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(Why not include a photo of my sweet baby girl?)

It was only five or six years ago that I had a lightbulb moment about what my attitude should be about the Church. Up until that point – all through my twenties and early married life – I tended to see myself as the “brain” of the body of Christ.  I thought I was gifted with special insight to see major holes in the Church. At a moment’s notice, I could’ve listed the Church’s failures, blunders, and ineptness.  I could’ve pointed out weaknesses from the pastor on down through the congregation – including the nursery workers. And the most discouraging part was that it seemed I was the only one who saw or cared. Did I have a spiritual gift? I think I thought so.

Then, I started studying the mature Christians around me – the ones I loved so dearly and respected so deeply – and realized they were not thinking, talking, or behaving the same way I was when it came to the Church. The Holy Spirit used their lives as a wake-up call to me as I wondered, why were these saints so content and happy with the Church? 

They weren’t critical about the pastoral search committee.

They weren’t resistant to discussions about changes, organization, or new projects.

They weren’t the loudest voices at congregational meetings, asking the hard-hitting questions.

Nor were they moping in the margin, believing that the majority of Christians “just don’t get it”.

Instead, where they saw a need for more wisdom, they prayed.

Where they saw a need for more workers, they signed up.

Where they saw a need for a ministry, they started it.

Where they saw glimpses of growth, they encouraged it.

They didn’t see the Church as something to be divided into “people who get it” and “people who don’t”. Rather, they were part of the whole shebang, and they weren’t interested in criticism when there was so much work to do.

They never – ever – ever – saw a hole and asked accusingly, “Why isn’t someone filling that hole?!”

They just filled it.

Or they encouraged someone else to fill it. Or maybe they taught someone to fill it. Or they asked God Himself to fill it. And if He didn’t, they asked for contentment to live with that hole.

Though there is certainly a time for serious criticism in the Church, mature Christians don’t seem to believe it’s often.

Reflecting on the mature Christian’s vibrant, uncritical life in the body of Christ taught me that I am not the brain.

Jesus is.

Even when it seems like people are careless and foolish and weak and uncommitted, Jesus is building something glorious through those very people – including me.

My role is to trust Him as the mastermind of it all. As it turns out, not being the brain frees me up significantly. I can love, serve, and rest well. I can offer my real spiritual gifts generously, with no strings attached and no point to prove.  The best part is that my fellowship with the Church is so much more content and sweet.

“… speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love…” Ephesians 4: 15-16

 

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Sometimes, my Christian faith seems like the tethers of a hot air balloon, holding it securely to the ground.

But those tethers are constantly being loosened, threatening my sense of stability.

A shocking headline can make me lose my bearings. A challenging conversation can make my feet slip.  Circumstances that force me out of my regular routine can make me feel as if all is lost.  I’m way up high in that basket, counting on those tethers, yet feeling them suddenly snipped in half.

Is life is about learning what to do when a tether is loosed?

I’m learning that the tethers are other things ideas, habits, judgements, traditions, assumptions, laws, pleasures that make me feel securely connected to Christ, but don’t do the true work of faith.  Though they feel good and stable, they are not the essence of faith at all. They are holding me down to the earth instead of compelling me toward Heaven.

Thankfully, the tethers always (naturally? Providentially?) come undone and I am forced to face the true essence of faith in Christ. Thankfully, I discover my false securities each time something disappoints me, dissatisfies me, or proves me wrong.

I am learning that true faith in Christ is more like the fire inside a hot air balloon that causes it to soar.

Life is about learning that His character is my security and His presence is all I need to live abundantly.

If I sit tethered to the earth forever, I’ll miss out on everything.

When human traditions and earthly expectations fail us, we are more likely to see that the actual substance of our faith – what is truly securing us to Heaven – is entirely and completely Jesus Christ. 

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Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16) 

And so we soar with Him, our one true stability.

 

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For well over a year, we’ve prayed and sought council on whether or not we should sell our farm and move closer to work, church, lessons, and friends.  A few months ago, we finally made the decision to go for it! We discovered a wonderful house in town and made an offer. With final closing scheduled months down the road, we felt confident that we could sell the farm by then.

We have worked our tails off to sell this place.

More than that, we’ve prayed and ask for God’s help all along.

“We trust God to help us sell the farm,” we thought, and said, and heard, and prayed.

Dozens of friendly prospective-buyers have called, emailed, and visited our open houses. Many of them wandered the property for hours, dreaming about the horse farm, produce stand, or retirement community they’ve always wanted to build. Until last night, we were still in conversation with four potential buyers. I thought for sure one of them would send us an offer the night before we were to sign on our new house. (Isn’t that just how God works? Making us wait until the last minute and then showing His provision in just the knick of time!)

But all four have suddenly said “no”.

We are scheduled to close on Friday without any prospective buyers.

We feel like fools.

Fools for going under contract without selling the farm first. (Note: don’t do that! It is better to live on mac-and-cheese in your friends’ basement for a few months while you look for a house.)

Mostly, we feel like fools for putting a layer of “We trust that God will do this for us!” overtop the truth that maybe he won’t.

Tonight’s the night someone is supposed to say “We’d like to make an offer”! This is the night we were going to celebrate that God came through; that He saved us from ourselves.

And yet… there is silence.

Waiting for a “yes” from a buyer feels like we’re actually waiting for a “yes” from God.

I remember feeling this way when we were waiting for our first baby. (Twelve, thirteen years ago, we waited over two years for a baby while doctors said, “It’s impossible.”) It was agonizing and our hearts were worn out before God. We wanted to trust Him to bless us with a child, and yet we just couldn’t get beyond the fact that maybe He wouldn’t.

To this day, I don’t know if God relented and sent Vivienne because we begged passionately or if it had always been in His plan and we just had to wait until that ordained moment. (Surely, people beg even more than we did and never receive a baby at all.  And surely, He had always held Vivienne in His plan even if we didn’t ask for her.) So, which is it? From what I can tell, Scripture says, “Yes. Both.”

So, here we are 12 years later with a similar question. Can we say, “We trust God to help us sell the farm”?

I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Last night, I had a talking to myself. Tears ran. Months of false hopes finally lifted and flew up-and-away. True hope (tiny, little true hope) had room to breathe. Though I can’t trust God to sell the farm, I can – I must – trust God.

Just God Himself.

Trust in Who He Is rather than what He should do. 

Trust God.

I will. For I have read and heard of His greatness and of His love for those who believe. Whenever I open Scripture, I read of His faithfulness to His children (and their children). I know His salvation through Jesus Christ. I know He is my Father and He will not abandon us even if we made an unwise decision. I know He hears us and cares about us in the midst of these burdensome circumstances.

And so today, as I think about that looming contract, I will trust God.

…God, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (from Psalm 73)

 

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bike

When I finished reading the zillionth “How French/ Swedish/ Chinese/ and Antartican Parents Are infinitely Better Than American Parents” article, I sighed.

I had finally had enough.

For years, I’ve taken notes on each one of them, eagerly applying the gems of wisdom from around the globe and throughout time. But something about that zillionth one caused me to ask myself, “Why am I esteeming the methods of people I don’t know at the expense of the parents I do know – the ones who happen to be the most exquisite, generous, faithful parents imaginable?”

To my mother and father’s generation, I offer my lifelong standing ovation.

I particularly applaud my own parents, who raised 4 of the world’s wealthiest daughters – rich in love and learning. Your parenting methods were spot on, in good times and bad, for I consider my sisters amongst the top-notch mothers on the globe, with vivacious, curious, caring children of their own.

Then, I applaud my husband’s parents. You raised a man who can do anything. From the moment he holds our newborn babies, he never flinches from one opportunity to make their day, teach them something useful, or lead them to Jesus.

I applaud my friends’ parents. You have accomplished outstanding work. My friends think deep and well, they serve tirelessly, speak humbly, learn endlessly, and are, themselves, parenting with excellence. Your daughters do motherhood with such devotion! I spend as much time as I can watching them, talking with them, reading their writing, and learning from them. And your sons are connected, responsible, and so fun. One thing is for sure: you did something right.

I know that I represent a certain demographic, but I believe that my demographic must be included in the conversation about American parenting. (For the record, it’s not too narrow of a demographic. As I write this post, I’m thinking of friends who live in the city, others in suburbia, others in the country. Some are rich, others poor. I’m thinking of parents who work full time, part-time, or stay home with their children. They choose public school, private school, or homeschool. Some are Christians, others are not. And they practice a vast variety of parenting methods.)

I just couldn’t wait another day without saying that the American parents I know are amazing and their children are thriving.

So, from my vantage point, here’s what I see:

American parents feed their children healthy food.

They read them excellent books and listen to beautiful music.

They create healthy boundaries and aim to help their children grow in diligence and faithfulness.

They let them play outside for hours and limit their screen time.

They encourage them to respect elders, understand government, keep friendships, and serve others.

They take seriously their job of preparing their children for the future.

They give them age-appropriate chores and loving discipline.

They put them to bed early and teach them how to develop healthy lifestyle habits.

They research important choices like healthcare, diet, social media, and entertainment.

They see the importance of their role as parents and try so diligently to make the wisest choices possible, even it means sometimes signing their child up for one-too-many activities or one-too-few vaccinations.

The American parents I know reflect on how they are doing, they read about parenting often, talk about it tirelessly, and aim to do well by their children for the present and the future.

When I consider the American parents I know, I see God’s grace lavished on two vibrant generations!

So, my friends – beloved American parents – be encouraged to continue in your work and in your love. You are doing exceptionally well.

 

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my man

This has been my complaint about marriage over the years: “Why can’t we both be in a good place at the same time??”

It seems like whenever I am weak – dragging along in a chocolate-addicted, exercise-averse, temper-sizzling, cranky depression – Ryan is amazing. His skin glows from the 10K he sprinted before his 45-minutes of devotions. His hair stays trim, his stomach is flat, his attitude is positive and can-do. He brings me flowers, sends me to Barnes and Noble for the evening, and takes the whole family out to dinner. He solves my problems and helps with the housework. He teaches all the kids how to butcher a chicken, analyze baseball statistics, and play inverted scales on the recorder. AND he wakes up in the middle of the night with the babies so I can sleep.

Though I appreciate his amazingness, I mostly get caught up in a pity party that I am a D.R.A.G. on this incredible, industrious, happy man. I wish I could be stronger for him…

Of course, I blink and the shoe is on the other foot.

Suddenly (how’d this happen?), I’m the one tying up my running shoes when the sun is just peaking over the hills, my heart is full of prayer and praise toward God, I collect wildflowers for a vase on the kitchen table and make a special lunch for my man and tuck a lovey-dovey Post-it Note inside. I do all this while Ryan’s still in bed! While his alarm has gone off five times to no avail. He gets ready for work slowly, carrying the world on his shoulders. If he speaks at all during dinner that evening, it’s just to say that he’s frustrated about this and about that and about everything. He’s overwhelmed by all of life’s demands and he can’t see his way through. I listen lovingly. I have caring, strong things to say. I look for ways to alleviate his burdens.

I love being strong for him, but I can’t help getting caught up in a pity party that he is a D.R.A.G. on the positive trajectory of my life. If only he would get his behind out of bed and go for a run, then he’d feel spunky and happy… like me! I wonder if I should mention this to him…

Though this certainly isn’t how things are all of the time, these are well-rehearsed scenes in our marriage. I’ve often gotten stuck on that one complaint: “Why can’t we both be in a good place at the same time??”

Recently however, I had an epiphany that got me unstuck.

It came to me when I remembered the beautiful verse from Ecclesiastes 4 that is often read at weddings:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The epiphany: it’s part of the plan! One will fall; the other will lift up. One will be cold; the other will warm. One will be attacked; the other will protect. Over and over and over again, it will be the very fabric of marriage.

It’s not a bad thing to be the one who is down. There is no need to feel guilty or indebted.

It’s not a bad thing to be the one who is up. There is certainly no need to feel proud or lonely.

We’re tied together in the journey, through the ups and downs, come what may. And the tie that binds us – the One who is between us actually doing all the lifting, warming, and defending – is Jesus himself, our third cord.

For that, for Christ, and for my husband, I am grateful.

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I just wanted to point out that from my limited sample-slice of the population, I have read absolutely nothing derogatory or bitter from Christians in response to SCOTUS. I haven’t seen or heard one hateful word.  Of course I know this doesn’t represent all of the people who speak on behalf of Christianity, but I think it’s worth pointing out.

I’ve read quite a few articles encouraging Christians to avoid being judgmental, and I’ve even read open letters to Christians, from Christians, about the vitriol they are spewing in response to the whole thing, but I personally have only heard courage, hope, repentance, love, and a resolve to worship the one true God, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

From my perch in the world, I must encourage the Church. I think we’re doing well as we pour our hearts out to the Lord, think deeply and well about all things, and respond with love. Keep on!

 

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This past week, we met an older couple at the top of Horseshoe Curve. Kind, friendly folks waiting for the next train to chug by. While we were chatting about politics and what-not, the older woman shook her head and said, “I’m just worried about the next generation. I can’t imagine how awful things are going to be for your children.”

This worry is quite common, indeed.

Today, I want to affirm that we need not be afraid of the future. I am not worried for my children or my children’s children. And nothing will change my mind about that – not politics or agriculture or media or economics.

I am not worried for my children because the gospel will be just as true for them as it has been since the beginning of time.

I am not worried for my children because God will be their refuge, the Holy Spirit will be their counselor, and Jesus will be praying for them… and preparing a home for them.

Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age!” May we rejoice that every generation can expect these things to be true.

 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a]against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[b] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (From Romans 8)

 

 

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I Can Identify

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Who truly loves the person they are, through and through? Who is entirely content with themselves? My guess is no one.

Every day, every person, everywhere modifies her identity to a certain extent based on her imagination, resources, and determination to become someone other – better? – than who she truly is. 

At this particular moment in history, it seems fitting to acknowledge that discontentment with one’s identity is a universal sentiment. I think the reason we are discontent is revealed in the Bible; it comes down to sin. The more I study this topic, the more I can see that sin not only fuels our discontentment but is the very thing we hate about ourselves.

I don’t think it’s our gender, our hair, our size, or our skin color that we dislike.  I think it’s our soul that makes us wrestle and sigh and search for escape. No amount of effort or money will transform the sinful nature that torments us from the inside-out with discontentment and darkness. We may transform everything from head-to-toe, but should not be surprised when we are still in there, completely unaffected.

What a time to remember that Jesus alone can transform the desperate human being into something glorious. As I read recent headlines, it dawns on me that we are offered an identity transformation of the best and truest kind. God has provided the extravagant riches and expertise to make us lovelier than we could ever imagine. I can speak as a witness: my soul – my identity – is entirely new because of Christ. And that changes everything.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconcilingc the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21

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The Child in There

One thing is for sure as I follow responses to recent news articles: countless adults are still deeply hurt from things that happened – or didn’t happen – in their childhood. Their voices and pens resonate with heartache.

Childhood matters. It doesn’t just go away in time. We don’t age-out of ourselves. The ten year old is still there, for better or worse. The fifteen year old is still there, the eighteen year old. It’s all a part of who we are today. It’s all an inextricable part of our story.

Don’t be too busy or grown-up to face things that hurt from long ago. Now might be the time to cry. Maybe it’s finally the time to apologize or to forgive. Maybe the time has finally come for you to find a listening advocate. Or to be one.

I recommend one particular resource for people on any side of the specific topic of sexual abuse: Diane Langberg’s Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. If this issue has affected your life in any way, you will discover helpful scientific as well as spiritual guidance.

The good thing is that the story is never over.

“… fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – The Lord God in Isaiah 41 

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I think about The Truman Show a lot.

I bet everyone does. I bet that although it’s not  The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, The Truman Show is one of the most thought-about movies of our generation.

After all, it explores some of our most common internal dialogue: “What is the meaning of my life?” “Is there more to this life than I perceive?”  “Is someone orchestrating my life for me?”

If you’ve seen The Truman Show you probably remember Truman’s sad situation: unbeknownst to him, he is the star of a reality TV show. From one episode to the next, Truman essentially lives a mundane, repetitive existence for the entertainment of millions of viewers. We’re all sad for him because the essence of his true humanity has been stolen from him. As the outsiders-looking-in, we know that although his grass is green and his wife smiles at him, Truman’s life is meaningless.

And yet, those millions of people tune into the show to escape the monotony and meaninglessness of their own lives. We could join the ranks: when we quietly consider our own existence, don’t we all stumble upon the fear that maybe it’s all just a little bit futile?

I thought about The Truman Show this morning at church.

Pastor Dan was preaching through the first 11 verses of Ecclesiastes – the book of the Bible that faces the universal ache that “life is meaningless”.  Generations keep turning over and over, nature keeps repeating itself, and everything ends up being forgotten anyway.

We sat in those wooden pews and thought about life’s futility for a good 30 minutes as we dug into the text. We nodded, leaned forward, and jotted down a few notes. Occasionally, I’d wrap my right arm around Vivienne’s thin shoulders and give her a squeeze. I’d tuck my left hand into Ryan’s elbow and hold him tightly.  There wasn’t one person in that room who couldn’t feel the writer’s heavy frustration with reality: life is a soap bubble. Pop! And it vanishes.

But then, Pastor Dan said something that changed everything.

What he said helped me breathe again.

It made me feel a thrill that my daughter and husband were sitting by my side.

And it reminded me of that wonderful scene in The Truman Show when Truman sails his boat to the horizon and pushes through the fake sky into a broader reality – presumably into a life with promise, meaning, and truth. (Ah! The hope of escape from meaninglessness? Amazing!)

What Pastor Dan said that changed everything was this:

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he broke through the meaningless, cyclical, forgotten days of life under the sun

Our story is no longer found in the book of Ecclesiastes, for we are people who “Look beyond the sun!” 

Christ has pushed open the exit.

 

(I bet you’ll love this soul-thrilling sermon. A recording will be at Oakwood Presbyterian Church’s sermon website.)

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