The fruit of a life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blessings!

    Tama

    Loving Millennials

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

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

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

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

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

    I was blown away.

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

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

    But back to my point about parenting.

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

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

    So why am I pointing this out?

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

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

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

    Blessings!

    Back up the mountain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Can you imagine what that would have been like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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.

    You’re a what????

    Last fall, my new homegroup read (so I re-read) Ian Cron’s book “The Road Back to You….”. In case you haven’t heard of it, its a book that talks about the Enneagram – essentially a personality type, if you will… but one that helps with spiritual transformation. At the start of each chapter, the book gives some highlights of the way each “number” or “type” might think or approach the world. For some, reading the different thoughts of each type made it hard to see where they were landing. It wasn’t until they dove into what it was like as a kid or how they interact with people that it made sense.

    For some, it was like opening a map and finally going “oh THAT’s exactly what I’m like” – now how do I move forward to transformation??

    Me, not so much. I am a One – Perfectionist – through and through. I will admit though, between raising a family and the grace of God, I am not as much as a One as I was in college, that’s for sure. My books are no longer alphabetized and ordered by color (yes, that is how I organized my tapes… my roommate can attest to that even after all these years). I am ok if the pillows are not “just right”, or if there is cat or dog hair somewhere. Having anywhere between 2 and 7 animals in the house for the 25 years of my marriage kind of worked that out of me… trying to keep every surface clean would have been torture!

    Figuring out that I was a One (where one daughter is an Eight – Challenger and the other a 4 – the Individualist – was MONUMENTAL for our family. It explained SO much about all of us – and began to shift the way I talk to the girls now as young adults. I seriously wish we had this tool when they were teens – it would have helped Jon and I both understand who they were, how to talk with them, and how they processed the world. We all came at life from some very foundational differences, and it had very little to do with what we did or did not teach them or how we supported them.

    Where my “one-ness” still shows up is around wanting things to be right, namely relationships and .. life. Combined with my 9 wing – which doesn’t like conflict and can see both sides of any argument/story/theological or political discussion…wellll….. it gets interesting. Internally, I am always caught between a rock and a hard place: I want to do what’s right, but when I can’t figure out WHICH side to stand on, or which opinion to have, I don’t want to cause conflict so I don’t make any decision. Which my One side does not do well with, because the other part of a One doesn’t like to make mistakes and is extremely hard on themselves when they mess up.

    Most people assume making mistakes is just part of life. A One doesn’t recover from mistakes that quickly, whether in life or in relationships. We beat ourselves up constantly. Discord in relationships is more than difficult, and I know that I tend to assume I am the one that caused the discord because I did something wrong. When Jesus talks about leaving your gifts at the altar and reconciling if you think your brother or sister has something against you — as a One – I take that pretty seriously. I have had to learn that I can’t fix everything, and I can’t make everything right. Needless to say, that’s been hard. I am learning that God’s perfection is sufficient, and that grace covers the rest. It’s been a good lesson 🙂

    It’s been fun to watch Maia embrace the fact she is a 4. All the sales guy had to say when she was getting new glasses last year as “I don’t know anyone else that looks good in those frames” – and he made the sale. LOL. Maddie laughs when she reacts like a classic 8 – strong, assertive, decisive and gets frustrated when others can’t make decisions. (I hope she doesn’t marry a 9) . We all still joke about me being a 1, and sometimes they have to remind me everything doesn’t have to be perfect. There’s grace for all of us in it – and its helped as we’ve met new people to understand how to encourage them and appreciate their own uniqueness.

    What has amazed me is how this has also helped me process the way I see God and see scripture, and why certain things stick out to me that don’t seem to for anyone else. Sure, we all have views and understandings of God and his word based on our own lives and backgrounds, but I am fascinated with how this study has shed light on the truths about God we struggle with personally, as well as the truths we get easily. Very insightful.

    So today, my book recommendation is “The Road Back to You”. If you want something that delves more into the history of the Enneagram and touches more on its spiritual transformation aspects, look for “The Sacred Enneagram”.

    Hope you all have a great weekend!!