it reads more like this:

“Why wages bread, earnings satisfy satisfy? Listen, listen eat/devour good good!” — still pretty similar to what we have in our translations. Its easy to read this and think: well of course I am working to earn money and feed my family. That is not the point. He’s saying LISTEN: There’s something more. You work to feed your self, your family – but there is MORE. Better.

Then this last part [anag nephesh deshen] : Be happy, delight. Your soul, desire, emotion, passion, the breathing substance and innner part of you. Fatness!Blessing!

Do you hear that?

God invites us to come to him to have our soul’s craving satisfied. That deep part of us that no one gets to see, that part where hope is supposed to dwell, the part that holds our emotion, our hidden desires, our longings, our fears.

Why do we think our earnings, our work (or what we do to keep busy now that you may be out of work due to the Covid crisis) – will really satisfy? Yes, its needed. Yes we have to feed ourselves and our families. But there is something deeper here to be learned, my friends. This means we have to step into the world of actually bringing our souls to him and asking him to satisfy that deep longing. Online church, zoom bible studies can’t always do that for you.

Who knows? Maybe its something else that you once had in your walk but you lost somewhere along the way. I’d encourage you to think deeply about what that was.

Trust?

Hope?

Joy?

A desire to even talk with Him? Belief that He actually cared about you?

Wonder about who He really is?

This week: I challenge you. Commit to getting away. Go for a walk. Sit in your car at the park, or in a chair at the far end of your back yard, or on your apartment balcony.

Wake up your soul, and invite the One who created you to breathe whatever is missing back into your life.

Blessings my friends!

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

    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.