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. 

 

 

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.

My Target Bathroom Experience

Today, I needed some stuff from the store. I managed to escape the house without children and drove to our local Meijer store here in Greenwood, Indiana. I sat in the parking lot and began making a list on my phone when I received a Facebook notification. That’s all it took before I was completely distracted and scrolling through Facebook in my car, oblivious to the world around me, or my purpose for being at the store in the first place. (Welcome to ADD…Squirrel!)

I came across a post by one of my friends promoting a pledge by the American Family Association to boycott Target stores because of their new inclusive bathroom policies. It’s been signed by over a million people. It reminded me that I’d read something about protests outside Target stores on this date.

I started my car, left Meijer, and drove to my nearest Target. No protesters. Dang it. I was slightly deflated that I didn’t get to cross a picket line.  I shopped…and shopped…and shopped. Did I mention I didn’t have any children with me? As I headed toward the Market section of the store to complete my list, the inevitable happened.

I needed to use the bathroom.

Dare I? Was it safe? Weren’t there men in there dressed as women lurking in the stalls just waiting to attack or, at the very least, peer at my nether regions? Oh, wait. This is Target. They don’t even have to dress as women! 

Cautiously, I approached. I saw several men go into and come out of the Men’s restroom. None of them even glanced at the door to the Women’s. I walked closer to the doors.

A mother and her young daughter went into the Women’s restroom before me and into a stall. I went into another stall and locked the door. They did their business. I did mine.20160604_114021 Other people came and went. Toilets flushed. Sinks turned on and off. I came out of my stall and washed my hands. Another lady was there and laughed as I waved my hand under the non-automatic paper towel dispenser, stating she did the same thing. At least I think she was a biological female. She could have been a transgender female. I have no idea. Nor do I care. We did our business, exchanged pleasantries, and returned to our shopping.

I used a Target bathroom and I was unharmed. I lived to tell the tale.

You can, too. 

We Are Enough

Earlier in my mothering I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t enough. In fact, five years ago on Mother’s Day, I wrote this post expressing that very idea. Beautiful-Happy-Mothers-Day-Images

I am human and imperfect. My children know this about me and I am sure that picking out the perfect Mother’s Day card is difficult for them. I imagine them standing in the aisle rejecting card after card, until they finally find a safe, funny one.

I hate that the holiday objectifies motherhood until it is something  angelic and saintly like halos and gold dust. I know few women who can live up to that.

It portrays the “good” mothers are those who can read the same favorite bedtime stories for hours on end, instead of hiding the annoying books and leaving out only the short ones….that rhyme.They can create gourmet meals on a shoe string budget, instead of serving frozen pizza for the 3rd time this week. There is no way they have a hidden chocolate stash, but if they did and it was found, they’d be sure to share, instead of lunging for it and yelling, “MINE!”…

…I’m just a mom. I feel like I am failing much more often than succeeding. I notice all the the things I’m not doing, over all I am. I worry that I’m not disciplining enough, enjoying them enough, teaching them enough, loving them enough…that I’m not enough.

I have not changed very much, but my perspective has. Maybe because I’m older, my kids are older, or I have so dang many of them. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been immersed into the world of special needs and the bar has been significantly lowered. It’s hard to worry about Pinterest parties and gourmet meals when you’re just trying to keep your kids out of the hospital or making sure you know every last bit of the law to ensure they get the education they are due.

Last night, at church, our pastor spoke on the idea that mothers walk around with our very own cloud of guilt hanging over our heads. He told us that almost all of us struggle with not feeling like we’re enough. I teared up, not because I struggle with it so much now, but because I remember sitting in that very church three years ago, weeping as he said the same words and I absorbed them for the first time.

I was told I was enough. There was no “but…” attached.

Other than my husband, all my world at that time was telling me differently. The homeschooling community was telling me to be enough I should read the Bible with my children everyday and grind my own wheat. My former church taught me I should squelch all my needs and desires and find fulfillment only in service to my family. BuzzFeed threatened that I should be turned over to CPS for allowing my kids to play unsupervised in the yard. Pinterest showed me that I was failing in every possible way from birthday parties to healthy recipes. And Facebook assured me that everyone else was doing it exactly right.

So, hearing a different song was a balm to my soul. I drank in that message of grace. Like cracked ground thirsting for rain, I could not get my fill of it.

And, as one who has once been so thirsty, I try to nourish other moms with the same grace. You are enough, dear mama. You are exactly the mom your child needs. God chose you, specifically, knowing in advance your shortcomings and failures, to mother the children he has given you. The fact that you have ever worried about failing as a mother, proves that you are not failing, because you care enough to care.

chocolate-03I still have a hidden chocolate stash; my kids wear mismatched socks (and not the kind bought on purpose…I’m talking a cute kid’s sock and a giant men’s tube sock); I’m supposed to cook our weekend meals which means we usually have donuts and McDonalds; Sometimes, I bribe older kids to put little ones to bed; My five-year-old knows all the lyrics to “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. You get the idea. I am not rocking this motherhood thing.

But I’m enough. And so are you. 

We are selfish at times, most definitely. We are wrong, often. We are human, absolutely. But we love, however imperfectly, and that is enough. Because of Him, we are enough.

There is grace for that.

 

Dupification, Bitterness, Mercy, and Love

I was duped. Perhaps you were, too. For years and years, I was led to believe that my behavior, my morality, was not just the barometer of my relationship with God, but actually was to be the focus of my whole spiritual existence.
Accusing-fingerI needed to keep tabs on all areas of my outer life, for so many reasons. God certainly was. It was behavior He was looking at to determine if He could be pleased with me. How many times did I pray, “Lord, may I be pleasing to you in all that I do and say”? It was as if He was just waiting for me to screw up and garner His displeasure.

Worse than my own potential demise, though, was the burden I carried for those in my world. I was taught that, as Christians, we are to be “set apart” from the world. We needed to look, talk, and act differently than those heathens around us. In so doing, we would win others to the Kingdom. The theory was that they would be so attracted by our “light” they would want what we had.

It was a huge burden for a mouthy, short-tempered, habitual sinner like me to try to win over people to Jesus by my goodness. Because, frankly, I’m just not that good. And, there are tons of other people out there, heathens evenwho are way better than me, who aren’t peddling Jesus.

loveIn the last few years, I’ve experienced a huge paradigm shift. I realize that being set apart has so little to do with our behavior and everything to do with our hearts. I understand that Jesus never said they’d know we are His followers by our goodness and adherence to rules, but rather by our radical, ridiculous, uninhibited love.

There is exhilarating freedom in discovery of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, rather than relishing in the freedom, I ruminated on the past. I dredged up all the faulty teachings I sat under for years in a former church. I studied abusive church practices and pastors and realized I was not imagining it and I really had been a victim. As wounds reopened, instead of bringing them to Jesus for healing, I picked at the scabs until they festered and the stench of infectious bitterness took hold. Every new revelation in Scripture, instead of bringing wholeness, just further indicted the church in all its failures and reminded me of all the years I’d lost.

But God…

(Isn’t that how every good story turns?)

But God, in His mercy, in a snippet of a sermon with another point entirely, showed me my bitterness and rebellion and told me to lay it down. 

Bianca Olthoff preached the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 from the perspective of Martha, early in February at the IF:Gathering. I highly recommend a listen if you can get your hands on it. Almost as an aside, she talked about Mary coming out to meet Jesus after her brother died, and laying at His feet. Mary, whose name means “Bitterness, rebellion, and want (as in a child)” laying at the feet of Jesus. Verse 33 tells us that when she did that, Jesus was deeply moved. Olthoff said, “When we willingly lay our bitterness and rebellion at the feet of Jesus, something changes.”

An arrow pierced my heart.

I wrote in another post that I was ready to swim again. I was ready for change. Something needs to change.15193306-a-man-making-a-confession-to-the-cross-shot-under-dawn-sky-1024x683

So, I laid it down. All of it. The anger, the bitterness, the frustration, the hurt, the resulting rebellion, the hate…and the want, the want to birth something new.

And freedom reigns.

I laugh now at my former crazy ideas of God. I’ve written before I can count on no hands the number of people who’d approached me and asked about Jesus because of my non-alcoholic, G-rated lifestyle.

My biggest opportunities for sharing with those who really want to know, have arisen in the last three years from those who start out asking why in the world we would add a child with Down syndrome to our already ginormous family (Jesus told us to love the least of these), or why we often spend Easter sharing communion and Cadbury eggs with homeless people (they don’t care what we’re wearing, almost everybody likes Easter candy, and see answer #1), or where I got my shirt that says, “I don’t have my sh*t together.” (online, and it’s a relief to admit it and know I’m loved anyway.)

Basking in His amazing love for us and really getting that He could not be more pleased with us as His children is where it sparks. Our love for others is an outflow of His love for us and has absolutely nothing to do with striving, or putting our best foot forward, or pasting on a happy face.

homeless-It is seeing people as Imago Dei, with His eyes, and loving them in all their mess. It is painfully hard and deliriously wonderful, and I’m not very good at it, yet. It’s outside my comfort zone and feels weird much of the time. When I take my eyes off Jesus, I worry I’m not doing it right, a throw back to my religious roots.

But He loves me. He has grace and patience for me in abundance, even when I get it woefully wrong, which is often. He loves us all. 

 

Self Preservation, Heart Surgery, and Refugees

A new kind of war hit social media last week. Accusations flew, mud slung, inaccuracies were rebutted but then resurfaced, over and over.

This post is not about the response of the American government to the Syrian refugee crisis. We have no control over that other than to call and write our leaders with our own opinions and hope we voted well.

This is about our public response as Christians to what the government may or may not do.  

These are a tiny sampling of the comments from fellow Christians I culled from Facebook. It’s fairly representative of those that oppose Syrian refugees resettling in America, neither the worst, nor the best:

These are women and children who have been taught from infancy to hate Jews, Christians, and Americans. It doesn’t matter what the facts are concerning the make-up of the group. What matters is the culture of “death to America” which we are bringing here. That is a sad fact. But it is the only fact that matters.

If God has opened your heart to helping these people, feel free to hop a plane and go. Until people are willing to GO YE, don’t talk to me about opening our country to that type of violence. God has blessed my family with 5 children on earth to care for. Their safety has to be my first priority.

if you want the refugees to come here and then put them in your backyard in tents- all of them. Also pick up hitchhikers every time you see them and encourage your children to do the same. Round up every homeless person that you pass on the street and put them in your house every night. And while you’re at it release every prisoner from every Prison in America because apparently we can Jesus the evil out of them. Christians were not meant to be mamby pamby flower children- we are to use our brains to uncover the truth about evil

We are not talking about helpless women and children- a MAJORITY of these refugees are 18-25 year old men who grew up baptized in 1 truth… Those who do not submit to Islam must die. If someone broke into my house with a gun would it be more “Christian” of me to welcome him in for tea or do whatever I needed to to defend my family. These men are coming from devastated war torn countries with no respect for government or rule of law… What the heck do you think is going to happen when they get here and are told what they must do to be an American citizen? It’s ideologically impossible to impress democracy onto people who fundamentally believe that everyone should believe the same garbage they do or die.

Why isn’t such heart and love put into OUR OWN homeless people?! We cant help veterans but we can welcome alllllll of these fleeing people with open arms? Another question, why are MEN fleeing their country? Why are they not joining their military to fight for their country instead of running away to good ol America? It’s nonsense.

I am a Christian, but I am also a mother, I am not willing to risk my life or the lives of my children for anyone! It’s a risk and they should be denied!!!! Period!! America needs to start taking care of AMERICA!

So many logical fallacies, I don’t know where to start. Too many theological errors on which to comment, not to mention factual inaccuracies. Oy vey.

It’s been said repeatedly that we can hide who we truly are and only project an image on social media. While that may be true with parenting, financial success, or home management, it does not seem to hold water with actual faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we just post whatever gut thought we have or whatever sound bite has been fed to us by those whose ideology we rely on for “truth”.

Our underlying worldview is revealed in times like this. It becomes painfully obvious to all what beliefs guide our core. The world sees clearly what is in our hearts.

  • When fear for our own safety, stability, and comfort overrides our human response to the plight of other humans…
  • When we post hysteria based, bigoted, ego-centric comments without basic fact checking…
  • When we condemn those that disagree with our views with pride and venomous words…

It’s time to step back and examine our hearts.

So I did. In doing so, I admit that I have been guilty of all of the above, most obviously, bowing at the alter of being right. I love a good debate and I love to research, two things that mix poorly with social media graciousness. Did I mention that I have little patience for people who just blindly repost things without checking the source/facts? Clearly, last week was a tough week for the likes of me. (Sarcasm intended.)

I take the plight of the refugees personally. Maybe it’s because for the twenty-five years I’ve worked in healthcare, many of my colleagues have been immigrants. I have worked alongside people from the Philippines, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Jamaica, Mexico, and Africa. We have laughed over language and cultural mix-ups and shared each other’s lives, celebrated one another’s victories, and mourned a few losses. They have brought a richness and color to my life, to our community, and to our country.  I have been blessed for the experience.

In my book, refugees, immigrants, people are not a drain, but an investment. These folks, once settled, are productive members of society and often harder working than their American-born counter-parts. Their children are educated among ours and become tomorrow’s physicians, scientists, artists, engineers, etc.

But in thinking deeper, it’s more personal still for me. Perhaps it’s because, for all intents and purposes, I am parenting a refugee.

My son was rejected by his country of origin, denied basic civil rights, and faced eventual, but certain death had he stayed. He fled to the United States. Even though he posed a threat to no one, there were many Christians who questioned his right to come here.

  • “What about all the children in this country who need homes? Why wouldn’t you adopt an American child?”
  • “Don’t you have enough children? Aren’t you worried what this will do to them?
  • “Who’s going to take care of him after you’re gone? Eventually, he’ll be a burden on the taxpayers.”

All questions/veiled accusations I heard before we adopted him and many I occasionally hear to this day. And while I have sound, logical answers for all of them, they often fall on deaf ears. People believe what they want.

So when my fellow believers circle the wagons against “those people”, outsiders, those who didn’t have the good sense to be born in the United States, it hurts my heart. Because my son is the other. And while he will never read your words, I know many others will.

And that’s the problem with social media and American Christianity. We spend too much time circling the wagons against the “other” to preserve our way of life. This time it’s refugees, but there have been more – people whose brand of sin we abhor, those whose lives are in shambles because of poor choices, addicts who’ve been helped only to fall into addiction again, welfare recipients, etc.

And people are watching. Those who don’t know the first thing about Jesus read our gut responses  we so freely share, the mud we so liberally sling, and scroll past our ugliness disgusted or worse, confused.

They see our prayer memes and Scripture posts, but in moments of global crisis or political disagreement, they see walls of self protection and preservation of our own comfort. Our rights are the only ones that matter.  Loving our neighbor, ministering to the least of these, dying to ourselves… all of these take a back seat to self preservation.

And I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t understand the fear.  I do. Fear is so powerful and has stolen more of my life than most. Maybe because of that, I know there are so many promises from our God that directly address it. He has not given us a spirit of fear; when we walk through the fire, He’ll be there; Be strong and courageous; and on and on.

People, others, are reading when we post scared, judgmental things and it drives them away from Jesus. The reality is public policy will likely not be swayed by our posts on social media and most of us will probably never encounter a Syrian refugee,  but our neighbors who need Jesus may be turned off by who they think He is after reading what we have to say.

Can we not offer them hope instead of fear?

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self.

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. 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.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.  

Can we take a breath and remember that kind of love when we feel threatened before posting our response on social media? Can I remember it before responding when I feel someone has spewed something asinine? I don’t know. I’m working on it and while my delete button has been used a lot lately as I reconsider pressing enter, it could certainly use more action.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45b

It’s not a social media or a keyboard problem. It’s a heart problem. Whatever’s in there is going to come out. So rather than just censor ourselves, I suppose we should allow God to perform a little heart surgery. I know I’m due and I think I know just where to start. It is a terrifying prayer, but one He has been ever so faithful to answer the few times I’ve bravely and sincerely asked, “Lord, please break my heart with what breaks yours.”

I have to warn you, though. The last time I prayed it, I brought home a refugee.

 

 

 

Dear Square Pegs

I received emails and comments after this post telling me I’m not alone, many from people who have not yet found their way back into the church because of the wounds they’ve received at her hand.

Square-Peg-Round-HoleSo many of us simply do not fit the success mold for the stereotypical church member. We are proverbial square pegs trying to fit into round holes. We ask too many questions, we don’t fail quietly, we can’t keep the mask in place. We doubt, a lot. We examine what we’re fed under different lights. We look to see if it holds weight under changing circumstances or if it measures up against what was served last week or even last year.

Platitudes and christianese answers leave us cold. Tradition without depth and meaning, but just because that’s the way it’s always been, drives us to drink. Clean edges and tidy boxes are our undoing.

We recognize that the gospel is a scandalous miracle. We appreciate that humanity is messy and complicated. We know that if it looks too neat, it’s probably a lie.

We tried legalism and failed. It appeals to many, so, so many, because of its cut and dried nature. It’s something for the accepted masses to cling to in the uncertainty of life.

Do this, and this will happen.

And, maybe we failed at the first part, do this, because of lack of attention span and organizational skills, or because of laziness, or life. Time and time again, we couldn’t quite measure up to the expectations.

Or maybe, this didn’t happen, the second part didn’t materialize and we were blamed. Maybe not overtly, but the suspicion was there. Life knocked the wind out of us through death or disaster or disease or disability and everything changed. Our fellow church goers initially stood with us and believed with us for our circumstances to line back up with normal. When they didn’t, we felt a shift, a distancing. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but our lives challenged the certainty of rule-based theology. Our continued struggles in the face of pat answers, plucky verses, and rules that should’ve protected us from such tragedies, were too confrontational for many.

If you see yourself or your story in these words, fellow square peg, I have good news for you. Even though you have felt the outcast, the prodigal, the barely tolerated, the misunderstood, you are precious in the view of the only One who matters. The church, in their leadership models and hierarchies, may never get you, may never seek to understand. But when Jesus walked this earth, you are exactly who He pursued.

To the consternation of the regular churched, He went after folks like us. We are His people. “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT) The one thing we know for certain, you and I, is that we are not already good enough.

We have seen who we are. We have glimpsed depravity and we know what is within us. We know of what we’re capable. When people see others and say with pitying eyes and noses high in the air, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we look at the same scene with wonder. “Really? Because that has been me…that is me.”

We relate to the broken, the downcast, the hurting because we are them. They are us. We are the woman at the well, amazed He would speak to us. We are the loathsome tax collector, hiding in a tree to watch Him walk by. We are the unclean woman, squeezing through the crowd reaching out just to touch His clothes.

And Jesus sees us and knows us. He looks for us with longing, pushing past those who think they’re already good enough to find square pegs like us.

Maybe you’ve never heard anyone say it. Let me be the first. You are exactly who, you are exactly what, you are exactly right in who you are in Him. You are not too loud; you are not too vulnerable; you are not too full of doubt; you are not too much of a failure.

You are not TOO……anything.

square_peg_in_a_round_hole_by_wolfepawYou are what He wants. You are valued and loved and chosen. And, in spite of the pious, false humility, that oozed out of the pores of those who rejected you, dear square peg, you are the right shape for the job He’s asking you to do. You fit perfectly in His vision for His church, for His body of believers.

We are the folks He had in mind all along. Not the pious, not the pretentious, not the round, accepted masses of those who think themselves already good enough. Just the simple, screwed up, authentic few who can change the world.

Please know, square pegs, there is grace for us.

I Want To Be Used Minimally

For years it was a thing we in the evangelical church prayed over each other, or was that just in my church circles? As a young person, it was confidently pronounced over me as if prophetically. In Bible college, it was the unspoken goal.

To be used mightily. 

I’m pretty sure the intent was to allow God to move through us powerfully. Or, we were going to move in Him visibly. Or, operate under His power, or…something.

christianese1Christianese is tricky because if you grow up using the vernacular it’s difficult to actually define it when pressed. I’m not sure what “being used mightily” is supposed to mean. I only know what I imagined it would mean for me.

I had visions of grandeur. God was going to use me in a big way. I was to command a large stage. Lives were going to be transformed. Hearts were going to be changed. I was going to love large and lavishly and publicly.

Mostly, it meant I would be known. 

Can I just be painfully real for a second, here? There is a part of me that still craves some of that recognition. I don’t know if it’s the taking stock of middle age or the availability of everyone else’s success right in front of our faces at all times, but sometimes I think I’m not doing enough to get myself out there.

We just finished a series at our megachurch called Pursuing Awesome. I admit to getting a little caught up in the hype of setting goals, learning from failure, and working hard to go after what we want. The slick video that introduced each segment flashed images of people doing amazing things like climbing mountains, conquering waves, and winning championships. Each point was punctuated with a real life example of greatness like Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame.

I walked out each week convinced of things I should do differently.

I should figure out how to set my blog up to automatically post to Twitter several times a day. I should work to get more “likes” to my blogger page on Facebook and post there regularly. I should re-post articles I’ve already written for those who’ve missed them and encourage others to share them in hopes of a wider audience. These shoulds have been proven to increase success in blogging and even lead to paid authorship.

After all, success is what we’re here for, right? We can’t settle for mediocrity. I can’t live an average life. I want to be used mightily! 

Until I realized what I was hearing sounded less like a service and more like a seminar. The examples of “Awesome” seemed very much like the American Dream – financial success! publishing a book! job promotion! – and so very less like the Awesome I think Jesus would have us pursue – taking up our cross, dying to self, serving the least of these.

I was brought up short.

How many times in my lifelong desire to be used mightily or my Pursuit of Awesome have I overlooked an opportunity to be used, well, minimally? To love on a smaller scale, without recognition? To speak a word of hope and encouragement where only one could hear? To provide a hand behind the scenes?

I don’t want to be used mightily, anymore. I don’t want to Pursue American Awesome.

I want to be used minimally. I want to be content with the unknown American average, while pursuing simple obedience to God.

I want my eye on the only prize that actually matters. I want to be focused on eternity.

I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers. Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them, so that you can win. Everyone who enters an athletic contest goes into strict training. They do it to win a temporary crown, but we do it to win one that will be permanent. I Cor. 9:23-25

I want to be one who sees and responds to imago Dei in everyone, never losing sight of anyone’s humanity based on their color, behavior, ability, beliefs, age, finances, health, sexuality, gender, or attitude. I want to speak love, first. I want it to ooze out my pores.

In the middle of my anxiety and my brokenness, I want to continue to speak out against injustice done to some of them, no matter if the majority refuse to hear or even cause me pain in the process. I want to be a truth teller.

I want to be the friend that shows up with the grocery store bouquet and the listening ear, who wakes in the wee hours and slides on her knees to intercede, who bakes a casserole when there are no words, and who laughs until she snorts knowing you need that, too.

I want to be the encourager who says, “Oh, honey, you’re doing great! Mine was a hellion at that age. At least he’s wearing shoes!” to the struggling young mom in the grocery store while I help her load her bags.

I want to let my nursing home residents greet me with big hugs and wet kisses, not because they’ll remember, but because, for a brief moment, it will bring them joy to do so.

I want to give until it hurts (and not just tickles a bit) to those adopting, those serving in children’s homes, those working for 20150208_155036family unification, and those providing temporary shelter because that is what I say I’m about and, for crying out loud, it’s written on my arm!

I want to deny my own selfishness and do the normal loving of my big family, too. I want to review spelling words with the kid with an intellectual disability who thinks “p-o-o-p” is the funniest answer every time, and put down my phone to watch yet another cat video with my animal lover, and ooh and ah over the thousandth masterpiece today from the four-year-old. I want to clean up craptastrophes with a sense of humor and less foul language and really engage with my ten-year-old about whatever it is he talks about. (Clearly, I have this category sewn up.)

I want to be the neighbor who shows up with cookies to welcome you when you first move in, who brings the chainsaw waves as her husband goes over with the chainsaw when you have a downed tree, who embraces the neighbor kids even though they throw the rocks out of my flowerbed.

I want to love lavishly and boldly, even while privately, not because I should, but because I can’t help myself. He loved me, first.

It doesn’t have to be mighty to be holy; it doesn’t have to be Awesome to be ordained.

Sometimes all I need to do is just show up and actually act on my good intentions. I have to put down my phone and engage. I have to get off the couch and be present. It will never make it into a slick video. No one may ever acknowledge the effort, but it so counts. It matters. My “success”, our success as followers of Christ is only measured in our obedience to Him.

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. 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.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.

Loving like that may be minimal and way less sexy than Awesome, but it’s right, and good, and true, and well, commanded. (I contend that Pursuing Obedience is a whole lot harder than Pursuing Awesome, but that’s a post for another day.) This is who I want to be – one used minimally for the sake of Jesus. Mightily and Awesome aren’t even on my radar.

And I have tons of grace for that.

I Won’t Take a Stand on Gay Marriage

It smells like fear to me. And fear mongering. I try really hard not to make decisions based on fear.

I’m a follower of Christ. I know many of you are not who read my words and the term “Christian” has gotten all kinds of bad press, some of it well-deserved. So you may not grasp what Jesus means to me. He’s the reason that we felt compelled to travel across the world to get our Bo. He’s the reason that, even after two years of sleepless nights, I was determined to learn to love that little guy. He’s the reason, the only reason, I succeeded and feelings finally followed actions. He’s the reason my heart weeps for the unloved and the broken and why I so desire to love the least of these because that is what He taught me to do.

He’s the reason that I hope, when hope is in short supply; why I stand when my knees are quaking; why I say yes when common sense says no. Because He has shown me amazing grace, I am undone. I am not who I once was and I know redemption is sweet.

Because of Jesus, I have a soft spot for the marginalized, those thought to be unequal in our culture. Those with disabilities, racial minorities, those with mental illnesses, and those who are gay.

A few months ago, I read this post about gay marriage by Glennon on Momastery and it resonated with me. I particularly loved this quote, ” I think if people don’t believe in gay marriage, then mostly they should not get gay married.” It made me chuckle and want to put it on a t-shirt. Her ideas on grace were spot on, as well.

It’s like we Christians love the idea of grace, but we don’t want it distributed indiscriminately- we want make rules about it and dole it out carefully and strategically. It’s like we’re worried that if everybody knows that she’s loved and accepted by God – it will be Grace Anarchy! I want that. I want Grace Anarchy. I want people to be free to be who they are. It makes sense to me that the free-er people are, the BETTER people are. I believe in people because I believe in God. I think God knew what God was doing when God made each of us.

I’m not sure what I think of her theology when it comes to homosexuality, though. Truthfully, I’ve been praying about and wrestling it through for months. My poor husband has certainly gotten an earful. I felt like I finally need to figure out what I believe about all of this. Now that SCOTUS issued their ruling, I feel like it’s time to take a stand, either way. I don’t believe that being gay is a sin. But gay sex? I really don’t know. An entire life of evangelicalism, years of Baptist primary school, a year of Bible college, and a childhood as a pastor’s daughter are not so easily shed. I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence and confusion. I want to rightly divide the Word of truth like it says in II Timothy 2:15. Freedom comes with truth. 

I then, as a seeker of truth, proceeded to read all 1,986 comments on the Momastery Facebook page about this post because I am also an idiot. I’ve also read numerous articles on both sides and the comments following since the decision was announced. It’s enough to make your head spin.

A few things jumped out at me. Those that oppose gay marriage, are the least loving in the comments. To be clear, I’m not talking about the trolls. I’m talking about those sincere in their beliefs who disagree. More than just disagreeing, though, they almost always take a slippery slope argument. If Christians support gay marriage then it won’t be long before pedophilia and bestiality will be the norm in the church. Or, they assume that, any Christian who agrees with certain Bible pastors that believe those passages that refer to homosexuality are speaking to non-consensual sex, has decided there is no such thing as sin…like, at all, and what did Jesus die for?!? I can’t tell you how many times I read, “The Bible clearly states…”

The fear is palpable.

And I wonder why. Why are we so afraid? Do we really think the world is going to go to hell in a hand-basket if we reason together? I don’t know.

In Glennon’s post, lots of people pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, only Paul did in the New Testament. Those that brought up the Old Testament were rightly squashed as none of us follow Levitical law. It can very successfully be argued that Sodom and Gomorrah was more about gang rape and has no resemblance to our current conundrum of gay marriage.

Those that agreed with the post pointed out that we are all sinners…and were rebutted that most sins are events versus lifestyles. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness for lying when you’re not married to the lie.

So what did Jesus say about marriage?

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32

Divorce is very common. People divorce for lots of reasons beyond sexual immorality. Most people who consider divorce a sin believe it’s a one time event that God forgives. But what about that last part? According to that, remarriage is a sin, too. What’s up with that? That doesn’t sound like a one-time thing. That sounds like they are in an adulterous relationship. How come nobody ever talks about that?

So, if you’re divorced, are you supposed to remain single for, like, ever?!? What if it’s too late and you’re already in the adulterous relationship of a second marriage? Do you get another divorce? I Corinthians 6:18 tells us to Flee sexual immorality. Living in adultery seems pretty immoral, to me. But what if the new couple has children together? Obviously, they can be forgiven for entering the remarriage, but then do they need to have a celibate marriage to keep from being adulterous?

So many questions! Honestly, it’s difficult to fit these words of Jesus into our current culture, especially if you’re one who claims, “The Bible clearly states…”

Second marriages and blended families are the norm, even in the church. No one bats an eye. I know very godly people who have been married for almost fifty years the second time around. No one refused to bake a cake for them or photograph their wedding, even back then, by the way. How come?

I don’t know what to think about Jesus’s words regarding divorce, second marriages, and adultery. I chose to use them as an example, but I’ve never really studied them in depth or wrestled them through. I’m happily married to my first husband of twenty-two years. That passage doesn’t apply to my circumstance and I don’t feel the need to take a microscope to it to measure someone else’s life.

I’m sure there have been studies and someone will tell me what Jesus really meant in that passage. If we look hard enough, we may discover cultural context or Greek words with different meanings than the current translations. Wait, that sounds familiar. All things those same people are denying others regarding passages on homosexuality, because, you know, “the Bible clearly states…”

Here’s the thing. I worship with people who are in second marriages. Half the time, I have no idea. But even if I do, I don’t care or even ever think about it. I serve with them at church. I go out to dinner with them, watch their kids, pray for them, let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else.

If it ever crossed my mind, I would assume they have wrestled that passage with Jesus and I would trust them to walk in whatever He showed them to do. Because I love them, I’ll let them work out their own faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and I will work out mine.

And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do the same with my gay brothers and sisters. The passages on homosexuality don’t apply to my circumstance. I’m not gay. So, I’m not taking a stand on gay marriage. I’m taking a knee. I will serve those around me. If they want me to bake a cake, I will bake for them two. (If they want me to photograph their wedding, they should reconsider, though. My sisters-in-law can tell you I’m not so good at that.)
sisters-in-law

So, I will gladly stand next to my gay brothers and sisters in worship or go out to dinner with them or watch their children. I will pray for them and let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else. Because I love them, I’ll trust them to work out their own faith with fear and trembling and I will work out mine.

But I won’t take a stand on somebody else’s life. Because I believe there is grace for us all.