And the Two Shall Become One

IMG_9450After being married to the same person for 17 years, I am beginning to understand why marriage is so important to God, so sacred. In a world full of disposable relationships, ghosting and unfriending have become our go-to methods of relationship management. We pick people apart; god-breathed, beautiful, and fearfully made souls, discarding and shelving them for the most arbitrary of reasons. Oftentimes we take the easy way out. To stick with someone through all of their junk is just plain hard.

Sometimes even impossible.

And when something feels impossible or even just a little too hard, we are tempted to give up.

If you have been through a divorce, please understand I am not trying to be glib or insensitive. I truly cannot put myself in your shoes or begin to understand the depth of your pain if your spouse left, or even try to grasp the full scope of reasons why you felt you had to leave.

For some of us, some times, the very best thing we can do is leave.

But for most of us…

Will there be dysfunction? Are you a human being? The answer to both of these rhetorical questions is obviously a resounding yes.

When tough times come, and they will come, as married couples we must all ask ourselves one question: is what we have built and what we are currently building worth fighting for? In other words, can we heal and move past whatever pain we currently find ourselves in?

In one of my favorite songs by U2 called “The Troubles,” Bono sings, “You think it’s easier to know your own tricks, but it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” To fully know yourself, and all of your tricks, takes the work of a lifetime. But to fully know someone else, and all of their tricks, and to even accept them in a marriage, takes two lifetimes at the same time.

Try wrapping your brain around that one.

And to fight for that, through that trickiness and dysfunction, to fight for the goodness and the hope and the potential and possibility, and the vision of all this union can be is holy work. To leave our personal Egypts, out of the bondage of self-centeredness and reach the promised destination of a good and spacious safe place is the will of God.

Because with God, even the impossible becomes miraculously possible again and again.

The question we must ask ourselves daily is, are we more committed to ourselves as individuals, or to each other as a holy union? As a team?

God hates divorce, the Bible says. But he doesn’t hate YOU. We must never confuse the two. He loves you and hates the hurt and the trauma that divorce causes. BUT he also hates the hurt, devastation, and trauma that a toxic, unhealthy, dysfunctional marriage can cause.

Don’t simply stay in an unhealthy marriage because you think you are pleasing God. You aren’t. You aren’t fooling anyone – neither God, your spouse, nor anyone else. The only person you are fooling is yourself.

Not divorcing shouldn’t be the goal. Simply staying married, but hating each other, and eking out a miserable existence together, shouldn’t be the goal.

To fight or to flee? That is the question with which we must wrestle. Both choices will take energy, work, effort, time, and money. Which will you choose? We can get very judgey when it comes to each others’ choices. But really, at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own holy unions. For others, we can offer help, support, guidance, and prayer. And we can invest all our energies into our own marriages as a living example to others. A light that shines like a beacon in this oftentimes dark world. And as a reminder to ourselves. That, even at our worst, we are worth fighting for, worth hoping for, worth believing the best for, worth laying our lives down for.

Also, it helps if we marry someone who is as stubbornly committed to us as we are to them.

And in this, we are a living example of how Jesus feels about each one of us. For this is the example that He Himself gave to us.

We are worth fighting for. We are worth dying for. We are worth loving, even when we are most unlovable.

How loving. How kind.

We love because He first loved us. Thanks be to God.

It’s a Girl

IMG_9732

When you wake up sun will shine.
We will not go under any cloud.
Let balloons go up in town,
ring out every bell.
Happy birthday, beautiful,
all the birds of this day
sing a song, sing a song.

Dream of trains carrying you
through the state parks with the cherry flowers.
When you wake up it will be
the beginning of the world.
Happy birthday, beautiful,
in the fields of this day
hear a song, hear a song.

Oh, undeserved sweetness and light,
stay by my side.
We will go out in the morning now,
a crown of maple leaves, a crown of flowers
circling your sweet head.
Happy birthday, beautiful,
in the streets of this day
play a song, play a song.
-“Happy Birthday,” The Innocence Mission

Let me tell you what it’s like being the mother of a girl.

It’s nothing like they say.

I have heard…

“Girls are expensive.”

“Girls are high maintenance.”

“Girls are so much more trouble than boys.”

“Boys are so much easier.”

“Just wait until she’s a teenager!”

The world favors boys. And for a long time, it seemed to me that God favored boys, too. We speak of God primarily in masculine terms, even though both men and women were created in God’s image. In the Old Testament, men were held in such high regard that God told the Israelites to take all of the firstborn males and consecrate them to Himself.

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”(Exodus 13:1-2, NIV)

I must confess, that after all this, I was nervous about having a girl.

Because I had heard these and so many other misguided cautionary statements about girls. In fact, I heard more words of warning when it came to girls than words of encouragement.

I did not feel close to my own mother growing up.

And then there are those ghastly statistics.

And so, secretly, I wanted boys. Because having a girl was supposed to be so hard.

Or so I had been told. So many times.

This is the message the world has given to girls since the beginning of time.

“You are too much trouble.”

It’s a lie.

You see, ironically, that very same God who seemed to favor men in the Old Testament, had a very different plan for me.

Because the truth is, God does not favor boys over girls. We do that and unfortunately that bias is reflected even in the Word of God, which was written by human hands. The fact is, God loves girls and created us in God’s image.

Let that sink in.

March 19th, 2003. You were born.

I didn’t have a firstborn son. So, I took you, my firstborn girl, named you Isabel, which means consecrated to God, and I dedicated you to Him anyway.

Your birth was easy. You were a joyful, happy, “easy” baby. In fact, nothing about you has ever been or ever will be “difficult.”

You prove them wrong. And you continue to every day.

It’s hard to believe that we have had 13 years with you. You have made us the proudest parents on Earth. You were wanted, prayed for, and loved so much. Your daddy brought a printer into the hospital room the day you were born. He printed out pictures of you, handing them to every nurse, visitor, or remote stranger that passed by our room.

Strangely, that was an infamous day in history. The U.S. declared war with Iraq. Ironically, later that same year, Hurricane Isabel would go on to ravage the southeast.

You were born in the midst of global tempest and tumult.

And yet you have brought us nothing but joy and laughter. Light and love.

The truth is…This world is difficult. Not you. Never you. Never accept that label. Whenever I try to imagine your future, I see sunlight. I see hope. I see beauty. I see goodness. Because any time I try to envision the future, I see you in it. And it is good.

You are blessed. You are beautiful. You are brave. You are adventurous. You are kind. You are funny. You are intelligent. You are courageous. You are a leader. And I couldn’t be prouder to call you my daughter.

Every year with you just gets better and better. And every day you become more and more wonderfully you. I simply adore watching you grow.

Today you turn 13. Thirteen is a big deal. You are a teenager now. A young woman. It’s the beginning of a new era. And yet, I look to the future with you, and I have no fear. I keep waiting for you to be “difficult.” But you simply refuse!

You make this world a better, brighter, more beautiful place, Isabel Mae.

I will sing your name. I will celebrate you. I will shout for joy that you were born this day. You are a dream come true. My girl.

Happy Birthday, Beautiful.

Weakness is Strength

I used to think that when I prayed for God to give me strength in my weakness that He would somehow infuse me with a kind of strength magic, and I would feel my spiritual muscles cartoonishly growing, like Popeye after eating a can of spinach.

Now I know.

I know that when I pray for strength it means:

When I am hurting I can have the guts to admit it.

I can cry instead of getting angry and lashing out.

Instead of denying my feelings I can admit them.

Instead of pretending I can tell the truth.

When I have a need I tend to it, and I don’t have to feel embarrassed by it.

When I am hungry I can eat.

When I am tired I can sleep.

When I need a break I can take one.

I can say I am sorry instead of demanding an apology.

I can choose to reveal a struggle or a temptation instead of painting on a strong and happy face.

I can share my doubts and fears rather than pretend I have all the answers.

I can stay silent in the face of those of those who accuse me.

I can choose not to retaliate or feel the need to defend myself.

I can reveal the thorn in my side instead of walking around in pain, pretending it isn’t there.

I can choose to love someone with whom I disagree, giving them the benefit of the doubt instead of resenting or hating them.

I can assume and believe that everyone is doing the best with the tools that they have been given, instead of assuming the worst.

I can forgive those who have hurt me and believe that they probably didn’t know what they were doing.

This is strength. This is the opposite, upside-down world of the Kingdom that Jesus modeled and talked about everyday of his ministry here on earth. This was the strength that Jesus displayed, and turned the supposed strength, mere words, of the Pharisees on its head. This is the life of loving God and loving others, and letting go of our own shallow attempts at righteousness, and instead embrace the wholehearted  righteousness that Jesus offers.

 

 

You Have a Right to be Here

RosaParks

“The world could be fixed of its problems if every child understood the necessity of their existence.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every single person on this planet has a right to be here. If you are alive, you have the right. If you are breathing, the right. If you have a pulse, you have that right. When God dreamed you up and breathed life into you and put you on this planet, you were granted that right. People will tell you otherwise. Maybe you have been waiting your whole life for someone to give you permission to feel like you belong. And maybe the world, or even the very people who are supposed to communicate love, belonging, and acceptance have communicated the antithesis.

So many of us go through life thinking that we each have a place and that place is small. Life and circumstances continually remind us of these places. Where we do and do not belong. What class we are born into. What section we can and cannot sit in. When we cross a line or a boundary and our hands get smacked. We are told to get back in line, to get back in our places. Or we are told that even the very small places we do inhabit are wrong. We speak up and we are told to be silent because we are the wrong gender. The wrong color. And we are filled with shame.

You should have been a boy.

You should have been white.

You should be more masculine.

You should be more feminine.

You should have been born to another family.

You should not have been born at all.

I remember walking into a wealthy, predominantly white private school for a robotics competition that my son and my daughter recently participated in. I immediately felt like I didn’t belong there. We couldn’t afford to send our kids to this school. Insecurities and thoughts of inadequacies filled my head: Everyone else was probably richer, smarter, etc. What were we doing here? We are imposters! I ran to the bathroom, red and warm in the face, feeling shame for not fitting in. For not belonging. And I started crying. And then I began to pray. For myself. For my children. And for every child who was ever told or has ever felt that they didn’t belong. That they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And I was immediately filled with a sense that I have every right to be here. I’m smart. My kids are smart. We are alive. We share this planet with 7 billion of our brothers and sisters. We have all been given the chance to carve a place for ourselves. To fully inhabit the space which we have been given.

And maybe to even outgrow it.

I cannot control when and where I am born. But I can carve my place in this world. I can make the most of the place which I have been given. The space in which I inhabit. It is my God-given right and my pursuit of happiness.

Voices will tell you to get back where you belong. Voices will threaten you. Ignore them.

If you weren’t here, then the world could not function as it should. You are indispensable. No matter who you are. No matter where you are or what station of life you find yourself in. You are every bit as qualified for this life as the person sitting next to you.

Fight for it. The world needs you. And it needs me too.

 

No Clue

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT)

I’m going out on a limb here to make an earth-shattering confession:

I have no idea what I am doing.

I am staring at 40 years old. I’ve been married for almost 17 years. I’ve been raising children for almost 13.

But most of the time, I still have no clue as to what I am doing.

I thought by now I would surely have something figured out.

Maybe I am not giving myself enough credit. I know how to do a few things. We all do.

But on any given day, the greater choices that I make regarding the bigger picture of my life are still just a crap shoot.

And I am beginning to suspect that I am not alone here. And maybe you feel that way too.

Because I still haven’t met anyone who has this whole life thing figured out. We take what life hands us and do our very best. I firmly believe we were never meant to shoulder this much responsibility and stress. Our bodies tell the truth. We are a nation of declining health, despite all of our advancements in science and medicine.

We run around in a frenzy looking for answers. Looking for help. Looking for someone to point us in the right direction, sometimes jumping aboard every train or bandwagon passing us by.

We were never meant to walk alone. Friends and family can offer us help in many ways. But ultimately we need someone greater. Someone stronger. Someone bigger than ourselves or any other person.

Where do you go for help, when you have completely lost your way?

I see the frantic, panicked looks on the faces of people today, creased and furrowed, burdened with the pressure of having everything all figured out.

Anxiety levels are through the roof.

I want to let you in on a little secret: Nobody has this thing figured out. No one. Not a soul. We are all doing our best, hoping and praying that we don’t screw it all up!

Those that are happiest are those that cast every care, every anxiety, fully on the broad shoulders of a God who cares for us.

God is faithful. God is there for us to lean our full weight upon.

In our mess. In our weakness.

He is strong.

We are lost. He is our refuge.

We are sheep. He is our shepherd.

When we are hopeless, God is the source of all hope.

This is the way we were made. That’s the way it is.

We get ourselves into trouble by thinking that our problems, our cares, our anxieties are bigger than He can fix. And that somehow I’ve got to figure all this out. Make better, solid, more foolproof plans.

Or that He doesn’t want to help. Or He’s too busy and has bigger fish to fry. Maybe, if you are like me, you think He is sitting on His throne, arm-chair quaterbacking us, calling out shots from Heaven!

“Get up!”

“Don’t do it like that!”

“What were you thinking?!”

“How stupid!”

Maybe you have heard these voices before.

Beloved, they do not belong to God.

God showed us over two thousand years ago that He wants to be among us. That He is with us. Emmanuel. No matter how messy our lives are, God of the universe is with us and wants to help us.

Stop and think about that.

You have a God who loves you and wants to guide you every single day.

You don’t have to have it all figured out.

You don’t even have to be perfect.

Just know that you are loved.

That you have a right to be here.

And that you were created for a purpose.

And for a relationship with God.

It really is that simple. Not easy. But so simple that a child could understand.

Believe it.

Are there those who respect the Lord?
    He will point them to the best way. (Psalm 25:12 NCV)

 

 

 

A Song of Advent

Advent –

The juxtaposition of the longing of the ancients with the unforeseen coming of our Christ.

Longing for home.

Sick.

Eager.

Expectant.

Fighting nagging feelings that once again things are not as they ought.

Restless souls,

Weary travelers.

Parched and perplexed.

Sick and tired of waiting –

For our luck to change.

For our earth to give way.

For wrongs to be made right.

For circumstance to have mercy.

For that bend in the road.

That crest of the hill.

Ready to coast,

Ready to reap.

Tired of ceaseless striving and sowing.

Arms and muscles ache from our work.

Weary for rest.

Ready for harvest.

Longing for favor, opportunity, and blessing.

Promised land.

So this is what advent means.

Longing.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Praying.

Craning our necks to see

The coming of our Savior.

The baby in a manger.

Coming to our rescue.

He alone is our refuge.

Hold us in thine arms,

And comfort us in our torment.

What goodness may we see in the land of the living?

What blessings this side of heaven?

May we see them now please?

How much longer must we wait?

Longing.

Homesick.

Where is our Prince of Peace, where there is no peace?

Where is our rest in this land of constant war and sorrow?

Upheaval.

Displacement.

Trauma.

Bring refuge for the refugee.

Bring your children home.

Let thy kingdom come.

Come home.

Jesus Isn’t Toothpaste

I grew up afraid to fail. Therefore, I grew up afraid of trying anything new.

Afraid of what others would think of me. Afraid of the whispers behind closed doors.

Afraid. Afraid. Always Afraid.

Fast forward to adulthood. I got pretty good at covering up all that fear and doing everything right.

I hid behind an impenetrable shield of righteousness of my own fashioning.

Or so I thought.

I became a Christian at 19. In 20 years of church attendance, I have missed maybe 10 Sundays. 4 of those were because I had just given birth.

Check.

I’ve served. I’ve led worship. I’ve preached. Helped in children’s church. I gave. Heck, I even helped plant a church.

Check. Check. Check. Check.

I got married young. I have been married for almost 17 years. No adultery. No divorce.

Surely that’s more than just a check. Gold star for you!

I have four kids. I’m still skinny. My looks are still (somewhat) intact. Oh, and I homeschool.

Whoa. Who are you? Wonder Woman? You’re, like, superhuman. The Proverbs 31 Woman. A god. Tell us your secret!

One day I woke up, and I just started crying. And crying. And crying. I couldn’t stop. And so I went to therapy.

Turns out I have a massive anxiety disorder who, as is often the case with anxiety, has a friend named depression who sometimes likes to tag along.

Crap. There goes this whole appearance thing.

For years, I thought putting on the mind Christ meant pretending. Pretending to have it all together. Pretending to be strong when inside I felt so scared and so weak. Fake it til you make it.

But then I almost didn’t make it.

Turns out, with an anxiety disorder, that is the worst thing you can do. The best thing to do is to stop, acknowledge your weakness, stop taking care of everyone else, and start taking better care of yourself, allowing God to take care of you.

But isn’t that selfish? Aren’t we supposed to be all things to all people? Deny ourselves? Pick up our crosses daily? Keep pouring out? Keep doing? Keep keep keep. Keep on keepin’ on? We’re more than conquerors, after all! We can do all things through Christ Jesus!

Yes, and sometimes that means admitting defeat.

It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to be broken.

Turns out Jesus really loves broken people. Uses them even. A lot.

I can’t be a god. I am terrible at it. So instead, I will be human. Anxiety disorder, depression and all.

Problem is, most of us who admit this and actually say this out loud don’t feel welcome in the place where we most need to be.

I’m talking to you, Church.

You give us bullet points on how not to fear. Why fear is bad. Fear sucks. Fear is the opposite of faith. Pray fear away. Punch fear in the face!

Sorry, but I can’t Norman Vincent Peale my way out of this one.

That’s like telling a diabetic to stop having a negative reaction to sugar. Or an overweight person that he just needs to positive think his way to a higher metabolism or body type.

I mean, I’m skinny. What’s your problem?

Sometimes Jesus heals us instantly. Many times, He does not. Many times He wants to retrain us. It involves hard work and also rest. And that can take years. Even a lifetime. And even then we may still walk with a limp.

Problem is, we know that once we step foot through your doors, we are on borrowed time. We need to back up our life change with proof. Evidence that this whole Jesus thing works. So we serve. Join a small group. Give. Become a productive member of the family or get off the bus.

Because you need our seat.

Tell me would you tell that to a special needs family member? To a child with a disability?

Then why say it at all?

The list of commandments grows long. The tablet is etched in stone. Or a screen. We so earnestly want to prove that we are the good Christians. That we aren’t like those uncommitted Christians. Those lukewarm ones. Those, dare I even say it, consumer Christians.

Let me let you in on a little secret…

Christians = humans

humans = consumers

Therefore Christians = consumers

So we do. Until we can’t. And. We. Just. Stop. Because we fail. Or we experience a loss. Or we lose a child. Or we go through a divorce.

And we suck at keeping rules.

Because. Human.

You want people to come in and see how awesome God is, get saved, be magically changed, and be shiny, pretty, and new, and then they can help you build your empire. Maybe we’ll even get our own testimony video so you can show it to others. As a commercial. A product placement for Jesus.

See? Jesus makes us shiny and new!

Like toothpaste.

But what if it doesn’t always work like that? What if, like me, you’ve been attending church for 20 years, and you are just now seeing wounds that have been buried, that have never been properly healed? And disorders that make it terribly difficult to be “normal”?

And you find yourself broke down on the side of the road.

I’m giving up perfect. Because I’m not.

I’m going to say something controversial. Church is not enough. The Bible is not enough. We are led to believe that it is. But it isn’t. It can’t be. That’s too much pressure to put on Church and the pastors that run it. Church is the starting point. The launch pad. The place where many of us decide to follow God, a beautiful trajectory that will change your whole life.

Turns out, science is really awesome too. So is medicine. And God is in that too.

I love you, Church. But you are still very much a desperately broken Person telling other terribly broken people how to do life.

And sometimes you’re wrong.

A broken Person whom Jesus loves, tenderly cares for, and wants to heal.

Church, don’t just provide us with another list of commandments. That never quite works does it? Plus we already have enough of those. Be a place of healing. Not incessant doing. The doing will come, from healthy and whole, properly functioning humans. Allow the broken and the weary to experience Jesus as rest. As healing. Give them time. Love them. Accept them. Not for what they can give you or what they can do for you.

Love me. Accept me. Anxiety disorder, depression, and all. And sometimes, getting out of bed for me is the best that I can do that day.

I truly am sorry if this inconveniences your regularly scheduled program. I am here to inform you that I already have enough toothpaste. I am good at cleaning up an area or two. I need Jesus as a heart surgeon. And a brain surgeon, too. Not a toothpaste.

Recovery and rehabilitation do not happen overnight.

Do you know how difficult it is in today’s society to live with and retrain an overactive amygdala?

This is not about having too little faith. It’s about understanding how and why you respond certain ways. And taking the necessary steps to properly heal.

Turns out, that was Jesus’ whole reason for saving us. And He turns the whole thing upside down.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

And so, I am no longer pretending. I am confessing that I am weak. I am poor. I am broken. I recognize my daily, no my every-minute-of-the-day, need for God. I mourn. I hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right. I will seek God with a pure heart, instead of covering up my shame. And I will show mercy to those who are hurting, even when, especially when, you don’t think I should. I am learning to care less about what others think or what they might say. And more about what God says. Because He is with me. He is my shepherd. My shield. He is the one that walks through the fire with me. Through the flood. When no one else will. When the waters are too deep for anyone else, He is there. His love will not be removed.

And that is how perfect love casts out all fear. Not perfect behavior. Not perfectly obeying all the rules. Not perfect appearances.

Perfect love for an imperfect soul, regardless of whether or not I can keep all the rules. His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

That doesn’t mean He magically infuses me with strength. It means I learn to walk through the darkness of my fear with Him tenderly holding my hand. And my Father in heaven holding me when I am too weak to stand.

And that is exactly what this anxiety-ridden child needs to hear.