Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 2: Everyone’s favorite question

Hi all! Hope everyone had a nice Christmas and New Years, no matter how you celebrated. Trung and I were able to spend Christmas Eve with some of our best friends here, and Christmas day with both my girls and my parents. Successful holiday sharing – woohoo! (because we all know holiday sharing is something you have to tackle when blending two lives….)

You know, after a wedding, people are pretty good about giving the new couple some space to just settle in and get used to their new life together. There aren’t rules on how long to wait before you reach out to them, of course, but inevitably friends and family decide the time is up (whether you are ready or not), and they invite you over, or text or call, and the question they ask is always “Sooo….. how is married life?”

That can be a loaded question, my friends. (cue awkward silence and quick exchanging of glances or arm nudges)

Whereas 20-year olds couples or those that have known each other for years before they got married might often answer “It’s amazing!”… when our friends started asking that question, we were gut level honest: “Uhhh ..we’re adjusting”. I’m not sure our friends knew how to respond to that!

Now, I can’t speak to much of what my husband is going through, but I know having a wife is quite a bit different than all the roommates he had. I am a LOT more particular than they were, for one. I have some demands on his time they never would have placed (like… please call me if you won’t be home for dinner so I don’t cook for two… and what do you mean you forgot to tell me you were scheduled to work? I was hoping to spend the day with you). I know both of us have also had to do some vetting with our best friends these first few months. My sister-in-law and best friend in Illinois have been key to this for me. I have called them often asking “hey.. um.. is this normal? how did you all navigate this when you were first married?” I am sure my new husband has asked his best friend some similar questions.

Just about every book, blog, website, and happily married couple will all tell you that the first year of marriage is hard – so I figured because I knew this, I’d be set. Oh, was I wrong about that! (ummmmmm…yeah.. you can start chuckling now, go on….)

What actually happened when I moved in and started making his bachelor pad our “home”, is that all these expectations I had of how we would spend time each week building our life together started surfacing. It’s like something in me kicked in and started executing some sort of internal “plan” on how I operated within marriage. I knew I couldn’t just live my single life in a new house. The framework had changed, therefore the “rules” changed too.

Need I remind you I’m an Enneagram 1. Of course there is a plan.

My plan included dinner together almost every night, a date night each week, figuring out each other’s love language and working on speaking it, asking each other questions so we could learn… share what we had studied in scripture, go for walks. Oh goodness. When I finally recognized I was operating on some built in “plan” — I was able to own up to the fact it had grown out of having a schedule raising my girls, paired with expectations of what I was looking forward to being an empty nester. That was a hard thing to own up to. I wasn’t used to having dinner “whenever”, having a ton of flexible time, or having conversations whenever they came up.

The day it hit me that we could build this marriage together, and it could look however we wanted it to, was revolutionary on a number of levels, let me tell you.

Whereas I knew this in my head before getting married, now I am keenly aware that I have no clue on how to build this particular marriage with this particular guy. That would leave me feeling helpless, but for one fact:

I know the One who does know how to build it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I guess I take a while to hold onto lessons. The entire time we dated, there have been a few passages of Scripture that the Lord has used to encourage me and remind me that HE is the one building our relationship. Rather than go over all of them, I’ll share one you might be familiar with:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” – Psalm 127:1

He’s built the foundation, sure…..Yet here I go, getting all my own lumber and bricks and mortar and trying to build as fast as I can. Obviously that is getting me NOWHERE.

One thing my new husband has been observant about is that I always am more in a rush for things than he is. He takes time, considers things, trusts that things will come to pass in God’s timing. It’s not that I don’t do that, I just do it in … well.. a much more condensed timeframe than he does. I want to hurry God along if I can (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)

I find that I must continually remind myself that all those marriages out there that are doing well didn’t just happen over night. They aren’t just because they are OUR age either. They took time. Like a vineyard, they needed sun and rain. The vines needed to be tended to and pruned when needed. We are just starting our journey… two vines planted side-by-side….that have yet to see what it looks like to grow together.

We’ve been at this 5 months. I need to give myself some grace!! 🙂

So here are my encouragements to all you newlyweds out there:

* Remember that God knew you would be good together, so learning to navigate your (unexpected) differences is absolutely possible.

* Close friends are there when you join in the covenant of marriage, because you will need them. Take advantage of that, and trust their wisdom.

* Your marriage needs to be YOURS. You may pick a few things from each of your families you want to reflect in your marriage, or you may not. You may (and I think should) learn from books or blogs, other couples, things you read or hear to make your marriage better over time, but it will NOT mirror your parent’s marriage, and it will NOT mirror any previous marriage. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you want it to look like.

*** If you have been married before: No matter how much you have pursued healing and worked through your issues from your first marriage, things will come out once you are in a relationship again. Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are reacting out of fear or hurt from your previous relationship, or when you are projecting. Your new spouse cannot live in the shadow of your previous one.

Above all else, remember this:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Goodness knows we cannot do that on our own – but the Author of Love is willing and able to!

Blessings, my friends! Til next time.

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 1: Moving Boxes

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. I admit, it seems a bit strange for me to be claiming the title of “newlywed” – but alas, that is what we are according to the calendar. I think we can claim that for maybe two more months? Another six? I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ve started the journey of “getting to know the stranger [we] just married” (as a Relevant Magazine article on marriage put it quite succinctly) – haha!

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but mystified a bit as to exactly where to start, and what to write that isn’t too personal and that actually is more than just a newlywed story. I need to have a point. I think I finally found a few, and so this will be Part 1 of maybe 2 or 3 more blogs. We’ll see how the things I have collected fit together. For now… I will start with the pre-wedding event of MOVING.

When we met, I lived over an hour away. We commuted for two very long years to see each other every other weekend – and needless to say, we were very much looking forward to that coming to an end! Although my house was newly built, his was nearly paid off and he had been in his community (which is amazing, I must say!) for well over 15 years. It made more sense for me to move into his house and join him outside of Boulder. So, this past June I sold my house, packed up my stuff, and said good-bye to my beloved kitchen island (sniff, sniff). I had arranged to move all my stuff up to his house 3 weeks before the wedding, in hopes that I could get some things unpacked and empty a few boxes. I lived with my folks for those last 3 weeks so I could spend some last time with them. What a blessing it was!

As I saw the boxes piling up in my house, I knew I needed to warn him. You see, I had moved all my life, so I was well aware that what fits nicely into two cabinets or drawers can take anywhere between 4 and 6 boxes, depending on what you are packing. I also knew that when he moved into his house, he had nothing but what he could fit into his truck, and now he had a full kitchen on his own so….. I was pretty sure the boxes from my kitchen alone would make him break out in a cold sweat. There were, of course, still the book boxes from my office (being an avid reader and in grad school), and clothes boxes…. garage stuff and memory stuff from the kids….needless to say, it stacked up. It actually didn’t seem like a lot for me, but I had a feeling it was going to seem like a lot to him.

I called to give him warning when the truck left my driveway:

“Just giving you a head’s up…. It’s going to look like a lot….I know. As long as your back spare bedroom is empty, we’ll be fine. All we have to do is clear the driveway, and I’ll direct them where things go. You can help get them lunch and water. Shouldn’t take more than an hour to unload.”

Whereas this was normal for me, and I was in all-out project mode…. you should have seen the look on his face when the truck showed up. I had to chuckle. All I could do was reassure him that I had a place for all of it!

Thus began the two month process of unpacking and clearing the back bedroom out. I got some done before the wedding, finished a lot the week after our honeymoon, and then gradually worked on the rest… and I was right. I found (or created) nooks and crannies for just about everything. Every now and then, he would peek in the room, raise an eyebrow, and I could see his mind spinning… “where is the rest of this going??” I imagine he was thinking.

At one point, when I was tucking some kitchen things away in a fabric bin (which fit perfectly into a bookshelf he had he wasn’t really using), he made a simple statement, an observation, and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t honestly know how to respond, so I think I tried to be cute and say something funny. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my “I thought I was done with those” insecurities raged – and I wanted to defend myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to say:

“Look, I’m sorry this all seems like such a pain for you, but its MY STUFF from my life before I met you, when I raised my kids. These are the memories that mean something to me. These are the things that I like to do, the things that are important to me. Did you just think I wasn’t going to bring it with me? You saw all of them at my house…..(and if we’re counting boxes, I can almost guarantee you would have more boxes than me if we had to pack out your house)…”

Instead, I said nothing – because I knew it wouldn’t acknowledge the huge change that he was going through having me move in and take over his space. He’d had housemates, but none that put pictures and candles on the mantle, added pillows to his couch, and put quilts in a basket for folks to cuddle up with. None that added to the stash of cooking stuff already in the kitchen (mixer, multi colored spatulas, baking stuff, my collection of teas…)

My first internal reaction was not patient, or kind, or graceful. I was hurt, and he had no idea.

This is why I being quick to listen AND speak makes a huge difference in any relationship. I asked the Lord to calm me down (after venting in my head, I’ll be honest), and then I started trying to figure out why what he said bothered me in the first place.

However small, I realized his comment made me question myself, made me wonder if what I had to bring really made a difference in this bachelor-now-husband’s life. After I spent some time in prayer, I was able to pull my brain back from the edge and reminded myself of the truth: he loves me, I love him, and God knew we were right for each other. My gifts and uniqueness had a place in this home, even if they are things he isn’t used to yet. And oh yeah, the enemy. Of course he’d start at the beginning to try to create insecurity and division.

Later that week I was finally able to bring the subject up to him and we talked – about how each of us had our own lives before we met, lives that the other person wasn’t a part of. We both acknowledged that we feel on the outside sometimes when the other person shares stories and laughter about ‘life before’. That was a hard recognition. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I think we both acknowledged that each of our separate lives, and the memories that go with them are important. After all, it not only gives us a chance to show grace for each other – it’s also a chance to have a window into how each of us became the person we are now.

Newlywed or not, my challenge for you today is this:

Think about how often God gives us a gift, or puts us in a new situation. We make new friends, have new relationships, experience chances to grow. Maybe we are excited at first, but when we realize the implications of that gift – the extra people living in the house, the new job, new situation…sometimes we just aren’t sure what to do with the other things that come with it or the work it will take, are we?

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the good and faithful servant (Matthew 25), who has invested a little money on behalf of the owner and made a nice return. Jesus says that of course the owner is going to commend him! But more than just commending him, the owner sets the servant over MORE more than he was originally entrusted to him.. I have always wondered… did he WANT the extra responsibility? How much harder did this make things, even if it was an honor?

Sometimes gifts, blessings, good things can be overwhelming. They can cause you to wonder if you jumped too soon, took on more than you can handle, or if you just grossly underestimated your ability to tackle the new road in front of you. I felt like that as a new parent 23 years ago. I distinctly recall that in my job as a technical lead about 10 years ago. Every day I was on my knees asking for wisdom in both cases because I knew I couldn’t do it without God’s strength and courage. It was humbling, but grace abounded and I learned. Needless to say, I am finding myself there yet again.

We have to remember that whenever we are given chances to grow – yes – sometimes those involve HUGE leaps into new things that we will be unprepared for. But we can trust he is there, always, leading, encouraging, coaxing us to depend on his grace and strength for the next journey.

I am learning to depend on grace every day again as a newlywed, because as much as I learned in my first marriage.. this is new ground being broken, and we have to figure out our own new life together.

Truly, a gift.

Now, if I can just figure out where to put my turkey pan we’ll only use twice a year… 🙂

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.

Something New

You know how sometimes a verse just sticks in your brain and you can’t get it out, and you realize that it is then the Lord is speaking to you through that verse, even though it was a different time, a different people, spoken thousands of years ago?

For me, that started happening quite frequently about 2 1/2 years ago in a deeper way than I have ever known. The harder thing was that I couldn’t hold onto them well, or believe that they could be true…. let alone that I think we Christians are often accused of “cherry picking” verses we like and taking them way out of context, and I didn’t want to be doing that just because I liked the verse.

No, this one I came across in normal reading, I didn’t go looking for and I didn’t find in a devotional to try and hold onto. I was in a time in life where everything I knew had just crumbled, and I was trying to make sense of it all as I figured out a new way to be. It was into this place in time I stumbled across the following (well known) verse:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:18-19.

Now, most of the time I have heard this verse used to explain how Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel of the messiah to come, that is, as a pre-cursor to Christ. I’m not saying that isn’t the case in the bigger picture. Sure, it could have had two meanings. Yet to the Israelites at the time under Babylonian rule, this was actually spoken about what God was doing in their present time. The new thing God was doing then was preparing to bring Cyrus, the Persian king, to take over Babylon and their oppressive way of ruling, and to bring Israel home (see. Isaiah 45:1 and 13.. it happened in 539BC). So the new thing that Isaiah was speaking about was actually deliverance … just deliverance in a very real and tangible way.

I just kept coming back to this verse. What if I didn’t want new? What if I wanted what was? I couldn’t change things, and I knew I had to keep moving forward to find my “new normal”, and so I did. I dove into things I loved to do – I hiked mountains, I went on long trail rides, and I loved on people. I read, I studied, I pressed into God when it was hard, and I hung onto things I could scarcely believe. (Lest you think it was all roses….yes I went to counseling, and yes I got angry and had panic attacks and cried and grieved and journaled a TON.)

I did what I knew would bring me back to being whole: I reestablished my identity as a child of God alone, and I chose to be content no matter what my new normal was going to be. I couldn’t see what “new thing” God was doing yet, so holding onto the verse for me was more of a puzzling thing.

I know, Lord, I know you are doing something new in my life right now. I just don’t get it yet. I guess you will show me when I am ready.

Enter Trung… the man to whom I am now engaged.

(Love the slippers, don’t you? Just admit it)

It has been a year and a half since we first started talking. I know.. much of what has been going on since we started dating has not made it to my blog, and that is on purpose. I have been protective of this entire journey except for a few select folks, mainly because I’m not the type to share some huge monumental personal things, but also because I wanted to honor him in this process, as he is a pretty personal type of guy (he’s an 5 on the enneagram).

Yet even when he came into the picture, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this “new thing” God was doing… for me AND for him. Sometimes I still struggle to wrap my head around the depth of what it has become, and as I look out at the wedding being planned for this August, I realize I no longer have any twinge of sadness when I see folks posting about their anniversaries of many years.

I am finally – finally! Leaning into the new thing God is doing, and I cannot wait to start life with this amazing guy God has given me. August can’t come soon enough. We may be streaming it on Facebook if no one can come, but we are getting married!

Ok now back to the purpose of this blog…I really didn’t want this post to be just about me. I know I am certainly not the only one who has had to find a new normal at some point in their lives. Heck, its all everyone is talking about now with all the quarantines across our country and the world.

Finding a new normal isn’t new though.

It seems to be the way of humanity whenever big things happen, have you noticed that?

—Scripturally – Israel wanted ‘what was’ after God delivered them from slavery. Somehow things seemed better back in Egypt. After return from Babylonian captivity, Israel wanted ‘what was’ and tried to figure out how to become a nation again. When they started rebuilding the temple, many wept who had been alive and had seen the prior temple built by Solomon.

— In our current day, things have shifted and changed after every war. After 9/11. After the first school shooting. After the internet became available for everyone, after cell phones became a necessity. Some generations long for the decades when things seemed “better” – but were they really? Yes we still deal with racism in our country. Yes we still hurt each other, we fail to take care of and defend those that need it, but at least discussions are on the table. It’s out in the open. Everything doesn’t have to be hidden now that was in the past in our country, and its time for healing. I’d like to think having to suffer together as the human race makes us realize our mortality and how much we need each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religious background (or none), sexuality, education or economic status.

Moving forward, whether personally or as a society doesn’t mean we automatically stop longing for what was. It’s like we get stuck, where the past can seem to have been “better” than the present. Do we realize in saying that we overlook the flaws of what was? Massive flaws that were there before and just could never be fixed, or maybe could never be seen.

That, my friends, is the challenge of the times in which we are living. Sure, we are all learning a “new normal”.. and please hear me: I am NOT SAYING that God is the source of this virus to teach us something new. I’m just asking, are we up to the challenge of LEARNING in the midst of it?

Although this wasn’t intended to be a Covid survival post, I do think it can be a time for us to look honestly at what we are learning in this time… about being alone, about being with “stuck” with family, about helping and serving others… about how much money we spent on ourselves or on things that we really do not need, about how we handle finances, where we find our peace – and make some purposeful changes about how we do life, when things get “back to normal”.

What are you learning you will not let go of when the quarantine is over?

A lesson from Moses

I have always loved the book of Hebrews. Not long ago I was reading chapter 11 again, where the writer looks back at men and women in Israelite history that, in the author’s eyes, exhibited actions reflecting their faith in God’s bigger picture to restore humanity.

It’s when the author talks about Moses that I have to pause.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God…” (v 24)

I know this is true when I read the story of Moses, but I started thinking back to the years that he did initially identify as Pharoah’s daughter. He had been raised in the Egyptian courts, learned their ways, learned how to write and read and did everything they did as Egyptians. Surely he wasn’t ignorant to the fact that the Jewish people were being used as slaves in Pharaoh’s building projects all those years?

Of course I have no idea if he liked living in the court – maybe he did, maybe he didn’t – but he certainly benefitted from it for a number of years. Only in Exodus 2:11 are we told that after he had grown up he walked about and really saw the mistreatment. Initially though? What the writer of Hebrews calls refusing to remain living as Pharaoh’s daugher….let’s be honest.

HE FLED. In fear. After all, he had just killed an Egyptian in anger over how his people were being treated. Was he was afraid his actions would end the favor of Pharaoh? Either way, he wanted to save his own skin – that seems pretty obvious.

Have you ever run away from a situation in fear because you either made a rash decision, or you hated what you were seeing so much that you just couldn’t take it any more?

Yet the writer of Hebrews looks back at Moses’s actions in this moment and realizes they were the catalyst that became a defining stone in the formation of the Jewish nation. People were being mistreated unjustly, and God wanted to do something about it.

What did Moses wrestle with when he ran away, internally? We will never know. He was human though, and so you might guess there was some guilt, frustration, you name it. What we do know, however, is that he spent quite a number of years in Midian just learning how to be a shepherd.

We look at this with eyes thousands of years later and see God’s provision and His hand in the larger story, but do you honestly think Moses understood the bigger story at the time? My guess is no. After all, when WE are in the midst of OUR story, can WE see it? I don’t think it often feels like that… do you?

How long was Moses gone? It could have been decades. The current Pharoah died, Moses got married, he had kids. I assume he wasn’t sitting with something in the back of his mind going “God will rescue me, I have a calling!” He had, as far as we can tell from the text, resigned himself to being a shepherd and staying where he was.

Yet who Moses became in those years of the mundaneGod saw. He saw the passion for justice. He saw how Moses loved, how he parented, how he took care of the flock under his care. Yet it obviously took some time for Moses to become who he needed to be for the next phase in life.

So the question this passage asks of us, is this:

What about your life? The detours, the things you going though now or might regret from the past – what if you can choose to see them as training grounds instead of just mistakes or wrong turns? Sit into them, accept them, learn from them, and trust that you ARE fulfilling your purpose right where you are at THIS moment…. and that what comes next is going to need everything you have learned thus far?

Take some time to think of your story, where you have been, what it made you, and who you are becoming. Moses didn’t know he was going to be who God would use until God decided he was ready. We may never feel ready to do what comes next, but just as God promised Moses, he promises us:

“I will be with you.”

Blessings, my friends!

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!

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.

Two scary words

I’ve been pondering whether or not I should write about this next subject, mainly because I am still very much in process on it myself. But I am a verbal processor, and sometimes writing about it helps me figure things out as well, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I will tell you though, before you get too far in reading, that this might be a trigger for some of you. It certainly was for me, when we started talking about it in seminary.

Discipleship. Evangelism.

Even reading those word triggers things deep down in me that make me want to run, screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!”

So when I found I had to take a class on it for seminary, I naturally went in kicking and screaming, guard up and ready to take everything with a grain of salt.

Why? Because early in my walk, like many of you who grew up in the Evangelical church world, were taught about the Great Commission, and that Jesus wanted us to tell everyone about Him and make disciples. The problem with how it was taught, implemented, or maybe just how I heard it, is that it quickly became a program. A set of beliefs to get people to subscribe to. A plan. The subtle message with it was that if I wasn’t evangelizing and converting someone, I wasn’t a “good Christian” because I wasn’t doing what Jesus said to do.

**[Insert years of feeling like a failure because that model never felt right to me] **

Oh, don’t get me wrong….“friendship evangelism” became a thing, but it basically was then try to convert your friends. If they aren’t interested, stop spending time with them and go focus on someone who will listen.

I’m not saying that is what was taught, just … that’s what I interpreted (and frankly what was modeled for me). Which is why I went into class with a bad, very bad taste in my mouth. I’m not surprised to hear that others in class felt the same way. But little by little, God is undoing this picture in my head, and I am grateful.

We spend a lot of time talking about how much sharing the message of Jesus (aka evangelism) and helping people learn what it means to follow him (aka discipleship) have been separated, when they never should have been. How “doing church” has really taken us away from the core message of Jesus, which is to proclaim that God has come to fix the world. Heck, Jesus proclaimed the good news before he ever went to the cross. Have you ever though about that? The good news is that God pays attention to those that need hope and are rejected. He cares for those who need a doctor, not those who are doing well and already get the spiritual stuff. He elevates the ones society doesn’t pay attention to.

Please hear me – I am not saying church is bad, or that we should all jump ship. I know many churches do things well, and they are doing exactly what Jesus called them to do.

It just makes me wonder what it would be like if rather than just making sure people are “introduced” to or told about Jesus, we spent time just loving the kids or teens in your neighborhood, your roommates/housemates, your local barista or laundromat buddy or waiter/waitress that you see every week at your favorite place to eat. The bartender who listens to everyone’s problems and no one listens to theirs. Getting to know them. Actually caring about them because they are interesting people, made in the Image of God. No agenda. Living our lives following Jesus and his ways. Trusting that if they are thirsty, if they are seeking, if they have questions and your relationship with them has made it safe for them to investigate and ask questions about this Jesus you follow, this God you believe in…. they will.

That asking questions and investigating should be the first part, and that often happens only in the context of relationship. That it’s not just the pastor/chaplain’s job, or the elder/deacon’s job, or your Sunday School/CCE or home group leader’s job. In fact it’s not a job at all.

How have you found God’s truth in the world around you? Where have you seen His leadership in your work life? What has God set you free from? Where have you had someone lay their life down for you, to model the way God loves us? How have you experienced forgiveness? Mercy? Go and show that to others. Go and be and model that to and for others.

“What does the Lord require of you? To live justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with your God” — Micah 6:8

Friends, this plays out so many different ways in each of our stories. My way of walking this out is NEVER going to be exactly how you walk this out. But I’d challenge you to take a hard look at where you put your time and energy. Do you know anyone that isn’t in church? Do you actually hang out with them, get to know them, invest in them – even if they don’t care about Jesus? If not, why not?

We are here to love. We are here to show that God cares about folks, even if they don’t want to hear what He has to say.

The One we claim as Savior certainly did. Let’s follow him in that. I can’t think of a better way to share the good news. If at some point they decide Jesus is someone they want to follow, then show them how. Don’t give them religion. Talk to them about what it looks and feels like to trust, and pray. What it means to forgive and be forgiven.

What it means to live justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Lessons from a frozen lake

The first winter we were in the Chicago suburbs, I decided to take the girls downtown to see Navy Pier. Why I did that in February, I will never know, as February can often be bitter cold (which I didn’t know at the time) – but it happened to be one of those rare not-below-zero-no-wind-days – so we lucked out. I’ll never forget the view from the ferris wheel overlooking Lake Michigan. It was stunning. Having never seen anything but lakes in Virginia until then, I expected it to be dark and muddy. What I found staring back at me instead was an aqua colored lake, frozen from the winter temps. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The ice near the shore had started to crack and split apart, and so you could see the water beneath. Gorgeous. Not quite the aqua of the ocean near Mexico, but it was pretty darn close.

I was reminded of this memory on a run around a lake near Boulder recently, probably because when I ran around it less than a month ago, it was completely frozen solid except for a small hole around which all the local ducks had gathered. This time, in the near 70- degree temps, you could tell the sun of Colorado had done it’s work: the ice was melted, the darker waters rippled, and the ducks squawked, as if they too were celebrating the start of spring.

It got me to thinking.

It’s easy to understand why a smaller lake (maybe one of 2 square miles at most) would freeze over. Yet even a lake as large as Lake Michigan (it has a surface area of over 22,000 square miles) freezes over due to the cold temperatures. The surface ice is thick. Once frozen, it takes some serious continued warming of the sun to create even small fissures that will break through and allow the water to peek out.

But that water was always flowing, even under the frozen surface of ice.

It reminded me of how sometimes, our hearts can get to be like Lake Michigan: beautiful but frozen, the living water that Jesus said would flow out of our hearts is still there, just …. covered. I’m sure its not something we know is happening, just like a lake that big can’t freeze overnight. It’s gradual.

It’s not the weeds that Jesus spoke of that make people walk away from faith because they are not grounded. It’s not a heart of stone that we might have had once in our lives. It’s just a place where that living water seems so hard to find, to feel flowing. It’s a place where we may continue to walk in faith, knowing God is real, but the deep stuff we once could drink from and hunger for seems unresponsive and hard to find.

My friends, if this is your spiritual walk right now, if this is where you are and you question if that living water matters any more, or maybe you are wondering if you can just skate on top of it for a while…

Hold on.

Ice forms little by little in the coldest weather. Isn’t that what life can do to us? Little by little. We may dance a bit, knowing we haven’t given up yet, and so the idea of living water still is something we resonate with. But just like the gray skies and freezing temperatures can cause a lake as large as Michigan to freeze over, who are we to think that we are any different?

We cannot create our own living water.

Yes, faith is the essence, the substance of things we cannot see. In my mind, this is a head thing. We can logically wrap our heads around this part. We can say we are not giving up on what we believe. But wouldn’t simply holding onto a belief and not fighting to know the living water that comes with that belief be a little like trying to skate on a frozen lake?

How can you let the light of God into your life right now and start to thaw places that have iced over, even if you never meant it to happen? I know we want things quick. Sometimes God does that. More often, it seems He doesn’t and it takes continued exposure, just like it takes days of sunlight and warmer weather to break through thick ice.

The living water is there, my friends, because the source hasn’t gone anywhere.

With the spring coming in our part of the world… why don’t you take time to join all of creation and let God thaw you out as well? 🙂

Geekspeak and the Cosmic Battle

As I sat in church this morning, I have to admit I checked out a little. Given that we are in the Lenten season, the church I am attending is focusing on different aspects of the cross from now until Easter. Today’s message was on the power of the cross to free us from the chains of sin.

Its not that I don’t agree. It’s not that I don’t get it. But I sat there the entire time looking around and wondering…. for how many is this going over their head? It’s all theologically right. It’s all biblically sound. I could see heads nodding for those that believe, those that were following what the pastor was saying. She had lots of good analogies too, in the “light vs dark” battle: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and sundry action movies. I mean, after all, it’s always what things come down to, right? Evil and darkness seem to be stronger and then the good guys come in and fight. They might look like they are losing but they win in the end.

As I sat there listening, three things came to mind:

1. The Christian faith has a ton of its own lingo that, unless you have been in church for a while, it sounds like an entirely different language, one that you can walk away and go “well that sure sounds nice but what does it MEAN?”

2. The job that I had for over 16 years an an analyst, and one that I still do from time to time, is essentially one that requires me to translate “geekspeak” to everyday language so that the business owner will know what they are getting

3. God always uses what we do (aka our jobs) in life to translate spiritual realities into everyday, understandable truth

We’re studying the whole cosmic battle stuff in my Torah class now in seminary, and it’s really actually pretty cool. We’ve been looking at all these other Ancient Near East texts and seeing how the ANE people really saw their world. They told stories of how gods and godesses built the world and fought for the right to create and give destinies. They weren’t trying to describe material creation, rather, they were trying to make sense of how the world came to be. It sets the context of Genesis and how truly *revolutionary* it must have been to hear how and why people were created in a whole new light. Yet reading these stories with 21st century ears, it’s all very mythical and easy to think “wow, how could they believe that stuff?”

I can’t help but wonder if that is sometimes how the message of the cross sounds to people today.

I know Paul addresses that in Corinthians when he says:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness [moria, also means absurdity] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18

But I am not satisfied with just quoting that verse or resting in that truth and not trying to translate it. Nor should you. For those of us who have experienced forgiveness, who know what God has done to set us free from the things that have kept us captive — whether or not you are still in church or have given up on the body of Christ — this is the work we are called to:

Translation.

Yes, sometimes the message of the cross may sound absurd to people. What I find interesting though, is the word Paul uses that is translated “perishing” in the verse above also means to render useless. Think about that for a second. How often do the struggles of life, or words spoken by others, kill hopes and dreams, and make people think they are useless in the world? It doesn’t make logical sense that a cross would undo that, which is why Paul says it sounds like foolishness, absurdity. Yet it does, and once you have experienced it, you know how to explain it: The message of LOVE on the cross, the One that is light that breaks through darkness absolutely has the power to overcome!

You see, I think the translation stuff often happens only in smaller settings. When someone can honestly stay, to someone they have relationship with “I don’t get it. What exactly do I need to be set free from? What battle is being waged over my life? What if I really am doing the best I can to live a good life, where does sin fit in? What did God forgive me of? Does it really matter? How do I join God in fixing the world?”

The whole cosmic battle idea – that we have been purchased from darkness and brought into life – I believe, don’t get me wrong. I know there is a war against my soul, your soul, against my kids, against goodness in the world, against belief that there even is a God. If modern day slavery and human trafficking and racism and abuse don’t prove that to you, then I don’t know what will. The world is not as it should be for many people’s lives, both here and abroad. And I think that this side of the cosmic battle – that justice and mercy and goodness should reign in our communities and in the world – is much easier to grasp as a starting point than something that sounds like a cosmic battle being fought over our lives individually.

The cross is powerful when you take the time to look at what it really means for your life. I have been humbled to realize that in many more ways over this past year. In communicating God’s message of love and forgiveness, let us not forget that those who do not yet believe will need to hear about the message of the cross in language that makes sense to them. I’ll be honest….. in this day and age, I can’t help but wonder if communicating that Jesus suffering at the hands of people who had a political game to play makes more sense. He gets it.

But you know what?

God is fully able to show people what they need to see about Him. Chains look one way to an addict, and another to a prisoner… and another to a mom or dad in suburbia just trying to raise their kids and protect them and teach them how to grow up, a person struggling with an eating disorder or someone trying to hide their sexual orientation. Missing the mark looks one way to a wife or husband who just yelled at their spouse and immediately regrets it, to the politician who compromised on something they hold dear, to the teen who struggles with the pressures their peers place on them. Fear has all sorts of faces too, for the soldier at war, the daughter or son in an abusive or demanding home, the person who has to hold it all together because what would happen if they didn’t?

We all need to be rescued from something. Only you know what that is. Only your neighbor or co-worker does for their lives. So whether the “cosmic battle” story makes more sense to people on a big scale or small one, it never ceases to amaze me how much difference it makes when we invite God into our own stories and places. If you believe, you have done that at some point in your life.

Don’t get stuck in the language of the Christian world. Find a way to communicate the truth of what you have had to learn, of what the cross has done for you, of what battle has been fought in your life, and won. Then… share THAT. Because THAT is what people will understand first, before they ever read about it in the pages of scripture.