Let’s Get Off the Roller Coaster

I loved roller coasters when I was growing up. I loved the clink-clink-clink of the cart as it slowly made its way up the highest hill of the ride. The anticipation of the fall was almost as good as the actual fall. And then the cart would get to the top and drop, full speed, to the lowest low of the ride. I would scream with both delight and terror and get back in line to ride it again.

I don’t like roller coasters anymore. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. If my sponsor was reading this she would surely be rolling her eyes because she knows that I know how much I try to be in control of life when it’s simply not a reality for anyone. I can control my actions and reactions and nothing else. I still try though.

The hubs and I were listening to a Stephen King novel in the car a few days ago and the story was set in 2020. It was clearly written well before 2020 because the story told was in no way as terrifying as the real 2020. I saw a meme a while back that said something about 2020 being written by Stephen King and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. I have never felt a meme to be more accurate. I turned to the hubs and commented on the fact that the story we were listening to was far more believable that our actual lives right now.

The roller coaster of emotions, the ups and downs of fear, and the speed of how fast news changes. We were heartbroken at fires in Australia and then terrified of a virus with no cure and then enraged at social injustices. Add in a presidential campaign and we have a year of madness that is only half over.

My daughter and I were talking last week about how many people in her social media feed were angrily announcing to their world of followers that if “you” aren’t posting about racial equality or social injustice then “you” are uncaring and would swiftly be unfollowed. As if one Instagram post or Snapchat story could possibly sum up the totality of anyone’s heart.

I have felt so discouraged in the last few weeks. The hard lines drawn by all sides of every issue are so alienating. We are told you either agree or you are wrong. We have to be totally informed, totally involved, and totally wrapped up by every issue surrounding us. And were this not the kind of unprecedented year we are having, that might be an easier demand. But in a year that has clearly gone off the rails and so many people are hurt by so many issues, there is way too much hurt for any one person to carry.

This makes me wonder about our purpose as followers of Christ. I’m starting to believe that when Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world to share his love, he didn’t mean all the world at one time. He specifically instructed them to go to one place, then the next, then the next, dusting off their sandals when their love was not accepted or understood.

Twenty-four-hour news coverage lets us know about the heartache around the world at any given minute. We can know about fires in Australia and earthquakes in India in the same newscast. We can read about the unemployment rate in America and the starving children in Africa in the same article. And news produced this morning is old and out of date this afternoon.

Social media allows anyone and everyone to share their beliefs and with that, they can try to get you onboard or shame you for not jumping on fast enough. It just seems that maybe God didn’t design our hearts to know all the things at all times. We weren’t designed to process and handle the heartache of the entire world when we have not yet completed the work of processing our own.

It’s so easy for us to read all the news and form opinions and jump into fear-based action or to react with anger. We are told our “likes” matter and show we are in total alinement. We are encouraged to “share” in order to inform and make a difference. But I’m just not sure that typing some words on a screen and sending them into the universe is true compassion as God intended (Says the woman typing a blog post).

It feels like the energy spent online reading charts and graphs, listening to the news, and scrolling feeds can drain us of the compassion we need to be sharing with people face to face. And maybe because the government has forbidden us from being face to face for so long we have come to a false belief that online interaction would be a suitable replacement. It’s not.

There was a time told in the Bible when the people tried to build a tower that would reach heaven. They wanted to be as great as God himself. So God mixed their words and languages to make it nearly impossible for anyone to communicate efficiently with each other. Their tower plan failed. These days we are in feel sort of like that. Have we become so full of ourselves, thinking we have access to the best and latest information, that we know better than God? I don’t think any of us would be so bold to say those words out loud but it feels like we just might believe we are capable of some level of omniscience; that the technology we possess allows us to know all. And when we believe we know the most about any given topic, we tend to live as if we are better than those who know less than us. And when we believe we are better and know more, we listen to other ideas, other points of view, other hearts much less. It’s a total breakdown of compassion and empathy.

I have found myself on both sides of the breakdown lately, so trust me when I say I write this without the purpose of finger-wagging. I write it more as a confession. I also write it as a plea for everyone to take a deep breath, put their phones down, take a walk, go for a swim, pick some flowers, or have lunch with a friend. Hug someone. Hold someone’s hand. But most importantly, get off the roller coaster. It only runs when we stand in line, get in the cart, and strap ourselves in. If there are no riders, no one runs the ride.

In the Light of God’s Mercy and Grace

I was a very good student in elementary school. I was smart and I made good grades. I was afraid of breaking the rules and disappointing my teachers so I was very careful to always listen to instructions. I was kind to most of the kids, although I’m sure someone somewhere has a story of a time when I wasn’t. I imagine, if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a story of my own. But for the most part, I was a good kid and I was well liked.

However, one year, in my elementary years, when I was still sweet and kind and studious and a rule follower, I had a teacher who did not particularly like me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t the favorite; she was often annoyed with me. She would snap at my questions, rarely smiled at me, and was very harsh in her judgement of my art projects (I was excellent at coloring!). I know I didn’t imagine this behavior and she didn’t treat everyone in the class the same way. It was very obvious who she liked and who she didn’t.

I never figured out why she didn’t like me. It was hard for me back then but I really have let it go. I have come to accept that I am an acquirred taste and not everyone wants to take the time or energy to learn to love me. I get it and I’m fine with it.

When I was in high school, there was a man who volunteered with our church youth group who didn’t like me. He liked the kids who came to all the events and lived their lives the same at church as they did at school and in the community. I was not very authentic as a teenager. I didn’t always make the right choices and this man knew it. He liked to call me out on some of those choices and, since the only time I ever saw him was at Sunday School, he would do the calling out in front of all the other kids.

As an adult I find this sort of behavior appalling. Shaming a teenager in front of their peers is not the ideal way to help them grow a vibrant relationship with Jesus. But I’ve forgiven him because I like to imagine he didn’t know better. And frankly, I only have so much energy to get me through each day and I don’t want to waste an ounce on holding anger at someone like that.

When I was a young married woman I took a job as a receptionist and book keeper for a small business. My job was to answer the phones, take messages, and record receipts in a big ledger book. The owner of the business was always looking at me in a creepy way and then, after only two weeks there, he ran his hand up my leg. I punched him and walked out. He was an old fool and I refused to be disrespected or abused in that way.

These three people all have something in common in my life. All three were terrible at their job. All three showed disrespect. All three could have caused emotional damage. But none of them had the power to change my view of all the other people in their position. I don’t think all teachers are mean. I don’t think all church workers are shaming. And I don’t think all old men are perverts.

In my lifetime I have had bad doctors, bad waiters, bad contractors, bad dentists, bad hairdressers, bad… You name it. But I’ve also had good ones. I could make a list of hundreds of teachers and professors I have had or my children have had who are kind and loving and genuinely care about their students. I have known youth pastors and senior pastors and music leaders and Sunday School teachers who offer grace and show love and point people to Jesus. And I have had bosses who are respectful and kind and have taught me much about leadership.

As a rule, I try to assume that other people are doing the very best they can with the resources they have at hand in that moment. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Are there people who should be fired from their position because they’ve done such a terrible job or caused harm to others? Of course. Are there people who, despite being told of an unacceptable behavior many times, refuse to stop that behavior? Yes. Do I need to keep those people in my life? No.

Our country is going through some crazy times. Actually, the entire world feels sort of mad this year. When I heard of the police officer who murdered a man in Minnesota a few weeks back while other police officers stood and watched, I was completely heart broken. No human being should be treated that way-criminal or free person -no one deserves the treatmant that man received. I have to wonder what those officers have gone through and seen in their lives and careers that calloused their hearts. I am curious where they went off the rails of empathy and compassion for their fellow man and landed in the ditch of hate. I hope those officers are never allowed to work in any position of authority ever again. I hope they are put away. And I hope they find remorse in their hearts and repent.

I also hope that police officers everywhere are taught the proper procedures to handle criminals. I hope they are given resources to manage the stress of their job – counseling and therapy – so they can learn how to process some of the horrors they see in their daily grind without causing horrors for others. I hope there are systems put into place to decipher ones mental capacity to handle the taxing job of being a police officer. But all of these things take funding and will never happen if we defund police.

Last week we watched a dear friend, who is a police officer, work to form teams who would work at local protests of all that is happening in our country. He spent hours on the phone and on his computer, carefully placing structure around what everyone hoped would be a peaceful situation. His desire was to keep the peace but he knew he had to be prepared for the worst.

As he put on his uniform with his bullet-proof vest and his gun in holster and prepared to leave the house, his wife kissed him good-bye. I felt my heart cracking wide open but couldn’t show emotion or fear for him because his teenage children and mine were watching wide-eyed. As he pulled out of the driveway they asked lots of questions about the protests and we all did the best we could to answer those questions. The reality though was that we all knew he was going into a situation where there could be people who see him as the enemy; people who carry so much hate for the police officers in Minnesota, and for other police officers who have been bad at their job, that their hate spills over to all police. We knew that there could be people there who are not capable of seeing past the badge on his chest because, in their minds, all badges are the same and all badges are evil. The irony of the situation was lost on none of us.

I don’t have answers for the system. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than Friends and The Office. I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about many things. What I do know is that I pray every day for Jesus to come back and take us all home. I also know Jesus rarely does things according to my time frame or my plan. So in the meantime, I have to guard my heart. I have to guard against fear and anger. I have to guard against judgement and hatred. I have to guard against idolatry and pride. And I have to remind myself over and over and over that God created each of us in His image. I am an image bearer of God. My husband and children bear the image of God. My neighbors bear His image. My boss, my doctor, my dentist, my exterminator…all image bearers. My teacher from elementary school who didn’t like me? Yep. God created her in His image as well. And the youth guy and the perve boss? Also, created in God’s image.

The problem is that this world is full of sin. So the image we were designed to reflect can get smudged and distorted and messed up. But God knew that! So He sent His only child, His Son, to take the punishment for all that sin. When we are baptised in Christ, we take on the pure and holy image we were meant to reflect. We don’t reflect it here on Earth but when God looks at us, all He sees is His own reflection. God sees Jesus in us.

I have hurt people and I have helped people. I have made poor choices and I have shown wisdom. I have judged people and I have trusted people. I have been the target of hate and disrespect and I have been the benefactor of undeserved privilege. I pray no one ever looks at me and sees all or nothing; one or the other. And I pray I never look at others in any light but the light of God’s mercy and grace.

When I Think God Is Hiding

One of my favorite games to play as a child was “Hide and Go Seek.” The very act of playing the game meant that I wasn’t alone because it’s not a one-person game. As an only child, I learned to play a lot of one-person games.

The thing about “Hide and Go Seek” was that, even if I was only playing with one other person, there was another person. Even if they were hiding in the very best hiding spot, even if it took me a really long time to find them, there was another person in the game with me.

So often, when we face trials in this life, we feel like we are playing a one-person game; like we are all alone. The truth is there are very few new experiences on this planet; very few roads that have never been walked before.

Grief often feels so isolating. We enter in feeling like no one could have ever felt a pain like this one and we will never be able to find our way out. And while it’s true that grief is unique for all of us, it’s also the same, and we never have to walk through it alone.

There is so much grief swirling around right now. There is my own grief, grief that belongs to my friends, grief that belongs to our country, grief that belongs to the world. And in the midst of grieving, it’s easy to wonder where God is hiding.

Does God hide? I don’t think so. If he did, that would mean we could be separated from him. I know that there are times when I feel like God is far away from me and I can’t find him. But when I call out, he’s always right there. I can get so wrapped up in my own head, my own fears, and my own grief that I start to hide from God’s truth.

Even then, my hiding from God is like when my kids would hide from me when they were little. They, too, loved to play “Hide and Go Seek.” They would hide behind the sofa and their little legs would stick out the backside. Or they would hide behind the drapes and I could see their tiny feet. I always knew where they were. So when I am tempted to think God is hiding from me, I have to remind myself of the truth of Romans 8:35 – 39.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

Sometimes we walk through valleys and we question why God would ever allow us to experience such a dark place or why he would take us down a path that seems so out of the way. We could never fathom the places God wants to take us. God’s plans for us are so much greater than we could ever imagine for ourselves. So when God walks us down a road we’ve never seen before, we can rest assured that he knows exactly where we are going. And when the road seems longer than it should be, we can trust that God wants us to learn as much as we can along that road.

God’s grace is all I need when life feels bigger than I can handle. When I am at my weakest, when I am sad, when I can’t see a way out, it is God’s power that carries me through the darkness. I can try to comfort myself. I can try to find my own way out. But I can only be saved when I release myself into God’s care. I can trust that on my hardest days, in the middle of my trying times, wrapped in my own weaknesses is when God’s strength is revealed.

Saying Good-Bye

I grew up without a close relationship with any grandparents. I was always jealous of kids who had grandpas and grandmas and mimis and nanas who came to plays, concerts, and such. My dad’s parents died before I was born. My mom’s mother died when my mom was a girl. Her dad remarried a woman named Patsy but Mom did not have a good relationship with her step-mother. I can count on two hands the number of times I saw my Granddaddy when I was a child.

As a child, I didn’t know for certain why my close cousins and I didn’t see Granddaddy and Grandma Patsy very often. I knew there was tension and hurt between Mom and her 5 natural siblings and their father. I occasionally heard stories but I never saw the whole picture. I do have a vivid memory of visiting Granddaddy when I was four-years-old. He took me outside and when I saw a tree swing, I asked him to push me on it. He told me he was too tired to swing and I quickly answered, with my hands on my hips, “Grandpas are supposed to push their grandkids on swings. It’s in all the books.” Bless. I have no idea what books I had been reading but I remember standing there, locked eye with him, and thinking I was not about to budge on this. I knew what Grandpas did for other kids. I had read the books and seen the evidence and I wanted in. He pushed me.

I saw him at a couple of family parties over the years. He came to my high school graduation, my mom’s funeral, my wedding, and Shelby’s baptism. I didn’t see him again for several years.

A cousin texted me in 2015 that Grandma Patsy had passed away and I felt God stirring in me to go to the funeral. Granddaddy, nearly blind at that point, cried when I walked up to him. He hugged me and told me he was so glad I was there. God started opening doors for healing. Later that year, it was Thanksgiving when God worked a massive miracle in my family. You can read about it here. And suddenly, there it was, a relationship.

Me with Granddaddy and my mom’s siblings, minus one sister.

Granddaddy turned 101-years-old this last November. At Thanksgiving, he sat next to me as we ate and told me he’d been invited to ride in the Fourth of July parade in his hometown. He fought bravely in Europe in World War II and in recent years, had been the subject of a few newspaper articles. There aren’t too many WWII Veterans still living so I could totally understand the parade plans. Knowing that July 4 is my birthday, he told me that if he was still alive, I could ride with him. Of course, I agreed. Like my Granddaddy, I rarely turn down a chance in the spotlight and a parade was ideal for both of us.

Two weeks ago, however, I received several texts and phone calls from family members letting me know his nursing home had reached out to say the end was near. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night. And then he wasn’t expected to make it through the next night. And the next. And the next. No one will ever accuse him of going down easily without a fight. His children and step-children were all invited in, one-by-one, through a back door of the nursing home, to say good-bye. Quarantine due to COVID-19 has made saying good-bye hard for so many families this year. For almost two weeks, Granddaddy waited for his family to say their farewells, and then finally, a little after midnight, while we all slept last night, he passed peacefully from this world to the arms of Jesus.

Thanksgiving 2019

I am grateful for the last few years I’ve had to spend time with him. He wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t a perfect father or grandfather. But in the end, he was gentle and loving and funny. He longed to be accepted and loved – a longing I think we can all understand.

I cried a little bit this morning, thinking about the hurts of the family that were never addressed or healed but then I thanked God for the ones that were. I thanked Him for His promise of eternity when those things won’t matter anymore. I’m thankful for the salvation we have in Jesus and the hope that we all get to be together again one day.

We don’t know when we will be able to gather for a memorial but I know it will be a party. We will laugh and tell stories and eat good food and love on each other in the way only family can. And we will be thankful for Alfred Preston (Whitey) Birdwell because, without him, we would not be here to share his love.

An Invitation for the Weary

Weary has taken on a new meaning for our world. The level of weariness is unprecedented and unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. We know it will end…we just don’t know when. And that is part of what makes this particular weariness so hard.

This morning, as I opened my Bible, praying for a message that would be relevant to my current state of heart, which frankly can change by the hour, God gave me what I needed. He’s got a habit of that.

Matthew 11: 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t know when the fear of Coronavirus will end. I don’t know when we will leave our houses again and be allowed to stand next to each other. I don’t know when I’ll be able to hug my friends or go to the grocery store and find toilet paper with ease. I don’t know how many more lives will be lost.

But God knows.

God knows when it will end and He sees us now in our weariness. He says we don’t have to carry the burden because he will carry it for us. And some of us have been carrying some burden for quite some time.

It occurred to me a few days ago that in my town, there has been an extended time of burden; there have been several years of loads to bear. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2017, our town was flooded in a devastating way. It wasn’t simply from the storm but from a late-night release of water from a lake north of us. People made poor judgment calls in a moment of panic and thousands of lives were sent into chaos. Homes were flooded, lives were lost, businesses shut down, and the way of life in our town was forever changed.

Then in 2019, another decision made by an unscrupulous builder teamed up with never before seen flash flooding and several neighborhoods in our town were flooded. Once again, stress and chaos came to us as schools and businesses were shut down. Families were displaced. It was heartbreaking.

And the only thing that could make the Spring flooding of 2019 any more heartbreaking is that the builder, who had promised to fix his mistakes, did not do so in time for another flash flood that came in the Fall. The same families in the same houses who had flooded in the Spring were now flooding again. Plus some extras; some of which had flooded during Harvey.

So just as these families were all getting their repairs wrapped up and moving back into their newly refurbished homes, COVID-19 hits. And we all know what it has brought thus far.

I want to cry out to God and scream, “Enough!!!!!” And yet I know that things could be so much worse. I can look at areas of the world who are war-ravaged and poverty-stricken and politically oppressed and easily remind myself that we really don’t have it that bad in our town; that we can’t complain. But I also know that there are enough feelings for all of us and that I don’t have to save all my empathy for one place. If I neglect to acknowledge my sadness for my friends because they don’t have it as bad as someone in say, Iraq, it doesn’t make the situation in Iraq better. I could say that I shouldn’t pray for the mom of three toddlers who feels like she’s losing her mind right now because she has it so much better than the mom who is struggling to feed her children in Africa. But saving that empathy and prayer doesn’t bring a miracle to Africa any faster.

No, God reminds me to bring my burdens to him because He is big enough for all of it. God can love and care for my town at the same time He cares for Africa. He can see the mom who rebuilt her kitchen twice after flooding twice and also see the mom without a roof over her head. He can provide for the nurse in the hospital in Houston who is short on supplies at the exact time He is providing for the nurse in the refugee camp.

Weariness is relative. There is no comparison to our fellow man. What makes me weary today may seem like a cake-walk to you. And what makes you weary tomorrow may be a dream day for me. Weariness is weariness is weariness. And God can handle all of it. He sees us, He knows us, and He wants to carry the load for us. His heart is humble and gentle and He will not rebuke us for coming to his arms to curl up for a rest. In fact, He has given us an open invitation.

Flicker of Light

When I was a little girl, I was terrified of the dark. I was always certain there was someone or something under my bed. Or in my closet. Or behind my door. I slept with a lamp on for years. And while I eventually graduated from the lamp to a small nightlight, it wasn’t because my fear had subsided, just that I was old enough for sleepovers and didn’t want to look like a baby. I would check under my bed, behind my door, and in my closet every single night before I turned off my overhead light and turned on my nightlight. I had to take action in order to scare the fear away. I had to do it every single night.

The Bible says to, “Fear not,” or “Do not fear” well over 350 times. If I believe that everything the Bible says is true, and as a matter of fact I do, then I have to believe that God really doesn’t want me to live in fear. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever face fear. If I am to take this world, sinful as it is, then I am most definitely going to face all sorts of things I don’t like, things I don’t understand, and things that scare me.

COVID-19

I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. It scares me.

So I have to figure out a way not to get stuck in that fear. I have to take action to scare the fear away. Fear is a feeling, it’s a real feeling but feelings sometimes lie to me. Like when I felt like I was in love in 7th grade and got my heart broken when the feeling wasn’t mutual. Turns out, I wasn’t in love. That feeling was a lie.

So how do I not get stuck in a feeling? First, I have to look at the facts and figure out what I’m feeling. Lately, I have been feeling fear. And the fear is of a very real thing; a virus that is spreading worldwide. So to begin to scare the fear away, I have to do everything the authorities are telling me to do. I am social-distancing. I have limited my contact to my family. I’m only meeting up with friends via texting, Facetiming, and video conferencing. I am drinking lots of water and getting plenty of sleep. I’m essentially checking behind the door, in the closet, and under my bed.

But fear still finds its way and it still creeps in and whispers in my ear, “You’re never going to be able to educate your kids at home,” or “the government is never going to be able to control or fix this,” or, and this is the one that comes to me the most often, “what if this is all a way for the government to control the population?”

Don’t stop reading just because I unveiled my crazy. I am fully aware I have watched too much Netflix.

But here is the most important part…The thing I have to keep telling myself, the action I have to take, is to remind myself that God is bigger than COVID-19. In fact, he’s bigger than anything I could ever fear. Every time I look out my window or walk through my yard and see a bird, I am reminded that those little birds worry for nothing. I mean sure, they flit and flutter and gather like crazy to make a nest and to find food for their babies; but ultimately, God provides everything they need. And if God takes such good care of the Robins and Cardinals in my back yard, how much more effort will He put into caring for me?

Now, I hear you, sometimes birds freeze to death. Sometimes a big wind comes and knocks down their nest, or another animal comes and steals the baby birds for dinner. It’s true. These things do happen. But it doesn’t mean that God loved those birds any less. It only means that this world is full of things that suck.

God allows a lot of things to happen that I don’t understand. But it doesn’t mean he’s not watching or that he stopped loving me. I don’t have a clean or slick reason for why he allows things like cancer, heart attacks, suicide, or COVID-19. What I do know is that in all the scary places I’ve been, in all the times I’ve ever been afraid, in all the dark rooms I’ve ever sat in, His light has been my salvation.

I have never come through a dark time of my life when I looked back and couldn’t see God’s guidance, provision, protection, and love. And I have been through some really dark times. But looking back, when the memories feel heavy and burdensome and I know that I couldn’t find any hope at the time, I can always, in hindsight, see a flicker of light. I might not have been able to see the flicker back then, but sure enough, it was always there.

And so even though life feels scary right now and I don’t know when it will feel right again, I don’t have to wonder about who will be lighting the path ahead of me -of us. God has already seen the future, He has already been there. He knows how this all ends and He will be there for us then just like He is here for us now.

Slow Wrestling

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:38-42

I know I’m prone to exaggeration but I swear I’m not when I say that I have wrestled this passage my entire adult life. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not the source of wrestling for all mankind.

We. Must. Stay. Busy.

The curse of man is that we have a lie enmeshed into our being that we can’t get over and we are constantly striving and working to be good enough. We have to take care of all the people, all the things. We have to make sure everyone is fed, that all the kids have their homework, that the car is gassed up, and that we are all safe, happy, and secure. We need to make more money, succeed in all the places, and win at all the things. All. The. Things.

We know Jesus tells us that sitting at his feet is the best way. We’ve read it and we know in our hearts that it makes the most sense. We know this life we are living is too much, too fast, too crazy, and we are all exhausted. We know that Jesus offers peace. But our tiny earthly brains can’t believe it to be true.

This weekend I went away with 35 other women to explore the idea of sitting at the feet of Jesus. We put away our laptops and our phones and we opened real Bibles, the kind with paper pages you turn; there was no scrolling.

The women on the Rhythms of Grace retreat.

We spent lots of time in worship and lots of time in silence, reading God’s Word. We explored the idea of slowing down, unplugging, taking a break, and supporting each other in the process. We didn’t cry and spill our guts – it wasn’t that kind of women’s retreat. But we were real and we were honest about how hard we try to be Martha and how we desperately want to be Mary.

It’s very anti-cultural to slow down. I mean, there are lots of books and magazines suggesting we do so by pouring another glass of wine and sitting in a bubble bath or at a spa. That’s not the slow down we need, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, but they are not the things that will heal our hearts and souls. What we need is good, old-fashion, time with Jesus. We need to be alone with him, to sit with him, and to hear the truth he offers to each of us.

And that truth? It’s simply that his love for us is so great that there is nothing we can do or say to make him love us more or less. We don’t have to work to earn his attention or his affection and we don’t have to work to keep from losing it.

Sometimes we just need a reminder. I am so grateful for the gift of this weekend with these women. I am grateful for all the planning and work that went into making it happen. There was so much busyness and so much work put in by so many to create the space needed for so many to be blessed. Which is kind of ironic, isn’t it? But on this side of Glory, we will always wrestle for the sake of that blessing.

Ashes and The Enneagram

I did not grow up with Ash Wednesday or Lent. It was not a thing in the Baptist Church of the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s. At least not at my Baptist Church. I married a Lutheran in 1999 and became a Lutheran in the process. And because I do everything 110% or not at all, I joined the staff of my Lutheran Church in 2001. Nowadays, Lent is a thing that lots of denominations recognize. Catholics and Lutherans and Episcopalians, of course, but Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians alike. Everyone is welcome.

Of all the pieces of the Lutheran faith and practice I love, I latched onto Ash Wednesday and Lent like it was my job. I mean, it was; but really. There was something about the somberness, the reflection, and the sadness that drew me in immediately. I felt like I had waited my entire life for a ritual such as this. It didn’t always make sense to me but I was here for all of it.

And then I found the Enneagram.

I have a friend who is a pastor and we text each other hilarity and irreverence on a regular basis. After I found the Enneagram I would text him my newfound revelations and he would immediately send me memes about witchcraft. And now you have a small window into our friendship. But a few weeks ago, he sent me a text about something altogether unrelated to anything I’m telling you except that it was prefaced with, “I’m reading a lot about the Enneagram right now…so let me retreat on my previous sarcasm…”

If you don’t know anything about the Enneagram, this post is probably a lot of nonsense to you thus far. Let me see if I can catch you up a bit.

According to The Enneagram Institute, “the Enneagram can be seen as a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one type. It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.

Everyone emerges from childhood with one of the nine types dominating their personality, with inborn temperament and other pre-natal factors being the main determinants of our type. This is one area where most all of the major Enneagram authors agree—we are born with a dominant type. Subsequently, this inborn orientation largely determines the ways in which we learn to adapt to our early childhood environment. It also seems to lead to certain unconscious orientations toward our parental figures, but why this is so, we still do not know. In any case, by the time children are four or five years old, their consciousness has developed sufficiently to have a separate sense of self. Although their identity is still very fluid, at this age children begin to establish themselves and find ways of fitting into the world on their own. Thus, the overall orientation of our personality reflects the totality of all childhood factors (including genetics) that influenced its development.”

I took the test The Enneagram Institute offers. It’s not free but I took it for a class and wanted something of an “official” answer. There are lots of free tests online. I don’t know how good they all are – I haven’t taken them all because the internet is surprisingly large. I have taken several, however, to see how they match up and there is one thing that always rings true…

I am a 4.

What does that mean and what does it have to do with Lent? Well, according to my RHETI Test Results ( Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator), a typical Type 4 “exemplifies the desire to be ourselves, to be known for who we are, and to know the depths of our hearts. Of all the types, Fours are the most aware of their own
emotional states. They notice when they feel upset, anxious, attracted to another person, or some other, more subtle combination of feelings. They pay attention to their different changing emotions and try to determine what their feelings are telling them about themselves, others, and their world. When Fours are more in balance, their exquisite attunement to their inner states enables them to discover deep truths about human nature, to bear compassionate witness to the suffering of others, or to be profoundly honest with themselves about their own motives. When they are less balanced, they can become lost in their feelings, preoccupied with emotional reactions, memories, and fantasies, both negative and positive.

At their worst, Fours become self-inhibiting and angry at self, depressed and alienated from self and others, blocked and emotionally paralyzed. Ashamed of self,
fatigued and unable to function. Tormented by delusional self-contempt, self-reproaches, self-hatred, and morbid thoughts: everything is a source of torment. Blaming others, they drive away anyone who tries to help them. They can be despairing, feel hopeless and become self-destructive, possibly abusing alcohol or drugs to escape. In the extreme: emotional breakdown or suicide is likely. Generally
corresponds to the Avoidant, Depressive, and Narcissistic personality disorders.”

And if you know me, you are now picking your chin up off of your chest because you’ve looked for words to make sense of me and now you have them. Or maybe that’s just me, as a 4, imagining that you may have lost sleep trying to make sense of me.

Lent is a time to reflect on my sin – my continued, habitual, continuous sin. It’s a time to remember the suffering of Christ and the sacrifice of life He made for me. And you. But honestly, had it been only me, He still would have done it. The gap sin caused between God and man was so incredibly great that there had to be a bridge built. There was no way we could work hard enough, live well enough, or say enough prayers to bring the gap to a place of connection. There had to be a plan and so God made one.

God sent His one and only son to us. He was born a baby, grew into a teen and then a man. He lived. He was arrested under false pretenses, beaten, spit upon, made fun of, and nailed to a cross. He hung there for hours while people made jokes and called him names. He looked down on his mother, who sat at the foot of the cross sobbing, as any mother would do for her son, and then he died.

And then he kicked death in the teeth and rose from the grave.

You and I can have a complete and total relationship with God now because Jesus is a rock star who loves us so much that he gave His life for us. God couldn’t stand to see us isolated and separated from Him.

We all have the opportunity to reflect on this truth during Lent. As a 4, my “exquisite attunement” to my inner thoughts enables me to “bear compassionate witness to the suffering of others, or to be profoundly honest with themselves about their own motives.” I am highly aware of my sin, my shortcomings, and all the parts of my life that nailed Jesus to the cross. Sometimes I am too aware. Most of the time, even though I am highly aware of my sin, I am still in denial of the cost. Lent is a time to connect the ashes of my sin to the heart of Jesus. It’s both devastating and beautiful.

But, as a 4, part of my growth will come in realizing that wallowing in the sins of my past will not be helpful. Lent can serve as a reminder of how Jesus sees me – clean and without sin. My feelings will lie to me and tell me I will never rise above the sins of my past. Jesus reaches into that space and reminds me that He sees me washed clean, beautiful, and whole. Maybe I can reframe my Lent experience to focus less on the sin and more on the Savior who reached into that sin to pull me out. I can think about the weakness of my self and turn my eyes toward Jesus, who esteems me and moves me with His gentle strength. My heart is clean because of His ashes.

Authentic

It’s January. Again. And while I don’t really enjoy resolutions, I do enjoy the aspect of picking my one word. It’s a thing I started a few years ago and something I actually look forward to doing in January. Picking one word feels like a big accomplishment when I actually get it done. It’s the one word I feel like focusing on for the year. It helps me to take a sort of singular focus on several aspects of life and run them through a fine filter. For a mind that functions with ADHD, a fine filter of focus feels like a gift. So picking a word of the year feels like a gift to myself.

I’m not always that great at the follow through on my one word. My first word was enough and I tattooed it on my right arm. It’s the word that started a lot of self-discovery and inside work for me. I didn’t commit quite so hard to the words I’ve chosen since, at least not in the tattoo sort of way. But I have learned from each word.

So how do I pick my one word? Well, to be honest, there isn’t a foolproof system. I start with prayer, asking God to reveal something He wants me to see or learn this year. I look at lists of words, browse dictionaries and thesauruses, and dig into definitions. But generally, I pick a word that feels right.

The word I landed on this year is authentic. I wrestled with the word authenticity for a day or two but finally ended up with the short version. Authentic felt a little more precise and the definition lined up more with my heart.

The word authentic could be defined as genuine. It’s when something is done in an original way or faithfully resembles the original, like when you eat Tex-Mex and it tastes delicious and reliably gives you honest delight. It can also mean that something or someone is trustworthy and honest.

But as I was searching up authentic, I learned that there is another lesser-known definition that has to do with music and it intrigued me a great deal. I wasn’t quite sure I understood it as it’s been nearly thirty years since I studied any form of music theory. I texted my daughter at school, feeling that my writing and studying felt, at the moment, worthy of interrupting her school day. But I also texted my friend, the worship leader, and another friend studying who is studying music at college. None of them knew the answer, which meant I had to dig deep into the web.

The best answer I came to is that an authentic note is the opposite of a grace note. A grace note is a note added into a line of music to give it beauty or feeling. It’s an embellishment to the original score. So the authentic note would be the one intended, by the writer of the piece, to be played. It’s the note being what it was created to be.

Listen, I’m sure there is a music theorist out there who would cringe at the simplicity of that definition. But for the sake of the post, it works. And for some reason, it feels like the definition that is most workable for my soul this year.

As I lean into the word authentic, I feel like it fits right into the path I have already suited up for this year. It’s a sort of continuation of last year and the year before, and also the year before that. Each word has been about asking God to help me see who He intends me to be and what He wants me to make of my life. There are lots of great things going on in my world that bring beauty and light and life; things that add depth and definition. But the question I have to ask is if these things are what God intends. Is my life song being played as He wrote it?

Today would have been my mom’s 71st birthday. One of the last conversations I had with her involved her telling me that I didn’t need her anymore. I can’t think of a statement that’s more false. I need her so much every day and I miss her incredibly. For a long time, I tried my best to be like her. I wanted to cook like her, make people laugh like she did, and be strong and independent like she was.

It turns out those things were already in me. I had already learned or they were just naturally ingrained. But I’ve also had to look at the things I learned from her that I should have left alone, and that is taking some deep soul-searching and pruning.

Pruning involves cutting back the unhealthy parts of the plant; the parts that have become diseased or died and are holding back the growth. But it also involves cutting back some of the healthy parts of the plant, trimming off beautiful blooms and strong growth. It means shaping up the plant to allow it to be it’s most beautiful self.

I think my authentic self is my most beautiful self. It’s the song God wrote and intends for me to play. It is trustworthy, reliable, and honest. And it’s who I long to be.

God Always Keeps His Promises

During Advent, every year, I do my very best to explain to a room full of children how the Israelites waited for nearly five hundred years between God’s last message of hope to the prophets and the actual fulfillment of the promise. And if that felt like a mouthful of words to read in an incredibly long run-on sentence, imagine trying to explain it to 5-year-olds.

I spend all of the first semester of the school year walking them through the old testament promises of God – from the initial sin of Adam and Eve and God’s promise of a plan for redemption to God promising Abraham more descendants than stars in the sky to Moses and the first Passover to King David to the Prophet Isaiah foretelling the birth of our Savior. Then we talk about the silence; the years and years of silence.

It’s hard for little ones to imagine silence for that long. They struggle to sit still in silence for more than a minute and struggle even more so at the idea of “hearing” God in the first place. I generally stick with the line, “God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

This year has been extra hard for me to get that message across because my head knows it to be true but my heart sometimes hurts so much that it wonders. I keep saying the words to the kids, but sometimes I think I am saying them even more for me.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

I have prayed for so many miracles this year. So. Many. Miracles. And so far, God has been silent on so many of those miracles. For others, he has told me that the miracle I wanted so desperately for myself or for someone else, was not in the stars.

I have shed more tears this year than any year I can think of in the recent or distant history of years of tears. I have asked for clear path lights to light the way ahead. I have begged for answers. I have pleaded for healing for so many heartaches. I have thrown myself at his feet begging for him to save the lives of people so dear to me and so dear to people I love.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

God never promised that life in this world would be easy. In fact, Jesus promised us the exact opposite. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I am trying to take heart but my heart hurts. My heart hurts for the things I don’t understand, the answers I still don’t have, the lives lost, the diseases raging, the relationships broken, the politics that are hurting people I love, and the greed of companies taking away homes and security for friends.

I can say it’s been a rough year of waiting but thankfully, I don’t have to say it’s been a rough five hundred years of waiting. I’ve seen the Messiah; I know that God came through and fulfilled his promise. And it is with that faith and hope that I hold on to the promise that the Savior, MY SAVIOR, will return.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

God’s promises are good and his character never changes. That is where I place my hope this Advent as I can find no other place to let it rest. He loves me. He loves you. He’s coming back one day and the earth is groaning for that day – I feel the groaning from the depths of my soul. God always keeps his promises.