Category Archives: Uncategorized

a word for 2017

Standard

I’ve never been much into resolutions, for all the normal reasons you hear resolutions maligned.  Mainly, though, I get too ambitious, create a massive to-do list for myself, and by March I’m so behind and so overwhelmed that I give up, defeated and discouraged.  I’ve found more success (and real life change) in picking a word for the year.  The first time I did this it changed my life in the best and hardest ways.  The next year was absolutely “meh.”  Last year I picked a word, but discovered by the end of the year that an entirely different word had picked me.  Go figure.

My word for this year is kingdom.

Does that sound as weird to you as it sounded to me?  The word came to me unexpectedly while driving to Asheville in December.  I think my response was “Huh?”  It seems such a large and unwieldly concept.  I’m used to “words of the year” being intimate and personal.  Character qualities.  Things you want to embrace or experience.  Changes you would like to make.  Even things about God you want to know more clearly.  But “kingdom” seems broad.  And a bit pompous.  And, well, weird.

I don’t know if you’ve had an experience of “hearing” God speak to you.  For me it’s not an audible thing, no blinding light or angel music. It’s usually a thought that stirs something deep within me, as if heart, mind, body and soul are suddenly all in agreement, listening intently.  I’ve come to pay close attention to these moments.  At the same time, I know I am quite capable of being led astray by my own emotions or desires or whims so I follow it with more listening: prayer, searching scriptures, talking it through with wise friends.  Does this line up with other things God has said or is doing?  Was this Him talking or my own active imagination?

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month.  I can’t shake the word.  I also can’t seem to get around it’s awkwardness.   But I’m going to roll with it – because, well, if it’s good enough for God and all.  The main passage that I have been meditating on is Matthew 6:9-10.  Jesus is teaching His followers how to pray:

 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

 

I’m blown away when I really stop to think about this.  We are to be praying that God’s will is done here just like it is in heaven.  It’s easy when faced with this broken, chaotic, ugly, fallen world to think that His kingdom is “out there,” when we get to heaven and sin is no more.  This is true, and we won’t see His kingdom in all it’s full glory until He returns.  But Jesus told to pray for His kingdom to happen here and now, too.  I think that also implies we are supposed to do kingdom work – because if you are truly praying for something to happen, and it lines up with what God desires, then He is going to give you a chance to be part of His answer.  And, y’all, isn’t this so beautifully full of hope and goodness?  We don’t have to just slog through and endure this terrible world.  Jesus is actively and intentionally seeking to make His kingdom manifest here.  It is these glimpses of His goodness and glory and love and grace that draws people to Him.  And it gives us a taste of what’s to come, a future with Him that is so breathtakingly glorious that it in turn spurs us to make His kingdom more evident even now.

For the next year I’m going to see what this word “kingdom” is all about.  What does His kingdom look like, both here and now and eternally?  How do I further or hinder His kingdom work?  How does this change how I live and how I engage those around me?  I’m already learning some things.  Right now God seems to be showing me all of the dark, broken places that desperately need His kingdom to come – and frankly I’m feeling overwhelmed.  I also sense that He is going to shatter some of my ideas about church, how to love and live in this broken world, what my priorities should be, and all kinds of other things I hold dear.  It should be fun! (haha)

On Advent

Standard

Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

Come, weary one, and see what God has done.

Come, those burdened and downcast,

come grieving,

come broken,

come anxious –

come and behold this babe in a manger, God-incarnate, heaven breaking through to earth. Let the holy, joyful, hushed silence be a balm for your soul.

 

Dear One, for whom this year was so very difficult, I say to you:

Be strong!  Here is your God.

He has come, Emmanuel, God with us, come to rescue and to save.

 

And remember: this baby grows up!

 

Only for a little while will he be wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Soon He will begin the work He was born to do:

to bring good news to the poor,

comfort for the brokenhearted,

freedom for captives,

the Lord’s favor for those who mourn.

He exchanges our ashes of grief with a crown of beauty,

our mourning with abundant joy,

our spirit of despair with a spirit of praise.

 

This is our hope, the only real hope.

 

His kingdom is coming and has come.  Yes, one day He will wipe away every tear

and sorrow and sighing with flee in His presence –

but we also pray for His kingdom to come, His will to be done now.  It is incomplete in this fallen world, but He has come.

He is working.

His will is being done.

 

As you spend Advent looking, waiting, expecting the arrival of a tiny babe, may it generate in your battered and bruised heart an expectancy of God-with-us-now.

May you see the King at work in the hearts and lives of His people.

May you experience Him at work in your own life.

May your heart be full of gratitude – not for the painful, sinful, broken things that happened but for the God who was present and active in the midst of the mess.

And may you anticipate the exchange of swaddling clothes for linen burial cloths, wrappings that were found empty because

He is risen!

 

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God…”

 

 

Spirit rain down

Standard

I wrote this a week ago, when rain was just a whispered hope and smoke hung thick in the air.  Today it is raining heavily.  Yet my heart prayer is still the same.

 

It seems the south is on fire.

We are at nearly 50 days without a drop of rain.  This is very abnormal, especially in autumn.  At last count there were over 50,000 acres in North Carolina alone consumed by wildfires.

It’s hard not to sense spiritual forces working when you experience weather and natural events that are so bizarre, so alien for this part of the country, especially when paired with the volatile election season we have endured.  Divine judgement?  Sin run amuck?  I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to presume I understand the workings of our omniscient and omnipotent, holy and just, merciful and loving God.  And sometimes crappy things happen because we live in a fallen and broken world managed by one who seeks to destroy.

Here’s where I’ve landed.  I have been crying to God for rain, for relief from the fires.  And every, every time I pray that prayer my heart responds by reminding me we need an outpouring of God more than we need a single drop of rain. We need the Spirit to fall upon us.  Our lives, our culture, our communities, our churches are dry and parched and wasting away.  We consume each other with words intended to wound, with violence and hatred and racism and selfishness. We trample the poor and oppressed and wounded and fatherless because we are too busy to care for them.  Because serving them would put our comfortable, safe, predictable, normal lives in jeopardy.  We villainize anyone who looks or lives or believes differently than us because hating them is a lot easier than wading through the swamp of things that keep us apart to show kindness or grace.

I know of so many people in the trenches, loving their neighbors in radical and un-glamorous ways.  Men and women and families who dive into the mess, who listen to the broken and lonely, who serve and serve and serve and count it all joy.  We need more of that. More people willing to say to God: whatever.  Whatever you say, Lord, I will do.  Wherever you lead, Jesus, I will go.

But more than more people serving – we need God’s Spirit poured out on us in a radical, life-changing, life-giving way.  Oh, Jesus, we need you.  May we recognize and confess our sins, both personal and corporate.  Oh, Spirit, change how we see and what we seek.  Break our hearts for what breaks Yours.

Rain down on us.

A new kind of brave

Standard

It has been a hard five months for our little family.  Nothing cataclysmic, just many small stressors piled one on top of another.  A trip to Haiti (more on that some day.  I’ve tried writing about my experiences and it comes out sounding whiny and depressing.  So I’m tucking it away and trusting that God will make sense of it in time).  A ridiculously busy, stressful summer.  Sickness.  Some health challenges.  General, run-of-the-mill relationship frustrations.  None of it huge, but together they have been exhausting.

Oh, and I’m pregnant.  With a girl!

I found out I was expecting about two weeks before leaving for Haiti.  I spent the summer battling constant nausea while chasing a one year old.  Good Times!  We really are super excited – despite the rough start.  I know the immense blessing and miracle this new little life is.

But I am also completely overwhelmed and scared.  It’s not so much about having two kids 19 months apart.  That will certainly be crazy and I might not leave the house for months.  For real.  I’m not worried about having enough love for two kids – enough sanity, yes, but my journey to falling in love with my son taught me a host of things about how love grows and how faithful God is to provide for us.

I am frightened of what it means to raise this baby girl into womanhood.  I knew from the moment I saw that little pink plus sign that I was having a daughter.  I think God told me right away so that I would have some time to process this new reality before sharing the official news with the world.  It kind of gives the wrong impression when you tell people you’re having a girl while crying and looking terribly disappointed, eh?

I feel so ill-equipped to mother a girl.  Boys feel more comfortable, make more sense to me.  Heck, girls make no sense to me and I am one!  I’ve never felt like I fit into the “girl” world – a strange thing to say in this 21st century liberated world of ours, where views of femininity can run the gamut.  I hate shopping.  I’ve never liked to talk on the phone – or any of the social media equivalents.  I refused to wear pink until I was well into my twenties.  I like movies where things blow up.  What if my daughter is a pink-wearing, princess-loving, social media maven and I have no idea how to connect with her?  What if (gasp!) she makes me go to the mall with her?!?

But seriously, it’s that crazy, always changing notion of femininity that has me trembling.  How can I teach her what it means to be a woman when I’ve never been sure myself?  How do I keep from passing on to her the insecurities I have wrestled with for years?  More importantly, how do I teach her what it means to be a woman who loves God when our culture screams destructive messages, and I’m not sure I always agree with the image of womanhood often presented in the evangelical church?  How do I respect who she is – her personality and likes and talents – while guiding her to love Jesus and obey Him?

This is a new kind of brave.  It isn’t an event or task (my comfort zone!).  It is investing in this little person long-term.  It is relationship.  It is facing my own shortcomings and faults.  it is making mistakes and asking forgiveness.  It is gracefully, openly, with abandon loving my daughter even if I don’t always understand the things that make her squeal with delight.  It is a much harder Brave.

Oh, but there is love, too!  I am already madly in love with her, even if all I know about her is her feisty kicks and steady heartbeat.  I cannot wait to cup that little face in my hands and kiss her perfectly misshapen baby head.  Getting to know her will be full of adventure and discovery.  It will be full of joy and anticipation, like unwrapping the very best Christmas present ever.

on going to Haiti

Standard

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  I Corinthians 3:9

 

So today I leave for Haiti.

I am joining eMi (Engineering Ministries International) for 10 days in Grand Goave, Haiti.  This is one of those rare times when God very clearly told me “Go!”  I hemmed and hawed and didn’t tell my husband for two days because I knew he would say yes.  While some adventures God reveals are invitations (this blog was one of those – saying no the the invitation would not have been disobedience but I would miss the opportunity to see and experience Him in new ways), this was an issue of obedience.  And I did not want to go.

I have wanted to join eMi on a project trip for several years but circumstances continually thwarted those attempts.  You would think I would be excited to finally be able to go.  Funny thing is, circumstances still provide numerous excuses for me to stay home.  A short time frame to prepare (five weeks!), the financial challenges of paying for the trip, leaving my little man for 10 days, health problems during this last week – all of these real challenges tell me this is ridiculous.  And if I’m really honest, Haiti is not at the top of my travel list.

I will be working with a team of engineers and architects to design a church and conference center for Haiti ARISE.  We will also be developing a master plan for a new parcel of land (which will include a goat farm.  Ha!  I doubt any of my architecture professors imagined the expertise they imparted to me being used on goats!).  I am the team architect, and I feel utterly unqualified to hold this role.  Between the obstacles to leave home, the intimidation I feel at being the team architect, and the challenges of Haiti itself, God has me so far out on a limb I can feel it bounce beneath me.

This is what happens when your word for the year is Brave.

Perhaps this kind of obedience strikes some as radical.  But, really, I had no choice but to say “yes.”  My obedience stems not from fear of consequences if I disobey or because I robotically must do what I am told.  But I love God so much, I am so humbled and grateful at all He has done for me, how can I say no?  How can I turn my back on this God who has saved me and transformed me and who walks so intimately with me through each day, no matter where that day leads me?

It is easy to think that we North Americans have all the answers, from the practical to the spiritual.  We feel so smart and privileged and enlightened – and as architects we are trained to be proud and arrogant.  But then I read the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians and Paul reminds me that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”  The message of Jesus – the central reason for this trip – can seem so simple as to be foolish and insignificant in the face of daunting physical need or next to the expertise and knowledge our team possesses.  Yet it is all, all about Christ.  It is not about me or what I bring or even the building I design.  I want to come to the people of Haiti with the humility demonstrated by Paul, to have a heart filled with fear and trembling because of the weighty and glorious task that has been given me.  I want to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This is what unites us across distance, cultural and language barriers, life experiences – we all love and serve the same God.  It is an honor and a priviledge to serve these brothers and sisters.  I am their servant these 10 days.  I do not come to fix their problems but to serve them so that they in turn might transform their community and country with Christ’s love.  

There is no way to prepare for the kind of poverty and need I will see.  My heart wants to erect defenses to protect itself from the onslaught of ache that I will experience.  To steel itself, to harden itself from the reality of the Haitian people so that I won’t have to face those difficult, messy emotions.  But I don’t want to spend the week detached and distant.  I want to consciously make my heart vulnerable to hear their stories, to see their poverty, to experience their joy in the midst of tragedy.  I want to love the people of Grand Goave without pretense, without expectations of return.  To see their beautiful, messy stories and then enter in.

What God has done

Standard

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and [the Jews] in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on the course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now – this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

Romans 3:21-26, MSG

an unexpected gift

Standard

As a graduate student I attended a large church where I knew only a handful of people.  My studies were so demanding that I could do little more than show up on Sunday mornings.  There were many weeks when that felt like a tremendous accomplishment as I sat mentally and emotionally exhausted and sleep deprived in my seat, desperate for something to nourish my starved soul.  God graciously met me there, giving me huge doses of encouragement and peace and spiritual nourishment.  I came and sang and learned and met with God and left, often without speaking a word to anyone else.

But.

But I knew, even in the midst of that season, that this was not the way God wanted things to be long-term.  When the preachers spoke on the importance of community, of being connected with a smaller group of people within this large church, of intimately and intentionally sharing life with them, it resonated deep within me as true.  I knew that it was easy to slip in and out of church without really being a part of the church.  That you could smile and shake hands and make friends without ever taking off the mask to reveal your broken, bleeding, messy life.  

Y’all, community is hard and I am no good at it.  It takes work and determination, grit and grace, and this introvert is often exhausted by the prospect before I even begin.  But there are true benefits that make all the sweat and tears worth it.  And when you let other people know your story, even the ugly and messy parts, it can reveal unexpected beauty.

I love to sing, and a typically Sunday morning will find me singing with abandon regardless of how on or off tune I might be.  Sometimes, though, I stop and listen to the chorus rising around me.  I hear the varied voices blending together and it is beautiful and stirs my heart in thanksgiving to God.  And then I am reminded of the stories behind the voices and I am humbled:

            a dad of two young boys who is battling a degenerative disease
 
            a teenage girl fighting Lyme disease and all the complications that come with it
 
            couples teetering on the edge of divorce
 
            parents whose grown kids have rejected the faith they hold so dear
 
            the mama who is finding wholeness and life on the other side of a crippling depression
 
            a family one bill away from financial disaster
 
            the parents who buried their young child

 

These people singing with passion and sincerity to God in the midst of their pain is a beautiful thing.  When I know their story their act of worship takes on greater meaning and power because I know what it means for them to surrender to God in the middle of their suffering.  That when they tell God He is good and loving and wise it comes from a heart that knows what it is to break into thousands of pieces.  This, this is a testimony far greater than any sermon.  And when we stay on the fringes, when we keep each other at arms length, when we hold the story God is weaving from our tattered lives close to our chest we miss out on this unexpected gift.