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.

The Persistent Widow

I have sat on this a while, not quite knowing how to write what I want to say, but I’m going to take a stab at it and hope it comes out ok. We are living in historical times, not only because of the pandemic, but because an even deeper seated issue that has its roots deep in our country’s history has rightfully stolen the show. It’s not that it wasn’t always going on, its just that for the most part many of us (speaking to white people here) may have thought that because of the Civil Rights movement, everything was really equitable and racism wasn’t a thing.

What is obvious is that the events that have happened while we have all been sequestered at home are finally waking us up. It’s not that things like this haven’t happened before – they have. But we hear about them in spurts, we get upset, cry for justice, we lament as common humanity, and then… nothing changes.

Sounds a bit like the persistent widow Jesus talked about doesn’t it?

If I’m honest, that parable has always been a bit hard for me. I know that Jesus shared this story to make the point that God is NOT like a harsh judge that ignores our cries. Luke even said it was to show that we should pray and not give up, because God hears our prayers…. but early in my walk I will admit that just made me feel as if God was like the judge and if we bother him enough, maybe he will move.

Yet Jesus says in this parable that God hears the cries of unjust ways and sees that they get justice quickly.

What exactly does he mean by quickly?

Nothing seems to happen quickly. Especially when it comes to societal change.

The truth is, a large part of those that call America home – and even a large part of the body of Christ – has been crying out for years. I suspect they wonder where God is, and why has He not showed up to change things? The place in time in which we find ourselves now has me (as well as I am sure everyone right now) doing a lot of thinking.

Have we been asleep all this time, forgetting that we are the ones God uses to help justice come to pass? Have we thought, in error, its “not my issue?”

By justice I am not just talking about conviction for officers (or civilians) that take black lives. I know there are many officers out there that take their job seriously and do not treat people differently because of the color of their skin. I also know not everyone cries “help” when they see a black man. But the fact that some do reflects something very, very wrong, and it also reflects a much bigger problem. I am talking about seeing that we, as a nation, have for far too long used unequal scales. We probably have not been aware that there are policies and laws that may never have intended to be divisive (or maybe they were) – but have not ever been reviewed to see if they knowingly or unknowingly facilitated racist views or actions. We have not paid attention or taught our children that history was largely written by white people, and that although there are months decidated to people of color (Black, Asian, Hispanic), their voice and experience in history is largely silent.

I readily admit I spent many years not even knowing what white privilege was. I would hear stories of how hard others lives were and think “wow… that’s hard..” and never go beyond that to enter into their pain, or ask what it was like to walk in their shoes, or even to ask myself about my own hidden biases. I am spending a lot of time doing that now. Frankly I hope a lot of us are. It’s time.. heck its been time for a LOOOOONG time.

I also admit I didn’t get why people were protesting so much. I know that sounds horrible. Lest you think I am heartless or blind, I absolutely know it was because of the events around the deaths of George, Brianna, and Ahmed. But I think in logical ways and so I was trying to wrap my head around why people protested in cities where none of this happened? Solidarity, yes. That I get. But why so long?

Then I remembered the parable of the persistent widow. I got it, finally. People standing arm in arm crying out for their states to bring justice locally. Review your laws. Review your police training, your state policies. See if they are really just. If not – change! (Colorado legislators making some huge changes in how they train their police force is a great example). We collectively must be the persistent widow, crying for justice and working towards it however we can, until things change…. for everyone. But let’s just be honest. If you are white, you most likely have not sufferred and do not have to walk in the same amount of caution the way our black brothers and sisters feel they must. Therefore, the focus IS on equality for black lives right now. I am not saying others do not matter. They do…. but we are not the ones suffering from unequal treament. They need our voices, not our attempts to jump in and say “we matter too!”

(on a side note, if you don’t know what I mean by what I just said, I’d encourage you to google some podcasts or some check out some books or movies that might expose you to an experience outside of yours. They have been extremely helpful for me. Resources are belo.w)

You may feel like you can’t make a difference because you are not a politician, a lawmaker, a police officer, a reporter, or a textbook author. Those are all the visible and prominent roles we see. But what you ARE is someone who should work towards reconciliation in your own place in the world. Especially because we serve a God that invites us -or should I say EXPECTS us – to be ministers of reconciliation, because in Christ there is not supposed to be racism or ethnic judgement. In Christ we are to see each person, with their background and ethnicity, as image bearers with the full capacity to bear his image well. We are to defend them. When there is oppression, we are to call it out and work to make it right. Whether that is in our leaders, at the polls, in our voting actions, or in our protests, it must also be done in our churches, in our ways of being with our neighbors, in our ways of working in our communities.

It might be eay to focus on this now because of course its what everyone is talking about. But it is a long hard work to STAY the course and keep learning, keep educating, and not let the things that are being questioned get shoved under the rug any longer. We must continue to have the difficult conversations, and be humble enough to recognize where we need to change our minds, our hearts, our judgements, and LOVE by walking justly.

I know I have a lot to learn. I hope you will join me and be willing to let God teach you new things in this journey as well!

Resource list: (but note – there are so many others available as well, this is just a start of resources, some I have read/watched and some are on my list for this summer)

White Fragility: Why its so hard for White people to talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison,, Daniel Hill, Jennie Allen

Race in America – video by Phil Vischer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY

Podcasts by Erwin McManus (Mosaic Church) – June 1, June 8, June 15, all on conversations about Race, Justice, personal stories by black leaders in his church

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (book or movie) by Bryan Stevenson

13th – a documentary on Netflix

Just a little discontent

So I’m going to be honest about something. There are days when I look back on my faith even a few years ago, and I wonder if I had a polly-anna view of life? I have always been someone who can see the bright side of things, have hope when all seems lost, and find joy in hidden places. I have struggled to understand why people walk away from God and faith when things get hard, or when prayers go unanswered.

It’s not that life has been easy for me. I have dealt with hard things, just like anyone: two miscarriages, lots of church hurt, moving and losing friends, feeling alone and hopeless. I have navigated life with an ex and a daughter with mental illness. Seasonal depression of my own. Loss of dreams and starting over. Sure, my stuff might not compare to yours or someone else’s, but we all have our own journey, right? Yet in all this, somehow I still never understood why people questioned God’s faithfulness or love. I just didn’t get it.

Now I do.

I put the house on the market three months ago. I figured it was the best way to be a good steward of my finances, seeing as how I didn’t need a huge house just for me. Maddie had moved out, Maia was up at school, and it was a chance to slim down and save money. I prayed, I trusted God would provide a buyer. My parents had finished their basement, so I had a small apartment I could move into until I figured out the next step. That never happened.

I had all sorts of conversations with God about how I needed Him to provide – not just in this but in other areas as well. Nothing. No offer… even after reducing the price. Oh – its not that the house isn’t beautiful. I got GREAT reviews. Then folks either decided to build their own (I should get commission for that from the builders I think.. LOL) – or had complaints about the parking or yard. Ugh. So, needless to say, the house is off the market now and I figure God must have something else planned.

But it was in this process that I began to understand why people question God when things don’t go the way they prayed, or how they wanted them to go. Mind you, I have heard a ton of sermons on this over the course of my life. How sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes the answer is NOT YET. God always knows best.

None of this brought me any peace or change in my perspective. I know it should have, and I should have graciously said in faith “ok God I trust you, do whatever you want”. Don’t get me wrong: I could acknowledge this externally. I knew in my head this was true. It was my soul that wasn’t quite letting go, and I couldn’t figure out why. My guy (yes.. I know I haven’t told you much about him yet. Keep waiting) kept asking me if I was patient. I kept saying yes. Obviously all my verbal process/fretting/questioning betrayed that!

I finally realized it wasn’t an issue of patience for me.. it was that I had stopped being content with the way things were playing out.

Yes, yes …. I know the verse in Philippians where Paul says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”. But I couldn’t just throw that verse at my life and then say “see Tama, you should be content”. I am a planner. I am a logical person. I am the kind of person that organizes for vacation. I schedule fun. Weeks out. (Yes I am a type “A”… go ahead and proceed with the mocking.. I can take it. … ). So when what seemed to be a really good plan wasn’t working, I struggled to understand why. All the praying in faith that the Lord taught me about years ago just felt like I was trying to manipulate God now. I finally had to just stop asking and pay attention to the reality, and accept that maybe MY plan wasn’t exactly what HE had in mind.

Wow. Imagine that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been at this place before.

I am also sure some of you are laughing or chuckling at this very moment.

But I get it now. Why, when for our best laid plans, sometimes people walk away from faith. God, you didn’t provide. God, you ignored my cries. God, you didn’t rescue me or save my child or my relationships or my job. God where are you? So we walk away out of our misunderstanding and frustration.

Do we realize we are not the only people in the world who have those questions? We are not the only generation that has asked that. Look at the Psalms. Look at stories of people whose countries are at war, who are in hiding for their lives because of their faith. We have it easy here folks. Our world is broken, we are weak in keeping promises and being faithful and we do a really good job of trying to make things go our way even when we don’t realize we do.

But GOD’s character never changes. He is good, He is faithful, He is near, even when we miss him, don’t get it, or are blind. Jesus gets it. Heck, look at how often his own disciples didn’t get what he was doing, didn’t understand God’s plan, and struggles to make sense of what was going on in life.

Is your faith strong enough to hold on? Can you remind others who are struggling, and help be their anchor when they can’t any more?

Around Christmas, I had blogged a bit about not seeing what God is doing until we look at our lives AND the lives of others around us, and only then sometimes it makes sense. I have a feeling that is what is going on here for me, and I’m finally starting to be curious about what that might look like.

Don’t give up friends, your faith is worth more than gold. There is so much more to know about our God, and your life has just begun!