Living the Gray

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

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

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

I want to be me.

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

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

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

There was a common enemy.

The World. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are valuable. You have great worth.

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

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

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

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

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

And there is grace for that. 

 

 

What She’s Always Wanted

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

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

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

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

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Ikea, the wonder pup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

goofybo

Lessons From the Salon

So, this happened awhile back.

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Not my proudest moment. In my defense, I could only hear about every third word, not enough to jump in and educate the room (aka, tell everyone they are, of course, wrong, and how in the world can you actually think such things you close-minded banana brains?!?) And, there was the dye in my hair. I didn’t know how long it was supposed to sit there but I was pretty sure if I got boo’d from the salon and had to drive home it would be way too long and I would end up with green hair.

But still. Bashing the poor? Expressing hatred for an entire people group? Calling it “an invasion”?

I pretended to read my book and shut them out. And prayed. I prayed for grace and mercy for the bigots in my vision. I prayed that I could see them as people and not “bigots.” I prayed that I would have opportunity to speak if I was supposed to do so.

The loudest of the mouths left before my dryer timer dinged. Another left soon after. During my rinse out, it came down to my stylist and me. I said nothing. She told me all about her exhausting weekend serving at her church. I prayed harder. As much as I love a good debate, being as opinionated as I am, I also really like this woman (plus, she does great hair!) I didn’t want to disagree with her.

She referenced their conversation and I told her I couldn’t hear because of the dryer. So, she filled me in. Sigh.

I won’t go into detail, but we went round and round, her wielding scissors about my head and me often silently chiding myself, “You could end up bald! Just stop TALKING, Tara!” But, of course, I didn’t. And, she showed great restraint, giving me an adorable cut with great color that I love.

But, I was enlightened, although really, I’ve heard it all before.

Some of us are willing to have compassion for those less fortunate as long as they are not eligible for government subsidies we are denied, or do not possess anything we may want.

It doesn’t seem to matter the trauma refugees experienced before they arrived. Serial rape, death of children, brutal murder of family in the dead of night are moot points in the face of free healthcare and tax-free small business, apparently.

It makes me tired and sad. When believers speak in platitudes and post Scripture memes and then focus only on their rights and and bemoan some false sense of “persecution”, I shake my head in disbelief.

In a land where we can worship where we wish, and are free to post those Scripture memes at will, and have easy access to quality healthcare, and food in so much abundance we actually worry over ingredient lists and local sourcing, how dare we, who claim to follow Jesus, begrudge any of the same to others simply because they had the bad sense to be born somewhere else?

Just the other day, I gave a lecture to my children. There is a new round-a-bout not far from our house. This is a new concept to many on this side of town and it’s taken some getting used to for many drivers. I explained to the kids that those entering it must yield to those already on. If I was entering, but was in a hurry and decided my need to get somewhere on time was more important than the driver already on and didn’t yield, I would cause an accident. Somebody has to yield or chaos would reign.

As believers, we are mandated to yield, to love others above ourselves, to lay aside our rights, to die to ourselves. I told my kids they are going to be world changers and that this, this family, these siblings are their training ground. If they can learn to yield to one another, to love each other, they can love anyone.

If you really want to watch Peppa Pig, but let your brother watch Teen Titans Go, it will be a lot easier to let the pregnant teen crash on your couch for awhile when you’re older. If you willingly give your little sister the last cookie, I know you’ll excel at parting with a chunk of your paycheck to build those wells in an African village.

One of my sweet daughters came to me later and summed up what we all worry about, “If I yield all the time, I won’t ever get anything.”

That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? If I’m not looking out for myself, who will?

It is so counter cultural to follow Jesus. To trust that He sees and will provide all our needs. To live with an eternal perspective. To accept there is joy in the cross.

When standing up for our rights as Americans clashes with our calling as Christ-followers, it’s time to step back and remember where our home truly is.

Hint: This is not it.

I wrote most of this post months ago. I needed the reminder today. Fear for our country is welling up in me. Just this morning, I watched, aghast, as a presidential contender advocated for building institutions for the mentally ill, or “sickos” as he called them.

I’m sure he has no idea that our country has just recently been enlightened enough to move away from that archaic notion. I shudder wondering which people he thinks should fill them. I’m sure at least one of my boys would make the list. (Would I? With my anxiety disorder and need for medication?)

It would be tempting to dismiss his ramblings if it weren’t for the sheer number of followers who claim that he speaks their minds, as well. Do they want to lock up my child, too? I’ve read the comments, seen the stares, watched the news. It’s not a leap to think so.

Yet, love, not fear, must win. Love has to be our motivator. We stand up to bigotry and ignorance and we call out injustice, but we do it so love can win. People are valuable – no matter their place of birth, their income, their IQ, their abilities, their color, their past, their perceived potential, or even their political leanings.

When I remember this is not my home, it’s easy to stop fighting for a bigger piece of the pie and instead, share the part I already have. When I remember it’s not my agenda but His Kingdom that matters, I can humble myself and seek His face and ask Him to heal our land. When I remember that Imago Dei is imprinted in all of us (If I pray a lot and squint real hard), I can even see Him in the Trump followers (I’m a work in progress.)

Love and yielding. I know there’s grace for that.

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.)

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.