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

My take on Hebrews 11

The view of mountains (far, far in the distance) as you drive into Colorado from Nebraska. I promise you, they are there right beneath the clouds.

If you have been in church for any length of time, you have probably heard Hebrews 11:1 quoted often:

“For Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen”

or, as the Message translation puts it: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. Its our handle on what we can’t see”

The author then goes on to list all these people who lived from the time God called Abram somewhere between 2100 and 1800 BC through his current time, pointing to choices people had to make in the face of difficulty to show that they knew God had bigger plans for them, for their nation, for their lives. Not all of their lives are reflected in this overview, just some big, recognizable stories. It would be like if you had done your family’s genealogy and you just wrote about the highlights, like “your great, great, great grandparents moved from [insert country] to [insert country] with nothing, just to make a better life/escape war… then by faith they took this job and followed this path… and it landed them [insert state/country] where they met [insert spouse], and married them even though the family shamed them …”.

You get the picture. High level. Hard stuff that takes guts and faith in a God-sized destiny. The ability to look far, far away and see something beautifu. Kind of like looking for mountains on the horizon as you drive into Colorado, just waiting for them to appear 🙂

One of the things I have always loved to challenge people with is to read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11. Note the things you think really took faith, and note the ones that didn’t. Fact check. Do you think the author was painting any of this with rose-colored glasses?

Here’s why I ask: “…by faith [Moses] left Egypt, unafraid of the kings anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible”. Yet if you read Ex 2:14, there is a bit of a different take on why Moses left Egypt.

I’m not saying this to point out an error in the bible. But I do think the author of Hebrews is using this as an example to make a point. He could look back and SEE the long haul of Moses life, which DOES tell us that God walked with him to bring deliverance for the Israelites. Much of his later life IS lived in light of believing on the One who is invisible.

So this is big picture vision. How much of our lives to we spend in small picture vision?

Yes, the day in- day out existence matters. Did you speak kindly to your wife/husband/child/partner/friend/neighbor/person-at-the-checkout-counter/coworker/enemy today? Yes motives in business matter, Yes to all the little things that honor God.

But have you ever taken a step back and looked at your life to see the things that you have walked through, by faith? Not for self glory, but to take a humble look at how God has led you, maybe even when you didn’t notice.

By faith… what has been overcome? By faith, what did you live through? By faith, how were you carried by God when you just about gave up?

Sometimes when we wrestle to understand scripture, its easy to forget that our lives too can be found in these stories. They look different, they sound different, but God is still a God of rescue and deliverance. He is still writing stories…. and don’t think for a second that yours doesn’t belong alongside the list of folks in Hebrews 11!

What’s your story? No matter how hard it might be to write it down, get it all out. When you cannot see where God was there for you…. rather than avoid it, I challenge you to be willing to face it, be honest, and ask God about it. I trust He was there in a way you cannot ever have imagined.

— Tama

Lessons from Job

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

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

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

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

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

FIRST

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

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

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

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

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

SECOND

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

Let me tell you.

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

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

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

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

THIRD

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

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

What’s the takeaway for us here?

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

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

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

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

Oceans reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

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

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

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

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

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

How I have doubted

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

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

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

Fan, or… something else?

As I sit and think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I am struck by the reality that sometimes I have no clue how it really happens. I can look back over my life and I realize that one day I was introduced to the person of Jesus, and then nearly three decades later it’s like I blinked ….and I see that my life has been full of watching people and walking beside people that know Jesus, and that is part of how I learned. They have walked through the ups and downs of life with me all these years (and I have with them as well). As a result, I can honestly say I have fallen in love with who Jesus is, his purposes to show such ridiculous grace to this entire world, and his kingdom values where the poor are lifted up, the broken and lost find hope and healing, and everyone gets to play.

But see, I don’t think we can get a full picture of who Jesus is just by being around his people. Because, if you ask them, they probably learned much of what they know from studying Jesus himself, by reading their bible and diving in, and by leaning on the character of God when life didn’t measure up. But why is this hard nowadays?

Whether you have been in church for some time, whether you are new to it all, or somewhere in between — I think sometimes what we have a tendency treat the actual stories of Jesus as if they were on our Instagram feed.

We scroll through the pages of scripture, convenient with subtitles and/or red-lettering, and we go “that’s a cool story” (double tap HEART)… not sure about that one… and, just like on Instagram, we love and comment on the bite-size stories that present themselves.

Its like having a window into someone else’s life, much like we see on social media.

But we stop there.

If Jesus parables and stories are intended to be a window into the kingdom he came to bring, then shouldn’t we put a bit more study into it than just slighly remembering the story? Instagram pix might be great for catching up, showing something you are proud of or you think is beautiful, maybe its for selling a product or any number of other things… but Jesus came to transform us….. and it takes more than just liking a parable to transform.

I know sometimes we wrestle with seeing how very different Jesus and his ways were in his day and culture, and how shocking what he said might have been to his hearers, and maybe that makes it difficult for us to tranlate to our own day and age. But if we are to really be a disciple of Jesus, we must look. We must question. We must let it transform us.

Its the difference between being a “fan” … and someone who is falling in love with the God who loves them.

It’s interesting for me too, as I start writing my first exegetical paper for one of my seminary classes. See, I have chosen a passage from Hebrews (5:12-14) where the author is challenging his audience and their spiritual maturity. The writer is an intellectual of sorts, familiar with Greek reasoning and ways of dialogue, and he is trying to challenge things that are distracting the church body from maturing in their faith…. and they are distracted precisely because they have stayed at only being content to know the basics of faith: repentance, baptism, resurrection, etc.

N.T Wright leverages a challenge in his commentary on this passage, that we who profess faith should always be aware if our answer to grasping the more difficult things of the faith is “I don’t get it, that’s too difficult to understand”.

That doesn’t mean that we get it all right away though, so please don’t think I am saying that. What I am saying is that we need to remain teachable, always learners to how God is at work in the world around us, how the words of Jesus need to transform us from the inside out – and how we need to be willing to wrestle with the difficult things our world presents us today.

God is not absent from this world, my friends. We may not always be able to see it, but if you really seek to follow Jesus.. I can guarantee you will get it one day. Be willing to be like Jacob and wrestle, or like Thomas and ask for proof. Just don’t close your eyes and stop looking!