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.

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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.

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. 

 

What If?

Four years ago today, we received the response for which we’d been waiting on pins and needles. It was affirmative. Serbia was going to allow us, a crazy big family, to adopt a child with Down syndrome from their country.

Long before we were waiting to hear from them, God stirred our hearts for the estimated 15 million institutionalized orphans in the world. With a simple prayer, “God, break our hearts for what breaks yours,” uttered many years ago, our world shifted as our hearts cracked. Our knowledge increased about orphans with special needs in Eastern European countries and the terrible fate awaiting them. We were undone.

We prayed for those orphans. We began supporting families adopting them, we cheered every “gotcha day”, and read every blog post. And while we occasionally wondered what it would be like to be in their shoes, the obstacles were great and the leap of faith needed too big.

Our excuses were typical, but very real.

  • We couldn’t afford it. We’re a large family living on one income. We live within our means and comfortably, but there is not much extra and adoption is expensive.
  • We didn’t have much room. With seven kids already squeezed into a 3-bedroom home, I was unsure we’d even pass a home study. (Two words – vertical space. Kids stack well and triple bunk beds are a dream.)
  • We were normal. Meaning we weren’t superheroes or extra patient or incredibly loving or extra spiritual or anything else we thought adoptive parents were supposed to be. We liked our comfort, we valued sleep, we got short with the kids sometimes, our house was often a disaster…just normal.
  • We felt at capacity with the seven kids we already had. We forgot that love multiplies; never divides.

And they were a lot of sound reasons not to do this to overcome. So many what if scenarios playing over and over in the recesses of our minds.

  • What if…we commit to a child and then don’t have the funds to bring him home?
  • What if…we get there and find his medical issues are way more involved than they said?
  • What if…I can’t love him like I do my other kids?
  • What if…he never attaches to us and has severe behavioral problems?
  • What if…he has autism? (Yes, this was an actual fear. Proof God thinks Himself hilarious.)
  • And there were more. So many more. It was terrifying.

So while we’d been waiting for Serbia’s yes, it was really a giant, yet trepidatious, yes on our part that got us to that point. A year later we brought home our feral three-year-old with the functional skills of an infant. I’ve written much about our wild ride since then with my most noteworthy post here, written a year ago.

Our Bo has been home three years now and life is just normal. Well, our normal, anyway. I don’t think about his adoption much except on the anniversaries. But yesterday, as I was sitting on the couch watching a movie, he climbed up in my lap, rested his head on my chest and fell asleep.

For two hours, I dared not move and I scarcely breathed, lest he’d waken and the spell would be broken. I allowed myself to wonder and I wept big silent crocodile tears because…

What if?!?

What if we’d said no? 

And, oh God, my throat constricts, and my heart pounds, and the tears are running again. Because for this boy, it wouldn’t simply mean no mama’s arms to hold him until they cramped, no strong papa with whom to feel safe, no tickle fights with siblings, no toys to increase imagination, no therapy to broaden skills, no school to increase knowledge.

For this boy, and for millions like him, it would mean eventual abuse, neglect, and death. 

And, as terrifying as our yes seemed at the time, the fact that his very life hung on it, scares me that much more. Because we almost said no so many times and at so many points along the way and our reasons were so foolish and ridiculous when the life of a child hung in the balance!

Our excuses seemed reasonable, but next to a life, they were anything but.

I don’t like to think about what if, because it shakes me. It forces me to think about the others – the orphans, the homeless, the trafficked, the abused – and my seemingly reasonable excuses to sit idly by, while lives hang in the balance.

Complacency is easier. It’s comfortable and it costs me nothing. But for those to whom I’m saying no, my complacency costs everything. It almost cost my son his life.

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Swimming

boardwalkI have a deep love for the Atlantic Ocean born from yearly vacations to the South Carolina shore as a child. The wildness of the waves, yet predictability of the tides, holds great allure for a Midwestern girl like me.

Always a strong swimmer, I never fully appreciated the sea in all her strength until one summer when I was about thirteen. I was a little farther out and down shore from my family when I miscalculated a breaker and was slammed headfirst into the water. I tumbled over and over, as the waves tossed me nearly to shore and then pulled me back again. All orientation was lost to me and I had no idea which way was up as the mighty ocean dragged my face along the sand, only to pull me back and then do it again. Time stood still as I struggled, and wrestled, and swallowed salt water before I was mercifully spit upon the beach, exhausted and stunned, rethinking everything I thought I knew about swimming.

Three years ago, we embarked on the adventure of our lives to travel across the world and receive our son, on whom we had never before laid eyes. I read the blog posts I wrote in the time leading up to travel and wonder, “Who is that woman? So inspiring, so full of faith, so certain.” I barely remember her, but I wish I could be her.

Adoption, Bo, autism, medical complications…none of these are the cause of the hit my faith has taken in the last three years. They may have been catalysts, or it very well may be an easy starting point from which to mark time.  I set off on the this journey full of faith that God would see us through it, which is noble and true, and had I stopped there in my thinking, all would have been well. But, instead, I knew how God was going to see us through. I had planned it out for Him. All He had to do was follow the plan and do A, B, and C.

Only He did not do A, B, and C.

There were deep valleys, and hills, and wrong turns, and fender benders, and wild collisions, and cliff hangers. There was rejection, and isolation, and fear, and loneliness, and anger, and grief.

I embarked on this journey certain I knew how God worked. I had the formulas, the platitudes, the righteous answers all memorized. “There is blessing in obedience.” “As you sow, so shall you reap.” “All things work together for good.”

My Jesus was more cosmic karma than Father God. Deep in my core I believed that if I did hard things for Him, He owed me a good life. (Good, of course, meaning easy. I am American, after all.) So this wilderness in which I’ve been wandering came as a complete surprise and mystery to me. As one by one He stripped away my faulty core beliefs, exposing me to complete vulnerability, and in the process, raw pain, I developed my own scabs and callouses, a tough exoskeleton designed to keep me safe.

But carrying around a shell is a wearying burden.

I’ve watched my responses to other people as of late. My lack of empathy to those feeling stressed by what to them feels like a crushing blow, but to me seems minor, is startling. My judgmental sarcasm about those who have opposing views is unattractive. There is a hardness to me that mirrors anything but love.

I saw this meme and related to it, initially, before I recoiled. diamonds

I don’t want my beauty to have an edge. I don’t want to be untouchable. I want God to use my pain for His glory, so I can offer hope, grace, and love to those in the middle of it. I need to lose the exoskeleton or the diamonds or whatever hardness resides in me if I am to be free to do that.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Coming to Jesus and learning to be gentle and humble in heart is the starting point. I have no answers on how God works and very few on who He is. I’ll let my favorite quote about Aslan, the great lion in one of my favorite books sum it up:

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Much like all those years ago on the beach, when I realized what I thought I knew about swimming didn’t really apply to the bigness of the ocean, I now see what I thought I knew about Jesus doesn’t really apply to the bigness of the world.

I’ve finally come to the understanding that while God did not do it my way, He did NOT fail me. I know this because here I stand on the shore, shaken, bruised, and dripping, but ready once again to swim.

bowaves

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.

 

 

 

Silence the Ignorant Talk

I was going to jump into the red cup fiasco. I started a post last week after first becoming aware of the (non) issue when someone on Facebook shared this article from AllenBWest.com entitled, SHOCK: Starbucks accused of ‘Christian Cleansing’ after latest move… The move, of course, going with plain red cups this year in lieu of festive ornament, star, or snowflake laden cups as in years past for the holiday season.

Oh, good gravy. My eyes rolled back in my head before I even read it. It quoted an earlier article by many conservative Christians’ favorite news source, Breitbart, which quoted a British politician, and two people from far right Christian publications in Great Britain, all of which denounced the move as politically correct and anti-Christian.

The comments were outraged and predictable with people calling for boycotts or telling baristas their name is “Merry Christmas” to get it back on the cup.

rainbowcupBut very quickly, reason prevailed as more and more and more people spoke out on social media about how ridiculous the whole thing really is and how many other things actually matter. You would be hard pressed to find one Christian who is actually upset about Starbucks having plain red cups, at this point.

This week, the tide turned the other way and now I’m seeing an interesting twist in which I moan, “Oh, good gravy,” again.

I see many people speculating, as they are only seeing folks denouncing red cup boycotts, that the whole thing was started by the media to make all of us Christians look bad. Groan. Why? Why must there always be someone out to get us? Where does that fear come from?

Here’s the thing. Red cup outrage was started by the media, but not by that media. It was started by the right-wing media designed to give us a boogey man to loathe and fear which is the primary agenda of Fox News, Breitbart, Western Journalism, etc. They do it because it works. It keeps us coming back which keeps their click counts and ratings up and makes them lots and lots of money.

But for the Christian, it’s dangerous. It alters our perception of the world. It changes the way we view our neighbors. It distracts us. It will consume us.

In the middle of the red cup mess, my teen daughter came home from a weekend away. She recounted her experiences and she gripped me with this story.

Mom, I met this boy, *Caleb. We had to take him home after everyone left the bonfire. His mom is in the hospital because she had a heart attack. He tried to play it off like it’s not a big deal. It’s not her first one. She has breast cancer, too. His little siblings are staying with other relatives but he’s old enough to stay alone, so he is. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. His dad isn’t around. She gets out of the hospital tomorrow and a cousin is going to take him to pick her up. We prayed for him before he got out of the car, but there was nothing else I could do.

(*Not his real name.)

Suddenly, red cups and conservative media didn’t matter. Teen boys caring for dying mothers, feeling and being all alone changes one’s perspective.

For too long, we’ve been lulled into thinking that standing up for righteousness means demanding the right to pray after a football game or organizing protests to keep the Nativity on the courthouse lawn. We’ve been duped into believing that righteous anger gives us license to get mad at people who disagree with us. We’ve somehow given the Constitution of the United States equal weight with the Bible and gotten America confused with the Kingdom of God.

Voting, carrying signs, expressing anger and disgust, slapping on bumper stickers, spouting our opinions…of course we default to those things to prove our “righteousness.” They’re easy.

Learning to lay down our lives for someone else? Living as a servant to all, not just those in our circle? Loving, valuing, caring for our neighbors as we do our selves? Not so easy.

Standing up for righteousness requires me to stop being selfish and to put someone else’s needs above my own. It means looking around for teens whose families are in crisis. It could mean I need to rake a neighbor’s lawn, take a meal, visit the elderly, provide childcare for a few hours, run to the store, phone a friend, send a card, pray with a stranger, sponsor a child, serve meals at the shelter, take sandwiches to the homeless, etc, no matter that my life is crazy busy right now and it’s the holidays and I am broke and I have a million reasons why this is a bad time.

It may mean I do something even more radical like adopt another child, donate a kidney, clean out my savings for someone else’s adoption, move to the inner city, allow a pregnant teen to sleep on my couch, or whatever else He’s put on my heart to do.

Standing up for righteousness is walking in love. It’s living with an open heart to love the needy, open eyes to see the needs, and open hands to fill them.

Frankly, it’s so easy to write these things, so easy to intend them. But really, in the hustle and bustle and stress of life, it is stinkin’ hard to walk it out. I don’t know if it’s my ADD that distracts me so much or if everyone has wonderful intentions on which they rarely follow-through, but I can tell you that the first list is really difficult for me. The second is a little more palatable for some reason. I guess because I am a visionary and prone to moments of grandeur, I am more likely to donate a kidney than rake somebody’s lawn. BIG I can do. (I’m great in a crisis. Daily irritants send me running for Valium. Go figure.)

But we can’t just do big things for people and call it love. Often the initial act of the big thing isn’t really love at all. It gets the most attention and glory, but doesn’t require nearly the sacrifice as the fall-out. One or two big things over the course of our lives don’t get us out of the daily sacrificing of love, I’m sorry to report. One and done is not in God’s vocabulary.

What does all of this have to do with red cups?

I Peter 2:15 says, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” No matter where the ignorant talk originates, all we need to do…is good. Be a light in the darkness. Love your neighbor. Let your graciousness be known to everyone. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Do nothing out of selfish ambition; instead, value others above yourself.

Silence the ignorant talk by doing good. There is grace for that.

(Oh, and just today, Breitbart is still calling this a “war on Christmas”. If you believe there is such a thing, I highly recommend this post and handy flow chart for your reference.)

Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

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.