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.

salonredacted

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 it’s 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 what we’re capable of. 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 us 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.

Oh, dear square pegs, there is grace for us.