Living the Gray

Our youngest was tasked with dressing as “who she wants to be when she grows up” for theme week at school. That led to a discussion with the older kids about what their dreams for their grown-up selves were.

“I want to be Zak,” my ten-year-old Zak said simply (and with probable sarcasm.)

It struck me as profound. As I wrestle, in middle age, with who I’ve become versus who I wish I was, I need that bold, child-like simplicity.

I want to be me.

I want to be the truest version of Tara I can be. It doesn’t matter where I am in my career (not where I want to be), how much money I have in the bank (not enough), or how impressive my kids are (pretty amazing, but definitely human). What matters most to me is authenticity, living the truth.

It wasn’t so very long ago that life was black and white. I felt secure in my belonging in the evangelical church. We were united in our resistance to the world, to the others…those who sought to corrupt our children, to steal our freedom, to move our country on a path away from biblical morality.

It was all so cut and dried, so easy to understand. Do this and you’ll be protected. Follow the rules and God will bless you. If you love the Lord, everything will work out just fine.

There was a common enemy.

The World. 

So we lived in a bubble of our own construct. We were friends with each other. We worshiped and socialized together. We sought each other out in our workplace to align and become stronger together against the world. We found Christian businesses to support, so that our hard-earned money didn’t support worldly ventures. We were so glad to be part of the family of God.

But that wasn’t me. I kept straining against the box, popping out on occasion to question it all, only to be squashed into submission.

Yet, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it on some level. I miss the community and I really miss the knowing. As misguided as we were, there was certainty in what we were about. We were sure.

But lately, I can see all sides of every issue, too many sides. I see validity in the views of my “opponents.” There is so much more gray than I ever thought possible.

The old me would never have understood this, but there is grace for gray. People are never one-dimensional. We are created by our experiences, our upbringing, our circle of influence. We can be changed by one simple moment in time…an accident, a lost loved one, the birth of a child with special needs. Those moments shape us, and who am I to determine your shaping is faulty if I haven’t experienced your one moment in time?

People are rich with depth and nuance. Our world is a treasure trove of untold delight mixed with unspeakable suffering. There is little room for black and white, all good or all bad. Truth, while not fluid, is perceived differently by all of us based on our stories.

Woven through it all is an underlying thread of imago Dei, image of God. We are valuable. No matter what we’ve done, or what we believe, we have great worth.

You are valuable. You have great worth.

That truth is mine. It is the basis of everything I am about and all that I am for. You don’t have to fit inside a box to be accepted. Your choices don’t have to reconcile with mine. You are free, and you are loved, and you are worth it. Agreeing with you or not, I am for you. My God is for you. 

It is my great joy in life to see that you are known and loved well. It is my dream that others see imago Dei in you, too.

Instead of hiding in the bubble, locked inside the box, I wish to live tall and free with open hands. I want to have more questions than answers, always seeking the nuance, stretching to reach the heart of each individual in my path.

My truest me is revealing the depth of gray. I’m most authentic when I am peeling back the layers of black and white to expose the blessed hues of gray beneath.cold-snow-black-and-white-road

So, what am I as a grown up? I am me. I am loving and living the gray.

And there is grace for that. 

 

 

What She’s Always Wanted

Mickpic“This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” I could hear her smiling as she said it. My oldest daughter, Michaela (Mick), has been working hard to help in any way she can with the world refugee crisis. As she has written, “Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined.”

Currently, she is in Serbia, the homeland of her brother, a country which has proven anything but kind to the least of these, and refugees are no exception. Graffiti is everywhere with slogans of frustration and hate making it clear that those with nowhere else to go are not wanted there.

Because the need is great, and she is strong and confident at twenty years of age, she was asked to go to the Hungarian border and lead a team to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable, people who are living in squats or out in the open, determined to somehow beat the impossible game of racing across the border to a life with hope. They are often harassed and beaten by police, and are without the means to feed themselves. While most of them are young men, too many are adolescents, barely old enough to have facial hair. And there are a few children, six and seven years-old with only teen relatives to watch over them in this wilderness.

Ever the adventurous quick learner, she learned to drive a stick in less than a day, so she can transport goods from the nearest warehouse to the people. Her willingness to do this cost her much, possibly including her safety, which is much more perilous in this position.

IMG-20170910-WA0000

Ikea, the wonder pup.

She also rescued a puppy from an IKEA parking lot. I know, I know. But, actually, I think it’s a smart move. She’s been training him, already. She envisions him as a protector for herself as he gets older, but also as a therapy dog for the children and the broken people she encounters. He’ll need to eat, too, of course. Also, as she is further north, she will need to secure warmer clothing and gear as winter approaches and she will be spending a greater amount of time in the elements.

She told me the initial quote after informing me she’s currently living in the warehouse, has no place to shower, and no stove on which to cook food. And, yet, this is what she’s always wanted to do. I hear contentment in her voice, pain and fear at times, but also peace.

When she started this journey, she determined to go where she was needed. All she sees now, day in and day out, is overwhelming need. If you would like to partner with her, you can give at wallet.google.com and enter her email: mickmae@gmail.com I can promise that any amount you give would go a long way. She is my daughter and thrifty is her middle name.

One time gifts are so appreciated and helpful. Monthly support would be phenomenal and such a boon to her spirit (and give such peace to mine!) She is meeting needs in a way that most of us couldn’t. I am so grateful for her willingness and her tenacity to do so.

If you are the praying type, I would love it if you would commit to pray for her for safety, endurance, wisdom, and grace. Please pray that she loves well and obtains favor with all those she encounters.

May the rest of be so blessed to find “what we’ve always wanted to do” in acts of service to those around us. In this world of increasing instability, I am certain there is grace for that.

Racism, Heresy, and Hope

When the events of Charlottesville happened, I was hopeful that real conversation would ensue. Many of my white Christian friends seemed genuinely puzzled by what was happening and the swift explosion of condemnation to it. I thought, perhaps, they would seek to understand perspectives they had not before fully considered.

Of course, I was wrong.

moneyMy social media pages are now full of memes poking fun of people “offended” by various things, (as if that’s what any of this is about), quotes from token conservative black people (as if the fringe should ever silence the collective whole), and false equivalencies (no sane person wants to remove the names of our founding fathers from anything), all of which were posted by fellow believers.

It’s for these people this post was written.

Sunday, our pastor spoke on Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece.” He shared that a work of art comes from the inner most part of who the artist is. And he asked this question:

Is it possible to stand before a masterpiece and not recognize it as such?

The answer, of course, is yes. What I’ve learned in the last few weeks, is that while some of us don’t recognize a work of art because of simple ignorance, many of us refuse to see. Willful ignorance is our downfall. Standing before us are people of color, individual masterpieces of God, and we refuse to acknowledge them as such.

I can hear you protesting as you read this. You are denying that you are racist. You would never wear a swastika. You love everybody. You don’t even notice color. Purple, green, brown, yellow, whatever, it matters not to you. People are just people.

You simply don’t understand why this is such a big deal now, in 2017. Slavery was outlawed hundreds of years ago. Civil rights were won over fifty years ago. The playing field is level and you’re tired of everyone playing victim and throwing the race card. You’re convinced the media is playing us all against each other and creating drama where otherwise there would be none.

Does that about sum it up?

Well, I contend that you are not just racist, a case could be made that you are also dangerously close to heresy, which is defined as adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma, or code of tenets.

One of the basic doctrinal principles of our faith is Imago Dei. Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

All of us are image bearers of God, worthy of respect and equality. Instead of honoring that, you are placing your opinion, your experience, your desires, and your rights above people of color.

Collectively, people are sharing their experiences of being black in America. They are sharing their pain, their fear, and their reality. And your response is to silence them, to whitesplain what really happened, how they should really feel, and what’s really going on.

Because you have never had to worry for your life in an encounter with police, you are convinced that is truth for all. Because you have only ever been pulled over for valid reasons, you are sure that is true for all. Because everyone you know has a shot at a fair trial with a jury of their peers, it can’t possibly be true that people die without deserving it.

Because you have the luxury of living in a system created for you, your skin color, your culture, your hair type, your manner of speech and dress, you don’t ever have to think of race or race relations except when it’s all over the news, therefore, you are convinced that suddenly, race relations are “worse than ever” and it’s probably Obama’s fault.

Thinking about these things makes you uncomfortable and defensive, so instead of actively listening and lamenting, you poke fun and trivialize it, not realizing that you prove the point that equality is a myth by your very actions. It’s all about your comfort level, your feelings, your opinions.

By denying people of color their lived experiences, by whitewashing our history, by trivializing and belittling their woundedness, you are demeaning their humanity. You are denying their equality. And you are spitting on the artist who skillfully created them, the God you claim to serve, the God in whose image they were cast.

You are viewing these masterpieces through the value system designed by our culture, instead of the Word of God which tells us in Psalm 139 that they, like all of us, are skillfully and wonderfully made.

You are not adhering to Imago Dei.

Another tenet of our faith is loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is so easy to say, it has almost become cliche in our churches. Of course we love our neighbors. We are nice to the barista, we don’t throw the finger to the guy who cut us off in traffic, and we faithfully pack our shoe boxes every Christmas.

But love is more than that. More is required. We must love all people as we love ourselves.

In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for others. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

So, what have you done with the plethora of emotion an entire group of people is experiencing right now? Have you come alongside to better understand, to right injustice, to bring healing, to be a bridge?

confederateYou have not. You have dug in your heels, defended your position, and shouted down the wounded. You have put objects over people. You have done everything but love your neighbors.

And you’ve done all of it with a self-righteous zeal…in the name of God. (Saul would be so proud.)

Again, I stand by my statement. If you have participated in this mess, you are not just a racist, you might also be a heretic, not even standing by two of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

I’m calling you out. It needs to stop. You need to stop. It’s time to step away from Breitbart, FoxNews, AllenBWest, and all the memes that are telling you it’s okay to be a bigot.

It’s not.

But here’s the good news.

You don’t have to stay here in this mess. You, too, are a masterpiece of God and the rest of Ephesians 2:10 says this, “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That’s the amazing thing about our God, we always get a fresh start in Jesus and he has good things planned for you.

Are you ready to do good things?

Become a student. Here is a sample of recommended reading to get you started:

Books:

Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity Within the Church by Doug Serven

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity by Edward Gilbreath

Articles:

Anything from Jelani Cobb

Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy

It’s uncomfortable and it’s not easy. Everything inside you will want to well up and defend yourself as you learn more, but don’t you long to be a bridge of healing and a source of hope? I know, as a follower of Jesus, you do, and I believe that together we can.

I know from experience, there is grace for that.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

 

 

 

 

 

Together, We Are Legion

You may not be that familiar with us. You may not even notice when you see us in “your” space. Or, it could be that you resent us taking up space at all. You might be one who sees us with genuine curiosity, wishing to know us better, but unsure how to bridge the divide. Or perhaps, you view us with suspicion, worried we exist simply to take something that belongs to you…your property, your privilege, or your “rights.”

Who are we?

We are members of the disability community, people of color, LGBTQ, and immigrants. Some of us are simply their allies – those determined to make sure they have a voice and that it is heard, determined to find them a place at the table.

Collectively, we are the other.

Some of us met in metaphorical Holland, a place we never planned to even visit, let alone linger. But it’s there we became more aware of the others. That’s when we understood that our exclusion was theirs, too. Our lived isolation was being replicated by other groups. Discrimination is something we’ve all encountered and we all share. Our uniqueness, our different, precludes us from having equality. We are rarely heard or really seen, and when we are, our message is too often filtered through a lens of your privilege.

Maybe we make you uncomfortable. When we speak up, our accents are too thick, our speech unintelligible, or our words too piercing. We upset the status quo. You tell us if we would just follow directions (given by people like you), everything would be fine and we could all go back to “normal.” If we would just stop making waves and settle down, we wouldn’t get arrested, or hurt, or killed. If we would only fit in the box you made for us, we could rise above.

You keep reminding us that good people don’t have health problems. Good people work within the system. Good people don’t need any help. They simply work hard to get ahead.

What you don’t realize from the inside of your box, is that we don’t fit in it. And the system does not work for the many on the outside, goodness be damned. Those living here on the outside disagree on much, but we are united in this: all people have intrinsic value, deserve equality, and desire acceptance.

We may have started out in Holland, but we are coming home. Beware America. We are coming for you. Your status quo is no longer safe. The bubble you have long floated in will burst. We will shatter your box. You who are living under a thin veneer of perceived return to greatness, where you have all the power and are without challenge, are in for an awakening. We will cower no more. We refuse to be further silenced.

And, rather than feeling threatened or intimidated by our presence, you should connect with us. You never know when you might one day need us. While your country of origin, your color, and your sexuality are pretty well set, disability can happen at any moment and knock the wind out of your sails.

We strongly believe that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) Allies are always welcome. Won’t you join us?

Separately, we are minorities, but together, we are legion.

handsofcolor

 

Dear Pro-life Friends

Well, here we are, America. President Trump was inaugurated less than a week ago.

I am a registered Republican, but I could not and would not vote for him. (This is my third time in a row on the losing end of a Presidential election. Here’s a tip…if you want to win, vote against me.) Many people I know and care about voted for this man for one main issue…abortion. Maybe you were one of them. Maybe you really believed that a vote for him would save a life.

If that was your sole motivation, I can respect that, even if I disagree.

But here’s what I want you to know.

For the last five years, I worked in a skilled nursing facility, or nursing home as they are commonly called. I got to know many of the certified nursing assistants (CNAs), most of whom were single moms. These are the people who provide hands on care to the elderly and disabled residents who live in the facility. They bathe them, dress them, feed them, put them to bed, and change the diapers of those who need it. Those who are good at it (and there are so many), do it all with a smile and a sense of humor. They treat “their” residents like family.

For all this skilled labor, the average pay was $10/hour.

I know these women. I know how much they love their kids. I know how they are barely scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck. And I know what an unexpected pregnancy evokes in them…

…Unabashed fear. 

So many questions…How will they ever manage the co-pays for maternity care from our crappy corporate health insurance? Or the 20% co-insurance for the hospital stay? How can they possibly afford to take time off for maternity leave when all of their paid-time-off was used up caring for sick children? How will they ever be able to pay for childcare for another kid? What about diapers, formula (and/or pumping equipment), etc? How can they continue doing such a physical job right up until the end of the nine months? What if something goes wrong with the pregnancy and they can’t continue working? How will they take care of their kids, then?

These women are not opposed to another baby. They are not selfish monsters if they consider abortion under these circumstances. They are scared moms who feel like they are without hope. Even if they want the baby, they are terrified for the children they already have.

Do you see how a livable wage, affordable healthcare, paid maternity leave, low cost childcare, and even welfare for low income families can reduce abortion? Do you see how they can save a life? All of these things are traditionally shot down by our Republican party.

So, I’m asking you, my pro-life friends, can we please stand up for these women?

Can we support legislation that is not traditionally Republican, but will actually save lives? Or will we continue to call ourselves pro-life but be more concerned about the child in their womb than the children in their living room? Will we stand on principle and insist on being right just because that’s the way we’ve always thought, the way we’ve always leaned, or the platform of our party, even when we know it will drive more women to clinics to end a life for which we say we care so much?

Maybe we can think beyond the legalities of the issue and seek to reduce the demand.

I know it will make a difference.

Hope always does.

 

 

 

Drop the Load

hand2I sit here before a blank page. I’ve been so eager to get back to writing, to find some time, to let the words pour out. How strange to find I have none. Nothing cohesive, anyway. The blinking cursor has been mocking me for quite awhile.

It’s the start of the new year. The last one was all about change. It was exciting and stressful and fulfilling and scary…and so, so busy. So as I sit and pray and reflect, I find myself disconnected from my source. I know about God and I’m somewhat aware of His existence near me, but He’s become this sort of fuzzy, nebulous presence…instead of my Creator, my Savior, my Friend.

And I realize I miss Him.

No wonder I have nothing to write. I have nothing to give. My battery is dead. I’m full of meaningless ideals, insignificant platitudes, and hollow words. I’m an empty shell.

cactusWhile I love it in our new home state of perpetual sunshine, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some disappointment in realizing that winter can find me even here. I thought I’d escaped the cold, the darkness, the overwhelming desire to hibernate…to hide. But, while there is no snow or ice (for which I’m so thankful), the days are short. I see each breathtaking sunrise in the morning, and beautiful sunset in the early evening.

And then there’s darkness.

I want to don my jammies and escape into my old friends, television and social media, often before dinner has even graced the table.

Because, winter.
And so, while there are flowers still in abundant bloom, my kids wear flip flops most days, and our heat has been on less than a week in total, I continue to stuff a void and attempt to manage a discontent with unhelpful meaninglessness.

I am afraid of the dark.

dark

It draws me back into habits long held. It weakens my resolve to connect with the people in my world, and more importantly, with my God. Darkness becomes a load I carry instead of a shade through which I walk.

But one heartfelt cry of His name is all it takes to restore relationship. He is in focus once again. He is here. It is the beauty of the cross that one whispered prayer can bridge the chasm and revive the heart. He relieves the burden.

While there are fragments that must be swept away from the chaos I caused fumbling with my weight of darkness, my heart is now at peace.

20170103_111425Earlier today, my non-verbal Serb handed me a multitude of hot wheel cars on the back porch and pushed me into the house. Every time I stopped, I felt his little hands on my rump pushing me forward until, finally, he stopped and pointed with both hands to the floor, indicating I was to drop the load.

Later, my husband prayed, “Lord, thank you for this year you’re pushing us into,” and I laughed remembering determined hands pushing me to an unknown destination. This year, may I be so in tune with my God that I never fail to feel His hands, leading, guiding, and sometimes pushing.

And may I always be aware when He’s telling me it’s time to drop the load.

He Knows

You may feel anxious right now. The fate of our country is uncertain, at best. The chasm we all hoped would settle after the election seems to be ever widening as the ground around it rumbles and shakes. The truth is difficult to cipher. Fake news stories abound and are virally shared.

Add in the usual holiday madness that has become our norm for this month of the year and for some, this is the perfect storm.

But focus on this.

You are loved.

mangerThe King of the world, with you in mind, came to be one of us, to experience life as you do. To laugh, to weep, to be annoyed and exasperated, to feel stress, to be treated unjustly, to have his words twisted, to be mocked. He experienced deep loss and grieved. He knew great agony and physical pain.

He was misunderstood, over and over again. Not one person really knew Him.

He knows.

And while my emotions are running the gamut the last few months, and I could choose to write about so many other things, I’m focusing on this, instead.

He knows…us.

Intimately and deeply, whether we accept Him or not. He is the only one who really “gets” us. You realize you’re not alone in that desire to be known, right? We all want that. Some  look for it longingly in past relationships with parents, wondering why they were never enough. Others in one failed romantic entanglement after another. Some of us find some semblance of it in our marriages, but even that’s not quite enough to totally satisfy the deep need to be fully known and fully loved.

He knows our human experience and what we’re experiencing because He was human. BUT, more than that, He knows our personal experience, our feelings, our darkest fears, our highest hopes, because He knows us.

And He is delighted in each of us. 

The story of Christmas is that God came near. The hope of Christmas is that He is near, still. Emmanuel…God with us.

greenerycloseup_750

Please know, He’s just a whisper away. Merry Christmas, and may God be near to you all year.

Pitchforks and Fruit Trees

So, another popular Christian committed the unforgivable sin. She publicly stepped left of center. Members of our community are tripping over themselves in her condemnation, so eager are they to distance themselves and wave a flag of their own righteousness. LifeWay pulled her books from their shelves. Blogger Matt Walsh was quick to use her sudden infamy for click bait.

If you’re not living in the bubble of Christendom (and I applaud you), I’m speaking of popular author and speaker, Jen Hatmaker. In an interview with Religion News Service, she answered the question, “Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?” with:

I do. And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here.

And Christian evangelicals lost their collective minds.

With a vengeance, she was denigrated in my newsfeed. I read the comments posted to her latest article (which had nothing to do with any of it) and was ashamed to be associated with the people who almost gleefully “straightened out” her theology.

I could almost see the pitchforks and hear the chants of “false teacher…burn, burn!”

orangetree

But the thing I couldn’t…can’t wrap my brain around is the fruit I see. We are told in Scripture that we can know each other by our fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). Jen Hatmaker is a mom doing the holy work of loving kids, former orphans, from hard places. I know from experience that is not a one shot deal, but rather, an ongoing, intentional, sometimes grueling, daily choice. It is messy, exhausting, exhilarating, and painful, and it is holy.

She is also, one of the most instrumental racial bridge builders of our time. She has done more for racial unity in the church, than any of her peers this decade. By her authenticity, openness, and humility, she invites the rest of us to journey with her in a quest to understand the divide, to heal the hurt, and build unity. Repentance, redemption, and restoration follow her.

Love is the over-riding theme to her ministry. She loves big and has enlarged her circle to include homeless people, children of third world countries, Ethiopian mothers, the LGBTQ community, and others forgotten or ignored. Better, she encourages the rest of us to love, as well.

Here’s where it gets especially tricky for me. Some of those with the proverbial pitchforks are people I know in real life. People who posted sanctimonious things like: “We should never add anything to the Word of God!” or “I knew something wasn’t right about her. I guess I have the gift of discernment!”

There is a log in my eye when I say this, I realize, BUT, I look at the lives of those doing the judging of Jen Hatmaker, and the fruit, in comparison, is remarkably sparse. Their lives are are normal, very typical of any middle aged, nice, American parents. To that, I echo Francis Chan, “Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.” Those who are quick to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation would do well to compare fruit, starting with their own.

dyingtree

I’ve noticed something about people who open their hearts and their arms to love big. Their theology starts to alter and they are less dogged about doctrine. Peripheral truths that once seemed so solid begin to shift as the person of our never-changing Jesus grows bigger in their lives. They walk the narrow road of understanding that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and yet, they must keep in step with His Spirit (Galations 5:25) who is forever on the move.

Maybe, instead of eating our own when they deign to step off message, we should first look at their fruit, as Jesus instructs. If they are bearing good fruit, perhaps we should listen to them and find out why; quiet ourselves and seek to hear what they hear.

If nothing else, at least we could offer grace and then tend our own trees?

trees

 

 

 

American Idol

I’m no longer shocked, or scared, or angry. Now, I’m just kind of sad. I feel I’m watching the American Christian evangelical church topple. For years, it’s been perched on the edge of an abyss and the ground is slowly crumbling under it.

Our sin is taking us down. Not the moral failings of our culture, for which we’ve threatened doom over the years. Not the sexual immorality we ignore in our midst but for which we disparage the world. And we can’t blame this one on the LGBTQ community.

For years, we’ve made America an idol.

bible-american-flag

We’ve worshiped at the altar of her freedoms, her history (our whitewashed version of it, anyway), the comforts she affords, the safety she provides, and the power we wield in her leadership. We’ve blurred the lines between her Constitution and Biblical truth. We became convinced that WE were God’s chosen people. The abundant life Jesus promised morphed into the great American dream.

Instead of being the bride of Christ, we chose to wed the Republican party. We pledged to them our allegiance and looked to them to feed us, to teach us, to lead us. When they told us morality would save us, we were all in. The war had begun and we were on the side of right.

The men leading it stirred us in passionate speeches about the evils of the left and the biased media who could not be trusted. They pointed fingers at dirty deeds and described them in glorious detail. When some of them were caught in the same deeds, we mourned the fallen, and railed against the media for twisting the facts.

The church is as enamored with America as ever. We are willing to sell our souls for her “greatness.” We are willing to turn a blind eye to the world around us and the desires and needs of the people in our own country in order to protect our rights within her.

In September of 1998, Dr. James Dobson, then president of Focus on the Family sent a scathing letter of Bill Clinton to his supporters. In it he wrote this:

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!

Fast forward to 2016, and that same Dr. Dobson, wholeheartedly supports Donald Trump -a known adulterer, accused sexual predator, and habitual liar (among so many other things) – to lead this nation as President of the United States. Moral relativity, anyone?

Dr. Dobson is far from alone. Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee and while many in our party and in the evangelical church have distanced themselves from him, so many more are adamantly in support, simply because (in their words) “he is the only one who can save this country.”

His supporters may admit to his odiousness and moral failings, but they don’t care or are willing to overlook them because we must protect our religious freedom, the second amendment, babies, keep the Supreme Court from being overrun with liberal judges, and seal our borders from those who would blow us up or steal our jobs.

And, as a lifelong evangelical Christian and Republican, I want to know why. Because I look at this list of things we’re selling our souls to preserve and other than the baby part, this all seems completely self-serving. It’s all about our rights, our comfort, our way of life, our status quo. It has nothing to do with Jesus. 

We are admonished in Scripture to take up our cross and die to ourselves in pursuit of following Him. We’re supposed to expect tribulation and trials. We’re supposed to expect persecution, not avoid it. We’re supposed to remember that we’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

I’ve looked at the two greatest commandments. Loving our country didn’t make the cut. Loving our neighbor did. That means loving our immigrant neighbors, our black neighbors, our female neighbors, and our disabled neighbors, all of whom have been targeted by our GOP nominee.

So what do we do? Most of us find the Democratic choice to be morally reprehensible, as well.

First, we need to examine our individual hearts to see if/where we’ve made our country an idol and placed it before our sovereign Lord. In the same vein seeing if comfort, ease, safety, the American dream, etc, may also be idols, as well. It’s so easy to fall into that in the land of plenty.

Second, we need to stop the Chicken Little rhetoric that would tell us the sky is falling. Fear has no place here. Not only is it contrary to our core beliefs as Christians, but it also undermines our testimony to the world around us. What message of hope do we have to share if we are counting on a human savior to heal our land?

Third, I would love to wrap this up in a tidy bow and tell you, of course, we should all do _______ in this election. But, I can’t. There are third party options. If one should garner 5% of the vote, it allows that party to get federal campaign funds in the next election, therefore increasing the likelihood of a viable third party in the future. Or, you could skip the presidential part of the ticket and vote like mad for everyone else you wish to see elected. Just because we have the right to vote, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the obligation, especially if our own moral code prevents us from choosing any candidate. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not valid.

Fourth, pray. Like most, I’m concerned about November 9th and beyond, regardless of the victor. Our country has much from which to recover.

Fifth, be the Church. Love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Charity

Be the glorious exception to what the world thinks when they hear the words “evangelical Christian.” Step outside your comfort zone to minister to the poor, give until it hurts, listen when you want to speak, read the other side to every issue, befriend people with whom you disagree and find your commonalities, make orphans a priority, never forget to look for Imago Dei in every person you encounter, and love everyone. Remember to be brave, authentic, full of grace, and to be there.

There doesn’t need to be a GOP President for us to be the Church. We have freedom in Jesus that no government can grant or take away. As my friend and former pastor, Jeremy Bialek commented:

Religious freedom to me is what Christ purchased on the cross. It is a freedom to actually be able to worship without the condemnation of death or slavery to sin. It can happen in a US church on Sunday morning, in a Chinese prison, or in an Arab desert before an ISIS executioner. It is not guaranteed by any governmental edict or court as much as it is by my Sovereign, eternal King. I don’t have to fight for that right. It is already mine and no one can take it from me.

I don’t know where America is headed or how she will recover from this. But I hope the evangelical church can recover by putting Jesus first, surrendering our need to be right, swallowing our pride, and loving people. We need to get away from all the talking and get back to doing, with the end goal of being. In other words, we want to be people from whom loves oozes. Maybe then, we can rebuild.

destroyedsyrianchurch

Picture: One of so many destroyed Syrian churches.

Arizona Adventure

We moved. Across the country. In my last post I shared that I felt nothing, just a numbness. All I feel now is an overwhelming gratitude because, it turns out, there is enough grace for that. And so much more.

The house we ended up in is in a wonderful neighborhood, surrounded by farmland, (Yes, they farm in the desert! I had no idea!) and exactly two miles from the base of the White Tank Mountains and its regional park. It is gorgeous, especially for previous flat-land Hoosiers like us. treesThe one thing I was worried about missing most from Indiana landscape was trees, but we have three large trees with hummingbird and turtle dove nests in our backyard. Amazing!

We leased a ranch style, one-level home which has eliminated so much stress from our daily lives as it makes supervision of Bo so much easier. Just eliminating the frequent adrenaline surges from large objects flying down the stairs from his hand, on a regular basis, has lowered all of our blood pressure to normal levels.

We are all acclimating to the higher temperatures and doing our best to forgive every blasted person who promised us a “dry heat” as humidity levels have routinely soared between 40-60% since our arrival, with temps around 105 daily. Dry heat, my butt. I’m told this is temporary due to monsoon season, but it seems pretty convenient nobody thought to mention it before we moved. Ahem.

neighborhood

My drive home from work. I smile every afternoon. 

School started five days after Shawn and the kids arrived and was very hectic, initially. Arizona schools frankly are pretty broke and have a terrible reputation. We were very worried about the boys, especially as they came from such amazing school situations. It is something that we bathed in prayer and spent way too much time obsessively worrying over.

Bo was in an essential skills class previously and would’ve returned to the same teacher, Miss Julie’s, classroom had we stayed. They shared a mutual adoration for one another and she challenged him in ways no one else could. More than that, she believed in him, even more than we did, I’m embarrassed to say, and he excelled under her tutelage. The thought of him ending up wasting his time in some of the awful situations I’ve read about, was really scary to me. But God knew. He loves Bo even more than I do. He provided Mrs. D. who is a near clone to Miss Julie. She adores Bo, has the same classroom style and set-up, and believes in him every bit as much. She is so impressed with all he learned under Miss Julie and is keeping her goals for his new IEP. The speech therapist is amazing, as well and has big plans for total communication for him, which is what I’ve been shooting for with him. He loves school!

Eon was fully included the last two years and the plan for second grade was the same in his amazing Indiana school. We were unsure how this was going to fly in his new school, although we knew the law was on our side. We also knew that if the teacher is not, it can be a terrible year. We had his transitional meeting on Friday. His teacher loves him. Yay! She does, however, have 33 kids in her class. He will need more support in the classroom. I may have annoyed his mild special ed teacher with my little inclusion speech, and expectation that evidence-based practice be provided. If she plans to pull him from the classroom some, that’s fine, as long as she shows me the current research to demonstrate that it’s best practice. I just wanted them to be aware of my expectations and goals when we reconvene for the IEP so no one is blindsided and we don’t waste anyone’s time. Overall, they seem like a great team and I think we can work well together to ensure his needs are met. He has, however, been playing them quite a bit and he needed a “come to Jesus” meeting when he got home from school. Turns out, they think he needs help carrying his lunch tray (Ha! Uh, no. Tell him to suck it up, buttercup!) and he’s been laying on the floor if he doesn’t want to do something (um, heck, no! Dad will come to the school to put a stop to that if need be! And, why in the world was he coming home with green/good behavior checks everyday?!?) Anyway, we straightened them out that he is very competent when he chooses to be and he WILL choose to be from now on. Ugh. This child.

moth

Giant moth on our stoop.

The other kids are thrilled to realize there are critters to be found in Arizona, too, although in the desert, not the creek. They are undaunted by the heat and spend at least part of everyday exploring the desert and longboarding in the park.

We gave Ellie, 16, the reins to find us a church to visit, and she, being the awesome big sis she is, found one advertising a special needs program. The website said we needed to contact them in advance, so we intended to keep Bo with us the first service we visited. However, when we were checking in the other kids, the volunteer helping us, told us he was more than welcome to attend that very day and her husband was actually working in his class. She took us there, we verbally told them some info about him, they gave us a form to fill out during the service and bring back and he was good to stay! Amazing! Never have we felt so welcomed and wanted in a church. Frankly, the service could’ve been terrible and we still would’ve returned just for that feeling and relief. It was the first time in 3 1/2 years that we relaxed, and worshiped together, knowing all our kids were well taken care of and learning about Jesus. Turns out, It was actually a great service! Ellie went to youth group that night and has since made some friends. We’ve decided to make it our new home church and are looking forward to getting involved in small groups.

park

Our park.

My job is fantastic and I love it! After twenty years of wearing scrubs, I feel like I’m playing dress up everyday in business attire and it’s fun! (although, my feet didn’t think so, initially, but they’re coming around.) I work for a huge non-profit hospital conglomerate in the acute inpatient rehab department as a clinical referral specialist. (although, depending on who you talk to, I’m also called an acute rehab liaison. Idk.) It’s very different from my previous twenty years as an occupational therapist, but I am able to use my clinical judgment daily (which seemed like I was able to do less and less in the SNF environment), therapeutic use of self, and communication skills I honed as an occupational therapist.

Having my parents nearby is a huge bonus. They have been a wonderful help to us and, even though the drive across the valley is long (a little over an hour),  we see them quite a bit. Grandpa helped me with the kids for two weeks as Shawn returned to Indiana to get the house finally on the market. We were so grateful to have him!

I’ll be glad when Google maps no longer has to help me navigate my daily life and when I start to feel like I belong instead of just a visitor, but that will come.