brushstrokes like fire

 

This series of moments called autumn, when fall picks up her paintbrush and tickles the leaves with shades of fire, is favorite. When the morning wakes up to shine the sun's spotlight on the trees stretching out in multi-colored glory, you might as well give me a brown paper package all tied up with string.

This is favorite. (so much so that it is indeed worthy of noun status)

Autumn. Harvest. Provision. Beauty. Gatherings. Family. Colors. Bonfires. Hot drinks. Fall. Road trips. Friends. Books. Blankets.

When the September sun warms like a blanket on a cool, 70 degree day, Creation sings melody along with its painful, groaning harmony to the tune of "already, not yet."

Even the seasons invite a study of God!

I delight in the beauty of the season unfolding around me, but I am acutely aware of all the ways Creation groans for complete restoration - where beauty can be displayed forever, free from any threat to its perfect and colorful song.

Here, in this season of beauty, we are home. And here, in this season of beauty, we long for home.

So, today I am singing with lungs and heart full of praise for the One who invites me in to His  always home.

 

to get where I'm going

I want to get wherever I'm going. And the devil in me says that it's not right now. I'm impatient to say yes to something I don't even know exists - I'm ready to be 'all in' at any moment, but that moment seems to stay frozen just beyond my reach. It's maddening... though I feel foolish for speaking it.

I am impatient to get to a place and a time I don't even know exists. And the longer it remains frozen outside my grasp the stranger these moments become. Maybe I am the one frozen as the moments move forward and what is within reach is actually where I am going - where I am now.

This is late night talking, but it's still me. I think that sometimes I should let the late night talk so the daylight talk doesn't paint a poor portrait. Make no mistake, I am not articulate and 'put together' - less so even than my daylight attempts make me seem.

I am reaching and striving and stretching for things to satisfy and often ending empty-handed. I am inward and withered and measured by useless, manmade instruments. I am still young with hope and wide eyes but I am old with the growing weight of unknowns.

I want to get wherever I'm going. And the devil in me says that it's not right now.

it was 1994

"... and then you put your legs up like this and be careful because my legs will swing around really fast. Now, put your knees up, balance, and jump."

I was transported to my nine-year-old self in the middle of this manic Monday as Meredith swung upside down from the metal bar on the swing set. She took the tone of teacher as she swung with the seriousness of a backyard gold medalist.

I know that seriousness well. My grandpa knew it, too. My birthday gift was unlike any other 9-year-old I knew. It wouldn't fit inside a gift bag and you can't find one at a store. It was a custom-made, hand-crafted balance beam with a limited edition, special carpet cover.

It was beautiful and it sat in our backyard where I was Dominique Moceanu or Kerri Strug on summer afternoons. My performance always decided whether we got the gold or the silver medal. The air hung thick with pressure (and good Iowa summer heat) and the beam was more than inches off the grass. It felt like miles.

I positioned my socked toe in front and stretched my arms up high (everyone knew the judges gave points for style and I never wanted to lose any - that was the easy part). I twirled, jumped, steadied, and then positioned myself for the dismount. The dismount decided everything - everyone knew that, even my dad. The question would pound in my head through the whole backyard routine, "Can I stick the dismount?"

I would back up to the very edge of the beam and then start my swirling combination toward the other end, where I would flip end over end (in my mind) and always land with two feet nestled into the Iowa grass.

My arms would erupt from my sides and I would proudly stick out my chest, acknowledging the audience of trees and cattle and cats on all sides.

It was 1994 and I just clenched the victory with that landing in my stocking feet. And it felt good.

the importance of being productive

It's no secret: I'm poor at math. I don't get very jazzed about number crunching. If I can be suckered into an equation, it's nearly always a story problem (such as this one). So, when I take on the topic of productivity, allow me to sketch abstractly what could be made a very reliable algorithm (by someone else). As I process (again) all the questions my high school counselor asked me as a senior - about career and vocation and calling - it seems like I might have moved little from my simplistic 18-year-old goals. In response to the question, "Where will you be in 10 years?" I wrote a paper as a junior. I imagined myself in the middle of Africa, married to a doctor named Mr. Bergenfeld, and answering to "Auntie" from the 405 children at the local orphanage. Yes, I'm sure I wrote 405 - I was ornery like that.

I spent my college years throwing my willingness at wonderful things and learning like my face pressed to fire hydrants. Even as I met with several mentors, it seemed that "my heart" was pointing me in the direction of missions and jungles and poverty and the simple life.   This kind of calling seemed exciting, noble even. Me and everyone else on my campus dreamed of making big things happen and being in the thick of it when they do. I wanted dirt on my elbows and a cardboard box to call home. I didn't want to be stuck in an office talking about change and waiting on red tape and bureaucracies. I wanted in. All in.

That's what we all said in college. Maybe a few people sheepishly said how most really felt, "I don't want anything to do with cardboard or 405 orphans. I'll support whoever does, but give me the office and the red tape. It'll all work out fine."

Everyone has their own values that make up their vocational pursuits, but for me, I envisioned myself serving others - doing something in the trenches, rubbing shoulders with folks who have real messes that I could help mend. I envisioned my passionate pursuit of Christ leading me into a simple lifestyle and most likely missionary work overseas. I envisioned purpose coming from 405 orphan children who called me, "Auntie." I envisioned living in a remote area and tackling daily needs like washing laundry in the river.

Well, here I am almost 10 years out of high school and I'm taking stock on some of those simplistic 18-year-old goals. And here's a bit of what I found (this is where the mathematician can offer to co-write a book with me on this).

The question of calling and vocation is not as simple as what you're most passionate about or even what you do best. The question of calling is understanding who God is and then figuring out how you can be most productive in giving Him glory.

We are called - each of us - to know God and to be most productive in giving Him glory.

And this is where I got really confused. I was figuring out my "calling equation" based on the lives of some of my heroes + what I thought was the ultimate act of service + my willingness to spill out joy wherever I went. I thought it could look a lot of ways, but it certainly looked like me being willing to do anything - even hard things outside my gifts and passions.

The problem was that, as I grew to know God better, I started to feel like I wasn't the most productive. I was doing everything required and meeting the expectations at my jobs, but I always had this itch to read books and talk philosophy and wrestle with the lyrics of songs and dialogue about the cultural implications of our increasingly secular secondary institutions. I wasn't really ever with dirt on my elbows in the trenches, though I got as close as I could wherever I went. I did always end up creating newsletters and forming committees and counseling colleagues and developing countless proposals for new programs.

There was a knot forming in my gut and I've only now just named it: I'm not using my gifts.

Can I survive anywhere? Yes. Will God allow me the joy that overflows in any situation/vocation/career? Yes. Do I bring the same amount of glory to God, regardless of vocation? No.

We cannot be "above" or "below" a vocation - we can only be more or less productive. I know of many God-fearing executives or administrators who are not most productive for God's glory in their position. They were "promoted" to that status because of their work ethic as employee or teacher - because that's where they were most productive. I also know of high-powered executives who think they can easily translate their business sense into the trenches kind of work, but they become less productive in the process.

At the end of the day, I can give you a physical number to prove my productivity. I can give you students registered, emails sent, orders completed, papers folded, printer crises averted, and invoices sent. I'm strictly talking tangibles (I hope I will always be productive with the conversations and the laughter and the little ways to shine light in dark places).

But, the question is not, "Am I productive with whatever is before me - with energy and joy and a servant heart?" The question is, "As I know God better, am I being most productive in giving Him glory?"

Maybe the reason we keep getting tripped up on this productivity thing is that we don't hold our vocations to a higher standard. We think we're off the hook if we're not "called" into a position at a church.

But, we are all called. Luther said,

"Monastic vows rest on the false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation, to which superior Christians are invited to observe the counsels of perfection while ordinary Christians fulfil only the commands; but there simply is no special religious vocation since the call of God comes to each at the common tasks."

We are all called to know God, find out what pleases Him, and delight to please Him together with the Body of Christ. This is not ministry, it's life. As we walk out our calling, we'll find that what pleases Him is excellence. Some of us will be excellent at Excel documents and some of us will be excellent at growing bananas and some of us will be excellent at conversation.

I think (mathematician, will you check my work on this?), that if the Body of Christ resolves to know God, find out what please Him and delights to please Him together, we will end up divinely appointed in every vocation, with a productivity that would shock the most lucrative corporation.

This is the importance of being productive.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

serious about sin | serious about joy

I've been accused of being too serious. Does that surprise you, friends of the blog-o-sphere, with all my stories of falling down and loving laughter and chasing raindrops? Does it surprise you that people think I'm too serious?

I've learned that not everyone likes to read books stuffed full of long syllabled words and very few people want to ask if those long syllabled words would ever change my plans for the day. And I get it. Sometimes, I forget that "taking a genuine interest in the welfare of others" means doing things that matter little to me because they matter much to someone else. Sometimes, I act like the child who once told me, "Please stop doing anything that you like." Sometimes, I find myself in a self-righteous wrestling match because I think, "Shouldn't we all be serious about the things of God (even if it means strings of long syllables)?"

And then I think about the children who came to Jesus. They probably had a hard time pronouncing their Rs and words that started with C. Their understanding of love and grace and kindness didn't come from a study of thick textbooks.

I imagine they did have a certain seriousness about them, but not the self-righteous and learned kind.

I've seen this seriousness play across children's faces in the most solemn moments, when the line between right and wrong is being drawn on their hearts and in their heads for the first time. I can hear the nervous claims coming out from wide eyes,

"She took it from me and I yelled at her." "But Mommy said to never go in there..." "Why doesn't the man have food?" "I hit my brother." "Laney took a cookie."

You can hear them, can't you? The confessions and questions come out slowly and with those little eyebrows arching high to scrunch the forehead.

There is a seriousness about children when it comes to sin that I think wears off as we age. We get comfortable with the idea that we fail and we get tired of the wide-eyed confessions.

But there is something very sad about being cavalier with our sin, an emptiness apathy and disregard can't replace. Have you ever stuck around after a child does mini-battle with the questions/confessions above? Do you see what happens?

Freedom.

When they recognize how serious it is to sin, they are freed to be truly joyful. There is nothing hidden. Their (or human) failure is exposed and there is nothing left to rationalize - just space to revel in the gratitude that they are forgiven, accepted, invited, loved.

I'm currently reading both Leviticus and Galatians and the contrast is captivating.

We serve a serious God. Sin is not a Sunday School lesson. The hoops the Israelites had to jump through on account of their sin were certainly not neatly wrapped up in a 20 minute moral lesson. The rules and regulations set up a healthy fear of the Lord and a distaste for anything that divided their relationship with Him. Sin is serious. I cannot imagine living in that time. I mean, I've tried imagining it and I nearly always end up pleading with the Lord to be a little more understanding. But, the Lord keeps reminding my heart, "Sin is serious."

Then, I flip to Galatians and just want to dance. If I have the right (serious) view of sin, my salvation is like dancing with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof as they sing, "To Life, to life, l'chaim!"

I am free. Free!

How is it that children get this - that we got this as kids - and adults don't?

If sin is serious, then so is JOY.

We were brought OUT of serious darkness and INTO serious light. Why is it so hard to understand that a frivolous position on the former means a frivolous position on the latter?

It's true, I can be too serious sometimes and I'm rightly called out when I'm trying to puff myself up. But, brothers and sisters, can we agree to build up the Body of Christ by being serious about sin so we can be serious about joy?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

grapefruits and what we do with good gifts

Today I ate a grapefruit for lunch - with Saltines, just like my Grandpa Nichols. I used to try to eat a grapefruit like an orange and that never ended well. I've since learned a method that wastes little of the delicious fruit.Grapefruit (half) As I was cutting into the pink today, careful to not waste any of those sweet, pink pockets, I realized that enjoying a grapefruit is a commitment. You've got to be willing to work in order to enjoy membrane-less, tangy goodness.

I started thinking about all the reasons I don't choose good things - all the times I've passed up a grapefruit for a granola bar just because it's easier. I know what's better and sometimes I can even taste it because I've chosen it before, but something dreadful inside of me attacks my knowledge of "better." And I end up settling for less effort and less goodness.

God promises to not withhold any good thing from us. In Christ, God lavishes an inheritance I can't comprehend - gifts that won't run out even if I open one every moment of my life. God promises, in Christ to withhold no good thing from us, so the choice for less is on me.

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

I wondered (cutting up that tasty giant took some tiempo) if we learn to recognize the good things, but are never held accountable to do/use them. In college I sat in study groups and wrote papers and made passionate presentations about all the good things we should be/could be doing, but the doing of those things is just too hard and everybody knows it. Now, I go to bible studies and post facebook links and wax philosophy at coffee shops about the best ways to change the world, but the doing of these things is just too hard and everybody knows it.

Everybody knows we'll end up ordering Little Caesar's instead of planning a homegrown spread from the garden. Everybody knows those ideas about loving others and living like Jesus are like climbing Mt. Everest - we can feel the rush as we raise our hands in victory on the summit, but we're never going to train for it. It's just the way we do life.

I sat down to enjoy my juicy prize at my desk and thought, "But it doesn't have to be that way."

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Occupy Life: he bought a corvette

He nodded at the two young men "in charge" on Sunday nights at the soup kitchen and then pointed toward a crooked, framed certificate on the wall, "Those two boys got started here with him, Jeremy Benton, back in 2007... Yep, he was a real neat guy - consistent." Don paused and looked at me under sagging eyelids, letting the silence add weight to his next sentence, "He got himself a good job and went off and bought a corvette."

He was still looking at me, both of us standing there admiring the crooked certificate hanging just above the stainless steel industrial sink, "Guess he wanted to see how fast it could go... it, uh, it didn't end well."

Don washes the dishes every sunday for the program that feeds anywhere from 30-80 people in our community every night in the basement of a downtown church. When I first got there, Don was methodically preparing for the night - quietly setting out trays and arranging his washing area just so. When I was assigned the "reheat meat and make sandwiches task" at a counter not far from his work area, I knew we'd be friends before the night was over.

He's the kind of man whose face begs you to ask his story.

"I wear these nylon pants because they dry real fast," he told me just loud enough to make sense over the appalachian banjo playing on the stereo. Everything served a specific purpose for Don.

He hadn't always been a dishwasher for the soup kitchen on Sundays, but he wasn't the type to establish credibility or elevate his status on the scales so many use. He asked questions to the rhythm of his dishes and wondered how I got to Ames. As it turned out, he had a roommate from Honduras while he was in graduate school at Iowa State for civil engineering.

"Guess I didn't learn it the first time around... had to hear it again," he said with the surest twinkle in his sage eyes.
He would wash and dry and sort and then pause for conversation - all calculated.

So, when he wandered over to the crooked certificate hanging above the stainless steel industrial sink, I wondered why he chose that story for that moment. Why did he say "corvette" the way he did and why did his eyes say the story wasn't so simple and how did Don manage to honor a memory and mourn folly at the same time?

___

Just another night lived...This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space, making bold statements about what is most important in this life (whether we’re holding picket signs or not). Other entries: StonesSpanish at an Irish Pubpancake battertying ribbonsAlejandra,  Lunch HourDelaney and Roland or the original post Occupy Life: Things One Might Do While Unemployed.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

"everything's crooked but it all seems straight, cuz everyone's looking sideways..."

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhuZzQ7p3EI]

Occupy Life: Stones

The eyes peeped out from under raised eyebrows with extra height from tippy toes. I was sitting square at my desk, imploring my computer screen to talk back when I asked it questions about facts and figures. Maybe it was because of my secretarial intensity that I didn't notice the peeping eyes right away. But when I did, I willingly jumped into a game of hide-and-seek with the boy standing on the other side of my office window.

I spotted his Dad a few feet away, making sure the landscaping in front of the building reflected the glory of the Spring season. And down he disappeared and wide went my gestures as I "searched" for him. Then, he slowly rose with two rocks and a broad smile, as if to say, "Can you believe I found two rocks? And aren't these wonderful?"

He placed them triumphantly on my ledge and I gave my most excited "Ah!" face in appreciation for his find. Then some more peek-a-boos and then up came those little hands with two more rocks. The same wonder filled his face, as if to say, "Can you believe I found two rocks? And aren't they wonderful?" He set them on display just outside the first two.

It didn't matter that he'd already given the first two rocks or that the parking lot had many rocks. His wonder at the rocks never waned because of quantity or accessibility - His wonder simply was because the rock was.

Two more rocks found their way to my ledge before he got distracted and traipsed off, but I left them there.

I want to remember that there is wonder in today, but not because of rarity or some arbitrary value. There is wonder in today because God is breathing it into existence. There are clouds and sunshine and meetings and people and rocks because God is willing them into being in this very moment.

And I want to hold each thing up in my hands triumphantly and see the wonder.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space, making bold statements about what is most important in this life (whether we’re holding picket signs or not). Other entries: Spanish at an Irish Pubpancake battertying ribbonsAlejandra,  Lunch HourDelaney and Roland or the original post Occupy Life: Things One Might Do While Unemployed.

couches and cardigans

I stood there staring at the beaded bristles for probably five minutes.I don't think I've ever purchased a brush in my life and I hope I don't have to return to the hairbrush aisle for a long time. But, as I was standing there, in the middle of my rare grocery run, I realized the weight of receiving.

Since returning from Honduras in June, I've tried to stay out of the giant aisles of excess in supermarkets. It was a mixture of solidarity with a country I loved and a complete necessity to spend nothing (unemployed for 6 months) that kept me a safe distance from materialism... or so I thought.

The real reason I rarely ventured inside Walmart or Target (or stores in general) might explain why I got a bit emotional when I shrugged into my sister's rust colored cardigan today after work.

I've done a lot of receiving since June.

I've crashed on couches and crawled under comforters and cozied up in cardigans that are not mine. I've talked a lot about the a la orden philosophy - how God asks us to make every bit of our gifts, talents, and treasures available to Him in our service to others. What I haven't really talked about is how many times I've been the recipient. For six months, I lived under my parents' roof once again, but this time as an adult. I ate their food, used their washer/dryer, drove their cars, and kept on receiving. Never did I see a tally or hear what I owed, but I kept on receiving. I made almost every Christmas gift with my grandparents, using wood and tools and raiding the refrigerator. The conversations were even more delicious than the meals; and I kept on receiving.

Every day I look down at my outfits and realize how much I've received. Boots from my mom, sweater from my sister, coat and jeans from my dad... every day I wear blessings. Every day I receive.

Last week, right when I realized scruffy skater shoes from high school may not be "work appropriate," my co-worker plopped a paper bag at my feet. "See if you can find anything in there you like," she said. (wide eyes) I couldn't have picked a more work-appropriate pair of clogs if I tried. That afternoon, I wore a new striped sweater home from work and ran in a fancy Nike running shirt before going to my second job.

And I keep on receiving.

Generosity has a fine aroma in the house where I now live. From dinner conversations to the open cupboard, it's hard to spit out thanks as fast as the gifts pile up. So many times, I don't know how to say it - don't know how to speak my thanksgiving for all the blessings I wear around. From the bed to the thick comforters, the sack lunches to the family meals, the seat in a familiar row at church to the books on loan...

and I keep on receiving

Truly, too much.

Last night, I got back from work and my brother had pizza ready to go into the oven. Later, my sister walked in the door with several things on hangers. "I brought these for you. I thought you might need something new in the rotation."

and I keep on receiving

Truly, too much.

I put on the beautiful, rust-colored cardigan today and almost wept. God is so good to care for us so completely... even down to couches and cardigans.

oh that I would let LOVE fly like cRaZy

my Saturday sountrack: Josh Garrels, Love & War & the Sea In Between (download for free)

[bandcamp album=2172528119 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

human eyes; heaven sight

This morning the ice clung to brown, lifeless branches.And we are all dying.

This past weekend my mom sent an email my aunt wrote about my grandpa's graceful, shuffling steps into this strange season of life. I've re-read these words so many times - grateful for the way they hug my soul. I know my dad and his seven siblings feel the weight of love and the weight of age in this man in a way I cannot, but as I read my aunt's words my eyes were wet with something new.

She wrote,

Dad's prayers were so personal and full of thanksgiving to His Savior, especially mentioned was the gift of Eternity and his family.  He didn't want to walk this road, but it's here, and he is going to walk it with grace and dignity to the best of his ability, and with his Savior's and his family's help.

Our bodies fail. They fall apart. And we shuffle where we once skipped. We shake where we once snapped with the energy of youth. We age. Our eyes grow dim and our ears faint. Mortals.

But the stiffness of his joints has not crept to his heart.

Eternity looks just as glorious on the horizon with shuffled steps as it does with skips. The promise of salvation is as bright with eyes of age as it is with the eyes of youth.

And with every sunset, one can turn to face the rest of the sky and see a glorious reflection. All the mysterious hues that explode before night falls, chasing after the golden orb, light up the rest of the blue expanse and color the clouds.

I'm witnessing this reflection as I watch my grandpa - human eyes with heaven sight.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.                                                    2 Corinthians 4:18

There is no way around it - we have human eyes confined to human bodies and human limits. But our sight - oh, our sight - is able to see clear through to heaven.

As Grandpa fixes his eyes on the unseen, we are blessed to watch the sky light up with the glory of his heavenly pursuit.

The ice will melt and the trees will bloom. Let the winter come, for it is the only path to Spring.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy with human eyes and heaven sight 

a letter to fathers

I remembered this post recently and thought now is a good time to revisit these thoughts. I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago, while working in Honduras. Maybe it's Valentine's Day that has me thinking about it again.

daughter & dad

___________________________________________________________________

John Mayer’s song, “Daughters,” scratches the surface of the longing a daughter feels to be loved by her dad, but (not surprisingly) it isn’t strong enough.

Fathers, be good to your daughters daughters will love like you do

It was simple enough to capture the attention of a whole crowd of daughters who wished for what this nebulously suggests, but I wish this song spelled out specifics.

Fathers:

  1. Be transparent about your first and greatest Love. For many daughters, your faith is a secret. You might go to church or you might have a Bible, but your ideas and convictions are as hidden and elusive as treasure on a child’s crayon-scribbled treasure map. It’s okay to be somewhere in the growing stages of your faith – in fact, it’s refreshing for us daughters to know you haven’t “arrived” yet. When your daughter can see you admit you need God, her heart and tenderness toward you will grow, but more importantly you will have pointed her gaze to the Father who never fails.
  2. Love your wife. One of the greatest ways you can love your daughter is to love and serve your wife. When your daughter sees you honoring, protecting, partnering, laughing, enjoying, and living in a way that reflects God’s design for marriage, she will respect your role and have an excellent example of a husband (especially important in those years when you cannot relate to your daughter. When nothing makes sense, love your wife well and I promise your daughter will see it!).
  3. Choose to be around. Your daughter will feel special when you decide the best place for you is next to her.
  4. Get personal. Some of my favorite memories with my dad are simple ones that we shared while we did chores together on the farm or as we drove out to a football game or prepared our animals for county fair. Every discussion doesn’t have to be deep, but if you open up first then you’ll gain your daughter’s trust and she’ll likely reciprocate (even if it’s not right away).
  5. Encourage, praise, love the God-honoring things your daughter does and push her in those things to be excellent. I’ll never forget my dad’s insistence that I study that little spelling book in preparation for the elementary spelling bees. My dad still types on the computer with his pointer fingers and English wasn’t his strongest high school subject, but when he found out I could put letters together in the right order, he was going to make sure I did it excellently. Those little things (though I assure you I didn’t love them at the time) made his love for me so obvious.
  6. Be gentle. Your daughter will appreciate well-placed words and respected silences.
  7. Be good to your sons, too. Your daughters are smart. They will see the way you are leading and guiding your sons. Right now they are making mental notes in their heart about whether their dream man will act like the father and brothers in their lives. Many daughters hold on desperately to the hope that it can be different. If they have to rely on Hollywood, they will be hoping for something unhealthy and unrealistic. Your daughter has a front row seat for what a man should look like - so show her!

 

let LOVE fly like crazy and let those people closest to you benefit

blessings are sojourners

It took awhile, but Vince is finally on board with this idea (although he's still skeptical) of blessings as sojourners. In church this morning, I was scribbling and doodling and arrowing and marking on my journal pages (taking bullet notes is so overrated). Right when the service ended, I leaned over and said, "I figured it out!" pause, "Hoarders!" Vince, not surprised in the slightest, just waited for me to flesh it out. "Quarters?" "No... You know, blessings are meant to be always transferred, always moving, always given... but we love the blessing so much we keep it. We hoard it!"

He chuckled a little bit, "Oh... hoarders! Alright... I can see that."

I'm so thankful to have a cousin/friend who equally loves processing through ideas, asking questions, and challenging assumptions. This afternoon, I had to stop myself in other company and ask, "Is this too much?" Because sometimes I forget how spoiled I am to have such a friend around.

So, this idea that blessings are sojourners and we are hoarders has been rolling like a snowball and gaining serious speed and mass in my mind. This is week two of Perspectives class and the first several lessons focus almost exclusively on God's blessing - what it means for Christians and for the world. Pair that with a series in Ephesians at church and my personal obsession with the a la orden philosophy and I've got a dump truck of blessing on my hands. I'll let you in on the processing side of things, if you promise you won't reject it right away or laugh. Sometimes it's fun to throw something up on here that I don't think is finished quite yet. The thoughts still need punctuation and perhaps a more obvious thesis, but so do most of my posts I suppose.

_______________________

Blessings are sojourners.

They tread crowded roads and lonely trails to visit million dollar homes and corrugated metal shacks. They knock on expectant doors and ring doorbells of disinterested tenants. They dance with the leopards and race the rivers to the sea.

Blessings are sojourners.

They pack light. They carry purpose and reflect sunshine, but they are not weighed down. Their shoulders bear the weight of inheritance, but never long enough to slow their pace. They have no suitcase, no cargo pocket, no oversized handbag.

They are at home in motion.

Blessings are sojourners.

__________________________

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

postcards

I wrote this post after a couple hard days during my time in Honduras, talking with girl after girl after girl who has been battered and bruised by an unforgiving world. Today I am realizing that I will always collect these "postcards."

... the stories are piling up like postcards from similar destinations: despair, loneliness, anger, betrayal, pain, and sometimes hope. Those are the ones I like best – the hope ones. The others are ones that make my heart hurt. Those destinations are hard to explain, but they seem to keep arriving at my doorstep.

Last night a few more postcards arrived at my doorstep, all busted up and barely legible from the journey. The stories seemed tucked under the furrow of the girls' brow or their dimpled giggles, but soon it all came out. These girls, too young to experience what their stories exposed, too beautiful to be found in such a mess.

We talked and questioned and fumed a bit. I strained to make my face say what my heart felt - pain. I didn't want to say, "It's okay," because too many people say that.

What I did say, at the end of both conversations was this, "I don't know what kind of messes you've got... I don't want to pretend I know you at all. What I do know is that there is abundance that can overwhelm the pain. There is a way to make sad eyes smile."

It was probably too much, but I said it anyway. I can only keep receiving these postcards if  I drop off mail of much lighter weight. I wanted what they received from me to be Christ - a FULL, abundant, joyful image of freedom and grace.

This song by Zerbin is the motion of this desire. We are not stuck in this ground, this skin. We are bound for a land free from messes and weights and sin. The headlights of this glory-bound train will one day meet a sunrise that will make earth mornings seem quaint.

This is the message I want to leave when I gather the stories from all these girls. This is the only JOY that can walk through pain and survive.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O35n5qTs-RE]

 

Occupy Life: Ale

I'm doing this series called Occupy Life where I focus on sometimes small and sometimes giant moments that make up the days of our lives. We are all occupying physical time and space (whether you are passionate about it or not) every single day the sun rises and every night when it sets. So, what if we started thinking about our every moment as a statement - as our purpose with a proverbial picket line? Here's number three. I'm not sleeping.

No, really. I woke up this morning and I said, "I think little animals could hide in the bags under my eyes."

Ale (pronounced AH-LEH, by the way) told me on our way out the door today, "I do think the no sleep is catching up with me... but I don't care - we just have too much to talk about is the problem!"

I agree. Not a moment wasted.

Yesterday (and early into the morning), Alejandra and I occupied life with questions like, "What drives you?" and "Is it possible to love Chemistry and ministry at the same time?" and then processing conversations about the ways Christians can close doors in conversations instead of open them. We occupied life like a waterfall occupies a cliff - with words tripping over words and questions following answers.

Even with ten days full of almost non-stop, catching up conversation, we both talk like this minute is the last one we could analyze things together. When a good idea or a solution to a question or a realization or a dream happens, our eyes get real big and we purse our lips like what we just said is almost too good to bring down to the level of words. It's like finding a treasure and then being physically unable to do anything but gesture wildly and squeal silently in excitement.

This morning, as we were getting ready, she said, "I have an idea - we can do a devotion after my class," because on the first night (as we talked nearly in to our sleep), she told me, "This is very weird... usually I do two devotions every night - I promise! It's just that I don't know where to find the time because of our talks!"

The problem is legitimate, but as she said it this morning, I started to form a philosophy about how our time is woven together with the Lord. Yesterday, we hit up the life of Job, Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, and our calling as children of God - all in between and around our adventures and mixed in with a lot of laughter and serious pondering. So, I was forming this idea of "doing devotions" as we occupy the steps of life - carrying around the Word like it's written right on our hearts and hidden in a treasure chest in our minds. I was forming this idea and Ale says,

"Miss, I have an idea. I think we don't make a time for devotions because we are the devotions... like we do a devotion all day long."

Not only was I excited that we both arrived at the same conclusion, but my heart lept with joy that we both believe a relationship with the Lord is alive and active and occupies our souls 24/7. The words from Scripture jump into our conversations and mix in with our laughter and inform our philosophies about how the world turns.

The process is always as beautiful as the conclusion - like the thrill of preparing a delicious cupcake and then serving it to someone to enjoy. Both the preparation and the presentation are equally satisfying (as the chef).

This is an example of an occupied life where every moment is oh-so-delicious!

pink grass - an illustration

A couple weeks ago, I wrote the post, "what if the grass was pink?" and thought it made all sorts of sense (of course, all my ideas do... in my head). Judging from my sister's blank stare and a stranger's lengthy comments about how I wanted to dismantle the entire psychiatric system (among other things), I decided I had maybe missed my mark. This is my attempt to give an illustration that will hopefully make it more understandable and less like I want someone on acid to take over the world. This is an exercise in imagination, so put on your best thinking hat. Ready?

A collection of cans of paint and other relate...

-------

Imagine a palette of paints with every color possible (I know, it's a pretty big paint palette). Now, imagine your world in monochrome. Imagine everything you see and touch today as some shade of black/white/gray. Imagine the computer screen and your clothes and your make up and the flowers on the table and the sun outside... imagine everything you see is like the world of "I Love Lucy."

Things are pretty dull in the colorless world, yes?

Okay. Now go back to that palette of paints with every possible color (even colors we can't think up). Imagine someone choosing, color by color, how to bring your world to life. With an infinite palette of options, the possibilities are endless.

Roses could be... turquoise. Tree trunks might be... sapphire. Sunlight will be... purple.

--------

It's not hard to imagine ourselves as artists painting a canvas where up is down and the sunshine glows blue. I suppose today they call it abstract.

So, why is it so hard to imagine the infinite number of options God had when He created everything in the beginning? We've since found thousands of reasons to explain WHY the sun shines golden and the grass grows green, but couldn't it have turned out differently?

God could have chosen any color to paint the sky. He chose blue. Now there is a whole new beauty wrapped up in the mystery of a blue sky. God could have chosen any of an infinite amount of colors. He chose blue.

Yes, we can explain why it is blue scientifically, but it didn't have to be blue. God didn't consult science textbooks as he spoke things into existence, to see whether certain color combinations were possible or if the law of gravity would really be universal.

Science just attempts to explain how God ordered everything by divine choice.

If the sky was green we would find scientific support that would lead us to believe it couldn't be any other way.

And that is how we cheat ourselves out of the magic of Creation. I mean magic in a good and not creepy sense. I mean... the look you got in your eyes when you first saw fireworks because you didn't think such beautiful explosions possible. I mean... the building emotion you feel when you watch a stunning sunset or witness a double rainbow or wake up to see mysterious fog lifting from a lake.

There is a healthy sense of awe I hope I always feel when I stop to think about how (out of an infinite palette of options) God chose the luscious color green for grass. Because, you see, it could be pink.

the greatest party that ever was

There is something distinctly urgent about endings. We become keenly aware of our submission to the passing of time. We can throw any kind of emotional tantrum, but the hands of the clock march steadily on whether we look at them with anger or pain or excitement. There is absolutely nothing we can do to slow down the moments before a farewell.

Urgency usually holds hands with action, at least in my experience. You won't find me pondering the merit of a deadline when it is fast approaching; you will find me in a frenzy to get done what needed doing.

And so it is today. Somewhere down in the place I call my soul, urgency and action are holding hands. I am looking ahead to June 24, an ending that looms like an ominous thundercloud on one of the distant mountains surrounding this beautiful city and what I feel is urgency.

What if the 18 school days left on the Seniors' calendar is really all I have left with them? What if I never see them again? What if I never get the chance to hug the Micah boys again or make a Mother's Day craft at the feeding centers or visit the orphanage in Valle? The urgency sets in and I feel the insistent squeeze on action's hand.

The past week, quite unintentionally, I have realized the beautiful urgency of the questions,

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"

No encouragement is too cheesy and no compliment is too awkward, no question is too silly and no conversation is too strange; and eternity is always relevant. More than any words of wisdom (as that creeping clock trudges on toward my June 24 farewell), the action my urgency brings about is all about ETERNITY.

What do I say if I'm facing a great wave of "lasts" and "don't knows" from people who have woven their way into my story?

I tell an old, old story about love. I tell a story about a perfect, powerful beginning broken by bitter disappointment and resolved by the only thing strong enough to redeem and restore: a sacrifice of greatest price. I tell a story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, Restoration. I tell a story about lost sheep and celebrations and the greatest party that ever was.

This past week, I told this story five different ways to one student who, after 14 years, finally has ears to hear. God's story - the Gospel story - finally started making sense and it was the only story I wanted to tell when I thought about leaving. God's story has the power to change a person's eternity. God's story has the power to give hope and a future, to cast out fear, to give purpose and meaning, to bring joy and pleasure forever, and to throw the greatest party that ever was.

In my students, I see a desire to search out the most joy and pleasure. I see a search for meaning and worth and purpose and excitement. In all sorts of ways, I've tried to communicate where these desires will be satisfied - always and only in Christ alone. But now, with the days flying off the calendar like jet planes from a runway, nothing else matters.

Because I care about these kids so much, the best thing (really the only thing) I can think to give them is an invitation to the greatest party that ever was. I just want to give them Jesus.

more than ever, I'm feeling the urgency to 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[slideshow] 

post-Easter, pre-Eternity

Most people know the tension between living salvation on this earth and living eternal salvation in heaven as the "already, not yet." To reflect on this tension after Easter seems fitting, because all of history points to Christ's victory over the grave yet all of creation is still groaning for the completion of salvation (Romans 8). Today I am calling it post-Easter, pre-Eternity. I spent yesterday almost entirely in laughter. The day felt bathed with it. I am convinced there is something beautiful to be found in abandoning yourself to a good fit of ridiculous laughter. Yesterday, with friendships too new to feel so "old," I scrunched up my face and held my sides in a crazy fit of full body laughter. This, too, seems fitting to follow my Easter celebration. In fact, I imagine (call me a fool) that some people let out awkward laughter when they saw Jesus after news of the empty tomb got around. Everyone stood gawking and pointing (I imagine) and then there were those few whose laughter could be heard spilling all over the silence. Sometimes awe, wonder, joy, mischief, and glee can be communicated no other way.

So, there's this tension. Salvation is here, but salvation is coming.

We are wrapped up in the glory of what Christ gained in his victory over the grave. We are bathing in it like I imagine joyful laughter bathed Christ's post-resurrection steps. Tim Keller says, "The happy ending of the Resurrection is so enormous that it swallows up even the sorrow of the Cross." Even our sorrows drown in the ocean of joy called Christ's resurrection.

Yet, we all know we're living on this side of eternity. We recognize black-clad funerals and cold, gray gravestones as the painful pattern of our mortality. We are certain no one has found or ever will find the secret to living forever. We are (in our most honest moments) more certain of the fact that living forever in this present world would be filled only with anguish and affliction.

Today, I am claiming a common denominator. For those of you who know me, I am in no place to use a mathematical reference and even further from qualified to stretch it into something helpful for my ideas. Yet, here I go. A "denominator" is the bottom number of a fraction (like 2 in 1/2). A "common denominator" is when the bottom numbers of fractions are the same (like 3 in 1/3 and 2/3). In other words, I think post-Easter, pre-Eternity is kind of like 1/2 and 1/2 - two parts of a whole redemption story. The common denominator? I wonder if it is glory. I believe Christ's death and resurrection is all about bringing glory to God. I also believe our anticipation for Eternity is about bringing glory to God. This whole beautiful mess of a redemption story, from start to eternal finish is about glory going in the right direction - toward a most Awesome, Merciful, Compassionate, Just King.

In our (especially recent) post-Easter state, we are giving God the glory for the magnificent and finished work of Christ. In our pre-Eternity state, we are giving God the glory for a secure future in His presence. Whew! Here are two songs that come to mind when I think post-Easter, pre-Eternity. Sing along with them and let God's glory fill the skies! Join the angels in this forever song! Please don't miss the rich references to the Old Testament and how God is glorified in the ways His sovereign plan was revealed and His name praised long before it came to pass.

Skeleton Bones by John Mark McMillan

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYESNOPpXV4]

Peel back our ribs again and stand inside of our chest. We just wanna' love you We just wanna' love you

Peel back the veil of time And let us see You with our naked eyes We just wanna' love you We just wanna' love you

We want your blood to flow inside our body We want your wind inside our lungs We just wanna' love you We just wanna' love you

Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity On the lips of the found And gravestones roll To the rhythm of the sound of you Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity On the lips of the found So separate those doors And let the son of resurrection in.

Oh let us adore the Son of Glory drenched in love Open up your gates before him Crown Him, stand Him up

Holy is the Lamb by Coffey Anderson [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyWc4utukTA]

Lyrics:

I saw the Lord, seated on the throne
And the train of His robe filled the temple
And angels sing all around me
And the song that they sang was so simple

All they cried was:
Holy, holy is the Lamb
Holy, holy is the Lamb
Holy, holy is the Lamb
Holy, holy is the Lamb of God

let LOVE fly like CrAzY

5 ways to keep stress out of the kitchen

A ball of chocolate chip cookie dough ready fo...

There are a lot of possible stressors in the kitchen, but I strongly feel that the kitchen is a place where stress should be relieved not added. If I let baking stress me out, I would certainly be in quite a predicament at the moment (launched a bit of a baking business in order to raise money for an upcoming mission trip). So, here are some personal tips if you are finding yourself conditioned to dread the combination of cookie dough and cookie sheet.
  1. exact measurements Yes, I do have and use measuring cups... occasionally and as strong suggestions. I believe strongly in the power of estimation and (to be honest) I enjoy the uncertainty and risk involved in "eye-balling it," as my mother used to say.
  2. noise I hope this is an indicator of a future of full kitchens: I like to bake while talking, singing, and laughing. I've also been known to have the occasional intellectual discussion over a healthy lump of cookie dough and I highly suggest it. No philosophical argument will come to fists when you've got something as sweet as cookies in the oven (with gooey fingers)! If I'm not talking on skype, hanging out with friends, then I'm singing my favorite sounds and some you can get for free: noisetrade, briterevolution, designers.mx, just to name a few.
  3. stray drips, splats, and the occasional cookie on the floor Everything while you are baking is EDIBLE, so don't forget you can clean up/taste test all in one enjoyable finger swipe! While baking and talking to my mom on skype about this stress-free post, she says, "don't forget about the flotsam and jetsam..." to which I reply, "I have no idea what language you are speaking right now, mom." After a half second blank stare, she says, "Well, I don't really know what it is either....(giggles) but I'll look it up for you." We finally figure out it's originally a nautical term used to describe floating debris or items thrown overboard. Apparently, my mom thinks this also means things spilled in the kitchen. I'll take it, mom.
  4. burnt edges Here's the deal, folks: you will inevitably get a wee bit past the recipe-prescribed "golden edges" every once in awhile. It's just one of those kitchen facts of life. So, be "easy" as my Canadian friend Heather would say. Just go with the flow and, trust me, there is always somebody who genuinely prefers cookies the way you've just taken them out of the oven. Burnt, brown, or between gooey and barely baked... they will get eaten and enjoyed!
  5. clean up As much as I want to say clean up can be skipped entirely - that's actually a way for you to smother all the silly cheer of freshly baked goods. My method? Scrub a dish or two while the cookies are in the oven. As I use bowls, spoons, etc., I collect things in one bowl and put it in the sink to soak so when I do get to it everything is in a clean-ready state. I might also use already floured, sugared, and soda-ed utensils over again in a different recipe if I've got many things happening at once (regular occurrence). Lastly... keep the conversation or music going through cleaning. I certainly don't like to be standing at the sink alone, scrubbing out the last bits of tasty cookie remains from a pan. No need to resent the cookies for making a mess! Even clean up can be social!

Okay - so there are 5 things. I'm learning here and I'm hoping to store some of these lessons for the days I can manage my own kitchen. If baking is as stress-free as I just made it sound, I might want to think about a new career!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

full moon

That's right. There's a full moon. I'm celebrating with my second cup of lemon tea and a bit of mission trip planning. I can truthfully say I am equal parts exhausted, joyful, sad, and hopeful. If you throw that in a recipe, I think you might get me sitting on this couch with Phil Wickham singing with serious gumption from my computer and a lot of jumbled thoughts in my head.

I'm glad you don't have the recipe, actually, because I don't think I would want to create this mix of emotions again. I guess it's one of those never-wish-it-like-this BUT glad-it's-here type of things. God is so good to bring about the things we would never think to ask or want because He knows we will cling to Him all the tighter for it.

I think love makes a person sad, but not in the lame, mopey way. I think love makes a person sad because the tighter we allow ourselves to hold onto people, the more we realize how fragile they (and we) are.

Sometimes I hate it that I can't fix things. I hate that I can't make every sad moment better or every bad day brighter. If I could, I'd have a smooth solution for every mess in the lives of the people I love. But, though it's hard to want, I know the process is more precious and powerful than a smooth solution. I know we are being refined and God is being glorified. I know that simply 'making things better' is not what this faith journey is about.

We have eternity set in our hearts and it doesn't sit so well in this world for a reason. We have a citizenship in heaven, where God has a forever of BEST planned.

I am praying that this strange, beautiful mix of emotions points to the forever of BEST. I am praying that the sad songs my heart plays are because I want the people I love to join me in that forever. I am praying that the joyful swirls my spirit dances are because my delight comes from that same forever place.

Hmph. Words won't do. I'll blame it on the moon.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

pride is a big, fat thief

Sunday, I posted the song by Thad Cockrell called, "Pride won't get us where we're going" and I love this line,

When I lose my vision, will you lend me your eyes... to see exactly where I need to be.

It must be something... this pride. I want to make cute jokes about it, but the reality is it's ugly. I've been thinking a lot about all the ways pride is like a thief. Without regard to the damage, pride steals our friendships, our families, our minds, and our affections... and then destroys everything completely.

This is an idea that's been making a tortured trek around the hamster wheel in my brain recently. Maybe it was learning Sunday night that the brother of one of the Micah boys (and only sibling) was stabbed and killed, or maybe it was the re-introduction to one of my favorite soul-destroying films "Dancer in the Dark" or maybe it was a handful of conversations about the downward spiral of affluent youth worldwide... I'm sure of this:

the tragedies don't stop.

I'm always trying to make some sense of things and so could I just process what has seemed to settle in my gut? I'll take that as a yes. Bear with me... these ideas are not completely formulated.

On whatever end (or middle) of the socio-economic spectrum we find ourselves, I am starting to think what makes a person most desperate is certainly the same. We all know the feelings of humility, shame, and fear.

Unfortunately, the most ready weapon is itself destructive: pride. As John Piper's sermon was still marinading today in my mind, I thought about the two different groups who found themselves stuck in unbelief in John 7:1-24.

  • Jesus' own brothers asked Him to go up to a party and present Himself in all His glory, with pomp and circumstance. They wanted a parade - someone they could walk behind and maybe stand a bit in the shadow of His glory. What they didn't believe was that He was bigger than an entrance at a party or the praise of men.
  • The Jews didn't believe in Him because His presence indicted them. Their lives were brought to account in His presence. Every righteous act felt less right in the presence of One who could do no wrong.

Both, Piper said, were blinded by pride (and, as a result, unbelief). I guess I'm just wondering how many sins we can really trace back to the root of pride.

  • I think of a recent conversation with students about 12-year-old pop singers with near-adult material with eyes 'innocently' set on a crash course toward success.
  • I think of the young girls here who are married at 12 years old to 20 or 30somethings who have very little understanding of love.
  • I think of the constant worry involved in "future plans," lest a student or adult choose a less comfortable path.
  • I think of the person who is completely unaware of the layers of life surrounding him because he is so deeply involved in what he will do next.

Well, folks, we've plumb lost our vision. And I seriously think we're seeing the results of our unbelief. We are proud - so proud - that we want Jesus around for His fame and VIP pass, but we don't believe His presence can save us. We are proud - too proud - to admit that His deferring way of pointing to the glory of God is to us a lifeline, not a noose.

Instead, we've chained ourselves to the world's ugliest attractions in hopes that we will find both significance and righteousness. God help us!

Pride is a dirty, devious thing. I suppose that's better reason than any to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy