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

Can we let them represent?

A friend of mine and her husband do something really cute. Each year, they get one of those small square flip calendars that has one page for each day, showing what day it is to celebrate. Like National Chocolate Chip Cookie day, or National Ballet Day or National Sock Day. Then they do just about all of them. It’s fun to watch when they post their pictures on social media – and definitely gave them something fun to pursue this past year staying home!

Needless to say, when I went to Michael’s last year for some scrapbook pages, I ran across a sticker book for calendars that had a bunch of those holidays in them and I just had to get it.  I have had fun using them making certain desserts for my husband and I, and for sending notes (like to my niece.. did you know your birthday is on national bologna day?)  – but I will never forget the day one of the stickers hit home for me.

Back in March, my youngest chose to use International Women’s Day to come out as non-binary, in a pretty public forum. I know it was a huge step for them, but I will be honest that I scrolled past it and was a bit shocked. Not that we hadn’t talked some before then, but because I immediately went to a place of trying to figure out how I was going to respond when folks called or texted me to ask me about it, and to check in on how I was doing. What’s a mom to do? No matter how you feel about someone coming out, when it’s your own kid, it hits you differently, I will not deny that. Regardless of what it caused me to begin processing internally, I determined I would remain committed to love them. 

I worried of the judgement that my youngest would face, not just from family and friends but even people that didn’t know them.. and sure enough, it happened. The bullying they dealt with in junior high didn’t even compare. We’re talking actual hate speech on one platform. I don’t care how much someone may disagree with their coming out – it was flat out horrible. Thank goodness they didn’t let it speak into their life at this age, but all of my momma bear protectiveness went up just hearing about it, that’s for sure.

So back to the sticker calendar. That first day was really hard for me, I admit. I hadn’t checked the sticker calendar for a while, and low and behold, on March 9th I saw this:

I had to laugh. After many tears and prayers the 24 hours prior, I saw it as God’s nudge to step back from it for a minute and think of the big picture: 

I know the journey this kid has taken. I know the Lord has spoken – and still does – very uniquely to them. They have witnessed God’s saving power in their own life. That is still an important thing to them. Sure, they are in the “figure out who you are” phase that all 20 year olds go through right now, but God’s right there in the middle. He knows them.

For the next generation, they will be growing up in a world where “coming out” happens less and less. From a societal perspective, understanding self as male/female/non-binary may be more common. Schools are considering changing to more gender inclusive language and teaching of alternate family structures.  I know that according to the latest Gallup poll, only around 5.6% of Americans self identify as LGBTQ, so it’s still going to be a very small percentage of folks.  But acceptance of this community will grow, even as we have seen legal rights be extended to them in the forms of marriage and equal protection under the law from a job perspective. From a human right’s perspective, I’m glad to see this happen. 

As a Christian, it could be easy to shrug this off and say that is “of the world” and to stay in my nice bubble of being heterosexual and just not worry about it. But as I’ve tried to share my own thoughts and considerations in my previous posts, the body of Christ cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and ignore this small percentage of people – especially the next generation – as they recognize their own identity. Why? Because its not just “in the world”. It’s people in our churches that have been silent about it because they are not sure people can handle the truth, it’s your kids or your nieces and nephews, or it could be kids in your neighborhood.

Yes, I know it’s not something as a Christian you might be comfortable with. You might wonder how as a Christian you could stand alongside someone who is LGBTQ and be an ally and still honor God, because doesn’t the Bible say homosexuality is wrong? (again, I do not disagree that the scriptures address it, but there is enough I have read about how to interpret the context and original language that has challenges me to have a more grace-filled view of this as well as to question of some misinterpretation. See end of post for book recommendations.)

There are too many that I know who have walked away from church because they could not reconcile their sexual identity with their understanding of God. That breaks my heart. Since when is sexuality related at all to salvation? 

My questions are these:

For the next generation, for those in the LGBTQ community and their friends, how do we ensure the news of the kingdom is still told? How do we make sure the story of redemption is one they will carry on, one they will seek Jesus for, one they will submit their lives to? If we do not accept them in the church, how will they learn the story?

On top of that – who will the larger LGBTQ community let speak into their lives? My guess is, they are more willing and able to hear the message of faith and God’s deliverance and freedom from someone who is in the community and can still bind themselves to Jesus. 

So… can we let Jesus be their Messiah?

Each one of us rises or falls to our own Master. Do we really think that since God knit them together in their mother’s womb (as Psalm 139 teaches), He didn’t know that when their pituitary glad kicked in and puberty started, those rush of hormones was going to make them realize they liked someone of the same sex, or be attracted to both? Yes they probably tried to hide it because its not acceptable to say that in church or their family. Even if they do mention it for prayer, there’s often a sense of shame with it because they cannot make these unwanted attractions go away. Why would they choose to feel this way? So they hide them until they move away from home, and because 20 year olds naturally go through times of questioning their parents faith to make it their own, the two collide and they feel they must choose between faith or being honest with themselves.

I’m not saying that happens to everyone. Some go their whole lives and never mention it to anyone.  Yet if what matters is kingdom living and lives that reflect the forgiveness and love of Christ, the justice and mercy God calls for all throughout the old testament (Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God) – why do we tend to forget to look at this side, and only focus on the attraction/sexuality side? Can we risk saying “I don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense to me, but I will love you, I will learn, and I will trust God enough with your walk in this”?

Even within the LGBTQ Christian community, there is disagreement on how to walk in the freedom of your identity and remain faithful as a disciple, yet the conversation is respectful. In many ways it is reflective for me of a similar conversation Paul had in Corinthians when the church there was arguing over whether or not they should eat meat sacrificed to an idol. What matters is the power of the Spirit in the life of a believer, and whether or not they are obedient to the voice of the Lord.

Folks, I’ll be honest – this is still an ongoing dialogue for me. It’s still complex and nuanced and hard, and not everyone is willing to listen or walk this road. I get that. But I have to wrestle, for the sake of my kids and the community they are part of. I have to because of the heart of Jesus is to meet people where they are and invite them into relationship.

So let’s love with abandon, die to self in showing grace when it might be hard, be willing to learn, and show them they are acceptable to the Lord by how we invite them in.

Blessings!

Tama

Book recommendations

Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin

Torn by Justin Lee

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

Unclobber by Colby Martin

Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by Kathy Baldock

Two views on Homesexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Zondervan publishers

 (Counterpoints Bible & Theology series)

A Change of Affection by Becket Cook

And if you are looking for resources to further understand or know how to love this community better, check out QChristian.

Celebrating Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eschet Chayil mom… I love you!

5am lessons

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

I think I forgot what it feels like.

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

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

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

I came home wide awake, hungry and feeling alive.

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

Thank you

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

Thank you for reminding me who I am

Thank you for people pursuing ME

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

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

Do you ever find yourself doing that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Family

My family, we have this crazy tradition. Jon and I started it when we were dating, and it has only continued as the years went by. The general rule is this: If you spend Easter with us, you are going to end up having blue lips, and you are going to have your picture taken!

Who knew that malted milk ball easter eggs could be so fun??

This year, I flew back to see my family in Virginia, and Jon and the girls celebrated Easter together in Colorado. I must say, I went in stealth mode, because although we have tons of friends back in Richmond, I really needed family time. (So if you wonder why I didn’t call you…. please forgive me. I will catch you next time. I promise).

Coming back from that trip, I realized again how absolutely blessed I am to have such close family. I know not everyone does. I don’t take it for granted either. But given the time in life that have entered, things are changing for me too, and so is what my family looks like, especially with both girls going their own direction! That plus finding new friends out here, I have been doing a lot of thinking on what family means, and how we define family for ourselves.

If I am honest, because I have always had such a close nuclear family, I am not sure I really understood it when people said they created family out of whoever was close to them and they trusted. Not to sound shallow – we had friends that were like family back in Illinois – sure! But I mean – they all had core families too. So it was like a secondary family in some ways.

Out here, I have had the privilege of being invited into the world of some 20-somethings, and I watch them with wonder. They are away from their core family, starting out on their own, going through their own trials and hardships of getting started – and they are family for each other. It’s really quite beautiful. And yes I know this is what we do as people – right? We look for those we can trust, people we can be ourselves with and who will be there for us when we need them. We build relationships with others, and many times our friends can become closer to us than our biological family – sometimes due purely to time in life or geographical location – and sometimes due to broken places in family that make it too hard to be together.

This last part – this is where my mind wanders to a verse kind of stuck in the middle of a bunch of random throughts in Psalm 68:6

God sets the lonely in families” (NIV)

The actual Hebrew is ” God [yashab] sits down, dwells with, sets a [bayith] home, place, family with the [yachiyd] solitary ones (aka…lonely ones)”

Sit and think about that a minute.

That is HUGE.

Why? Because it says God is right there with you when you are lonely. It means his heart is to create a space for you when you are, a space that has people, a space that feels SAFE…. one that represents family for you: the good kind where you are loved for who you are, where you are wanted and welcomed. The way it should be.

Now, depending on whether or not you LIKE this idea – the desire God has to sit down with you in your loneliness and provide for you in it – may or may not sound good to you. I hope you can see it’s good. But even when He does, even when you see people around you welcoming you in, hanging out with you, pursuing you – it’s up to YOU to be willing to LET them be family for you.

That, my friend, can be a challenge, can’t it?

Sometimes its just easier to put up walls and circle the wagons and say you don’t need them, that you can do this life by yourself. Just you and God, you got this.

Are you so sure about that?

I know I’m learning a lot about that now. God was pretty clear with me that I needed to get connected out here, and I am still learning to lean on the people I have met that tell me to call them when I need something. I realize I am still hesitant to let them be my “family”.

But like I tell them, I don’t really have a choice. I need them. I plan on being here a long time, and yep, building from scratch is hard, but I need family out here. So I’m taking the risk to believe that for what I have seen of them, they are trustworthy. I’m choosing to believe that God is meeting me in my loneliness and providing people that will be a family to me.

How about you?

My challenge to you today is to take stock of who God has put around you. I know there are probably hurts from the past (or present) that seem too surmountable. Why risk relationship again when all they are going to do is let you down? Maybe you have been burned too many times, or maybe you have given up hope. It’s never too late.

Yes, its risky. I can’t promise anything about how people will react. We’re all imperfect and we all have our scars. But I can promise that if you take stock and find there aren’t many you can call family….. if you ask God to open your eyes to see who can be that for you…. and keep seeking… you will find the clarity you need. Then take the risk to believe that yes, you are worth bringing all that you are to your new “family” 🙂