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.




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.





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?



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

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




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.


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.



You know things are getting sad and desperate when you start writing about your cat.

For all you cat haters out there, I apologize. Bear with me.

First let me just say that I am a dog person, through and through. I have always hated cats since I was a kid. Well, I wanted to like cats, they just never liked me. As a young, spasmodic child, I would try to pick them up, hold them, squeeze them, and kiss their cute furry faces.

Turns out cats hate that, and now I have the scars to prove it. True story.

Then one day, 15 years ago, I adopted two, young, plain, black and brown tabbies from the local shelter, because I married a man who is an avowed dog hater. They ended up being the sweetest cats I have ever known, who let me pick them up, hold them, squeeze them, and kiss their cute, furry little faces without giving me any scars in return.

They are still alive. Both of them.

Some days I say this with exasperation. Some days, I am ashamed to admit, I find myself singing the line from Morrissey’s “Margaret on The Guillotine”…When will you die? under my breath.

They are old now. And Olive, the one to whom I’ve always been partial, is blind. They have sensitive digestive systems, and we have struggled to find the right food for them. These gives them diarrhea. The others make them throw up. We have decided that cat throw up is much easier to clean up than cat diarrhea, especially when our visually impaired Olive sometimes fails to find the litter box…

Living with a special needs pet is…interesting. When we discovered that she was indeed losing her eyesight, evidenced by her bumping into furniture and using our closets as a place to relieve herself (apparently our stinky shoes reminded her of her litter box), we were faced with the question that many pet owners ask themselves at some point: Do we put her to sleep? She is my favorite cat in the world, so I keep talking myself out of it. We have learned to work around her, and she around us. We have to keep our closets closed at all times, which can prove challenging in a house full of forgetful children (and adults). We have lived in our current home for over 10 years, so she is very familiar with the layout of our house. She knows where her food and water are and can make it to her litter box seven times out of ten.

It is safe to say that nowadays she really doesn’t have a whole lot to offer us. She spends most of the day hiding under beds and avoiding us. She is scared most of the time, unless we are quiet and sitting down. She comes out from time to time, to get a drink or a bite to eat, and then she immediately goes back into one of the bedrooms and returns to her hiding spot.

As a pet, she is pretty much useless.

But she hasn’t always been this way. She used to be the friendliest cat you’d ever meet.  She had a sweet, amiable personality, greeting every visitor that came to our house and chat with them. She was, and still can be, a very talkative kitty. She even has a cry that sounds a lot like “Mama.” In her younger days, she used to get into fights with other neighborhood cats, defending our yard as cats do, but she was never the aggressor. My sister-in-law, who is a vet, said you could tell this by where she would get bitten by the other cat. Her telltale wound was always in her backside, meaning she was never the instigator, but the defender of our land, and received the bite as she was running away.

One of my favorite things about her is that if you are sad and crying, she will come and find you, sit in front of you and meow, almost as if she is asking what’s wrong. She does this with me and the kids even still.

She has always had her favorite people. Of course, I am one of them. My sister, Sharla, lived with us for a time, and she and Olive became fast friends. Every night before bed, Olive would sashay into Sharla’s room and announce her presence with “Mama” and hop up onto her bed. She slept with Sharla every night while she lived with us. Then when Sharla moved, she came and slept with Ren and I. Then when we had kids, she would sleep with one of them. She would always pick her “person” and devote herself to them for a time. For a while it was Josephine, but then we had to bar her from going upstairs (too many closets). Now, when the house is quiet, and everyone has settled down, she announces her arrival in my son’s room with a chirp and hops up onto his bed. She sleeps with him every night.

About 9 years ago, she was bitten by a snake. It almost killed her. We spent almost a thousand dollars at the vet to bring her back from near death, and thankfully we succeeded. But after that she was never the same. Her friendly demeanor turned into something more like paranoia. She turned on her sister and can’t even walk near her without hissing. We stopped taking her to the vet, because she would get so stressed out and hiss at everyone for days afterwards. Thankfully, we have a wonderful vet in the family and she makes house calls for Olive’s yearly checkups and vaccinations.

With a special needs pet, you can’t just live your life accordingly and expect them to get with the program. You have to adjust your life around them.

The sad thing is that if you didn’t know Olive when she was younger, you truly wouldn’t know what a great cat she was. That she still is. Many well-meaning loved ones advise us to put her out of her misery, but we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to do it. We love her too much, and remember who she really is, without all the fear. The kids were too little to truly remember what a wonderful pet she used to be, and how many years of love, loyalty, and devotion that she showed to us. Now all anyone who doesn’t know her sees is a cat who hides all the time because she is terribly frightened. Of everything. Of every noise. Because she can’t see clearly. Because she has been wounded, and almost died from that wound. Every sound, every motion is a potential threat to her. She doesn’t know the difference. We see a cat who makes messes on the floor, because she truly can’t help herself. She has special needs. And she is doing her best.

She’s easy target to laugh at, pick on, and make jokes about.

All she has is us to remind her that we aren’t going to give up on her. All she has is for us to show her patience, loving-kindness, long-suffering. All she has is us to pet her and show her grace, to calm her fears, and even get her to start purring again.

So,  I will hold on to her a little bit longer. I don’t want to give up on her just yet. I feel like if I were in her place, completely dependent upon others for my care and survival, that I wouldn’t want them giving up on me either. Maybe I am naive and too idealistic. She’s just a cat, you might say. Maybe practicality will win in the end. But until then, I’ll stick it out with her.

I guess my point is that we really aren’t that much different from cats.

Throw Me a Frickin’ Bone Here

In my previous post, I referenced the rich young ruler and his interaction with Jesus. Today I want to contrast that scenario with another we find in the gospels and one of my personal favorite stories: the faith of the Canaanite woman.

But first, a little history. Because I love history.

We find this story in two of the four gospels of the New Testament – Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. Matthew’s account refers to her as the Canaanite woman, and in Mark’s she is called a Syrophonecian. What might seem at first as a conflict between the two stories reveals, with just a little digging, an interesting and astonishingly accurate harmony.

As a side note, my dad was born in Malta. I talk about this a lot simply because it’s a bit of a rarity. There just aren’t that many people from Malta. In fact, the current population of the entire island boasts a mere 425,224 people. There’s an interesting story about the apostle Paul after his shipwreck on the island of Malta in the book of Acts, and his experience with the Maltese people showing him “unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2).

Those are my people.

Malta is known as one of the oldest Christian civilizations in the world because of Paul’s direct influence just 2000 years ago. Today 98 percent of its citizens are members of the Catholic Church. The natives of Malta are descendents of the Phoenicians. Maybe you remember them from history class – they are most famous for giving the world the first phonetic alphabet and for their use of a stinky purple dye called Tyrian purple procured from the boiling of sea snails. Both the Maltese and Lebanese people share the Phoenicians as a common ancestor, and the two languages are very similar.

Oh, and the Phoencians were known to the Jews as Canaanites.

The Phoencians were a seafaring subgroup of the Canaanites, that settled along the coastal areas of the Fertile Crescent. Matthew wrote his letter for a Jewish audience so they would have better understood this woman’s cultural and religious background as a Canaanite. Mark, on the other hand, wrote his letter in Greek for a gentile audience, who would have been familiar with the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon.

Same people group. Two different names.

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to know that the Jews and the Canaanites were, and their modern day descendents in the Middle east are unfortunately still, bitter enemies. Also, what makes this particular miracle of Jesus so fascinating is that our subject is a woman. Women in that culture and at that time had nothing. No rights. No voice. The only thing that could “save” a woman of her kind would be for her to bear a son. And according to the text we aren’t even sure if she had that.

She was at the bottom of social order. The lowest rung on the ladder. She was nothing and had nothing in the eyes of her society. Whatever ills she faced in her life were probably viewed as her fault.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:21-28 NIV)

At first glance, Jesus’ response seems incredibly offensive and uncharacteristic. Why is Jesus so insulting? Did he just call that woman a dog?! We must understand that He was treating her no differently than any other Jewish male would have. She was so used to being treated this way that she didn’t even bat an eye. Jesus was playing along with societal expectations and conditions, even following along with the disciples’ request to send her away. So she plays along as well, but appeals to His good nature to take care of all of the members of the household, including the pets.

She even has the audacity to contradict Him.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes, it is, Lord…”

I love a bold, sassy girl.

He was responding to her the way society had always treated her. The way she was used to being treated. To see how she would respond to Him. Would she depend on her social status to stand before Christ or simply come to Him as she was?

She could have so easily turned away like the rich young ruler, face fallen and full of despair, no hope. She would never measure up. But she pressed in.

You can call me a dog. That’s ok. But I still have a right to be here. Just like everyone else. I am still a member of your household, even if everyone looks at me like a dog. But I believe that you care even for the likes of me. Even, as you say, for the least of these. You are the only hope I have. Give me something, even if it’s just a crumb.

You can almost hear her say it…


Maybe her utter dependency on Him makes us uncomfortable. Maybe even Jesus’ response to her makes us wince. But let’s contrast this story with that of the rich, young ruler.

He asks Jesus “What must I do…?” Too often when we have a question, or we are faced with a problem or painful situation and we need the solution, we ask the same thing: “What must I do?” We are uncomfortable with our lack of power or influence to change our circumstances. We squirm beneath the heavy weight of our lack of control. The Canaanite woman had no control. She had no power or position. She acquiesced to being like a household dog. She knew the Jews came first. That men came first. Hadn’t they always?

She didn’t place her faith in her gender or her race but in Christ alone. Her master. Her God.

Jesus told the rich man there is still one thing you must do. There will always be one more thing to do. How good is good enough? You will never quite measure up. Another version Christ says “If you want to be perfect…” I can almost hear him smirking as He says the word “perfect.”

The point of the story of the rich young ruler isn’t to make us all feel bad for not wanting to run out and immediately sell all our possessions. Who would want to do that? The point is to ask us what are we counting on to save us – Our good behavior? Our pedigree? The company we keep? Our tithes and offerings? Our political leanings? Our social status? Our gender? Our bible study and quiet time?

Or simply our faith in Christ alone?

The Canaanite woman’s request was granted because of her humble response. She understood that the answer to her prayer had absolutely nothing to do with her and everything to do with Jesus, while the rich young ruler was still trying to make an appeal to Jesus in his own strength. So he could look good. Save face. Perfectly polished. A self-made man. Attaining eternal life while maintaining his complete independence from God.

The questions they asked and Jesus’ response was totally determined by their focus. God or themselves? Jesus or their accomplishments?

One walked away filled with joy and an answer to prayer. The other walked away crestfallen and full of despair.

The rich man would have been better off acknowledging that even with all his achievements and with all of his status, that he was no better than the Canaanite woman.

I would rather be a “dog” in the Kingdom of God than have all the prestige in the world.


Prepare to Be Assimilated

As Christians we talk about the love of God, how it’s so amazing and wonderful and unlike any human love we have ever experienced. We are drawn in as unbelievers with stories of God’s unchanging, limitless love; how crazy He is about us.

We hear, “Come as you are,” but then when we do come, the Bible is handed to us like a prescription, and we come face to face with all the thousands of ways we need to change and be better people, i.e. different. Nothing like ourselves. This results in a schizophrenic dichotomy and a bit of a bait and switch – on one hand we know Jesus loves us and died for us to prove it, and on the other hand He wants to change everything about us!

That isn’t love. That is sin management. Behavior modification. And usually we want others to change, not because it’s what is best for the other person, but what is most convenient for us.

In other words, your flaws really make me uncomfortable. And I will do anything to avoid being uncomfortable.

So this amazing love that we talk and sing about gets reduced to the kinds of conditional love that we already know and are already familiar with. Especially if that’s all we’ve ever been shown or all we have ever known. The love of Christ, in our daily experience, often resembles nothing more than our best human efforts. And our best attempts at love are only as healthy as we are. Likewise, they are also only as shallow and unhealthy as we are.

So because our mistakes and flaws and sins and failures make us feel so terribly uncomfortable, we double up on our efforts to look good. I mean really good. And then, in an even more desperate measure, we want to make sure that everyone looks just like us. Making sure they have the right politics. The right platforms. The right doctrine. The right stance. So we can all look like real Christians. Not those fake ones.

This is unfortunately how we have become known. By our beliefs, and not our love. By being right, not by our compassion.

I once had a conversation with my daughter about all the different denominations there are in Christianity alone. And after discussing several and their differing characteristics, she looked at me and with the utmost sincerity asked me, “But ours is the right one, right?”

As evangelists and ministers, the church is our business and Jesus is the product. And in order to polish up our sales pitch, we need to have proof that what we’re selling works. We need the before and after photo. We need to see changed lives. To our detriment, though, sometimes I think we try to speed up the process of sanctification, becoming more like Christ, in ourselves as well as others, so that we can offer up the sufficient evidence that what we believe in really works, and we are living proof.

But after 20 years as a Christian, I am learning that sanctification is a life-long process, with stops and starts, twists and turns, mid-course corrections and U-turns. And it certainly isn’t going as fast as I would like it to go.

We like to think of sanctification as a clean and steady incline, when really it looks more like a toddler’s scribble drawing.

When we walk through the doors of a church, we often come with tricks up our sleeves, wounds this world has left upon our souls. Ones we aren’t even aware of often take years to uncover. We come with baggage, and most of us have never been shown what emotionally healthy spirituality even looks like. But as soon as we give our lives to Christ, there’s this pressure to be perfect, you know, because Jesus is in our hearts now. And Jesus is perfect. And we have to prove it. So we fake it til we make it, so to speak.

I hate that phrase.

Yes, we are forgiven. And yes, there is heart change. And yes, there is newness of life, but old habits die hard. And all along the way, our factory settings keep kicking back in.

Our painful pasts never really go away. Instead, they innocuously lie dormant, crouching in darkened corners of the psyche, waiting for some golden opportunity to attack and cause you to inexplicably start acting like a freak. And this usually happens in the most inconvenient of places. At family gatherings. Church functions. Dinner with friends. Our inner dysfunctional children can hijack even the most benign circumstances and relationships, without us ever knowing why.

We’re all kind of imposters, really.

Jesus brings new life. He sets us free. He sets us on a trajectory towards abundant life, with an easy and unoppressive guidance. It is a lifelong trajectory and it doesn’t always happen overnight.

What if God really is crazy about us as we are, and doesn’t really want us to change the people He created us to be? Our core essence. Our thumbprint. What if we are so busy trying to look like everyone else, that we end up losing our true selves in the process? What if, while we are so busy trying to look so clean and tidy, what He is most concerned with is how whole and healthy our souls are? What if what He really wants for us is to discover how truly amazing we are and rest in His love?

Just like my daughter, we all want to be right, don’t we? Even more so than simply being loved. We long to be known for who we truly are, in the midst of all of our imperfections, and fully loved even as we are fully known. But we are so afraid of revealing our hearts and being rejected, that we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable with the tension that, even right this moment, our theology is not yet perfected. That our souls are still works in progress. That we haven’t quite gotten it all figured out yet. Because we think, deep down, that if we have the right doctrine, the right theology, we won’t mess up, and then God and everyone else will be so very pleased.

But it doesn’t quite work out that way. Check this out:

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”

 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” –Mark 10:17-27 (NLT)

The right denomination cannot save us. The right belief system cannot save us. The right church cannot save us. Our perfect theology cannot save us. Our good deeds cannot save us. That is precisely the point that Jesus is making here. It is through our faith in Christ alone. Everything is possible with Him. So who are we to judge when someone is not as far along in their sanctification process as we think they should be? Are we to argue with God? It is His business not ours. Our job is to remind each other this and love each other, patiently bearing each others’ burdens, and always pointing back to Christ, with boatloads of grace, for ourselves and each other, all along the way.

I think, that now more than ever, how we love one another will become our best sales pitch.

Some Thoughts on Hope

I used to think that hope was based on circumstances. One day the tide will turn. My prince will come. My luck will change. Superman will arrive. I’ll win the golden ticket. It’s all in the luck of the draw. But this mentality puts you in a passive, codependent role, helplessly waiting for your moment in the sun. That somehow your future and your destiny are up to chance, or the right people to come along, or the planets to align, etc. Not only does this type of thinking actually discourage hope, our anxieties increase. Setting our hopes on unfixed and fluctuating events threatens our feelings of security. We have no stability. Our souls have no anchor.

We should never establish our hope on these ever-shifting, temporary things. Hope isn’t driven by good luck or happenstance. It is neither determined by where we live nor how much money we have in our checking accounts. Hope isn’t dictated by opportunities that may potentially come our way or just as fleetingly pass us by. It isn’t based on getting in good with the right people or brutal betrayal from the wrong ones. Pleasant circumstances can certainly make our lives easier and more enjoyable, but they fail in providing us with true, ever-lasting hope.

Hope – rock-solid, constant, unchanging hope – is solely based on one PERSON alone: the Person of Christ who is God. Hope tells us that no matter how badly things may be, or how dreadful they once were, no matter how dark your circumstances may seem, that something good, something beautiful can and will be brought forth from our pain, and that this isn’t the end of our stories. And we have a loving God that wants to walk with us in our messes and accomplish great things through our pain.

God is our hope because He loves us. No matter how badly we’ve screwed up. No matter how badly someone else screws it up for us. He is always ready and willing to turn our pain into beauty.

When we invite God into our pain, into our suffering, anything is possible. As Joseph said to his own brothers that betrayed him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”‭‭ (Genesis‬ ‭50:20‬). And as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God can’t help it. It is in His nature – His good nature – to make good out of everything He touches. Everything that He breathes life into. Everything that we invite Him to draw near.

Another thing I am learning about hope…that it is the result of character developed from persevering through pain and suffering. Wait, what? Hope is the result of…character? Not things? Not money in the bank? Not the right relationships? “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3)

We can forfeit this beautiful exchange by giving up and letting go of God’s true purposes for our lives, by taking shortcuts or choosing routes that were never meant for us, bringing us more harm than good. By giving up on a destiny that we, deep down, know belongs to us, only to settle for something less than when the going gets tough. And it will be tough at times. Tougher than we think we can bear.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”‭ (John‬ ‭16:33‬ ‭NIV). I love that Christ doesn’t lie to us. He is not selling us anything. He only offers us Himself, inviting us to hold on for dear life and not let go, by persevering through our pain, pushing through painful obstacles. Don’t give up. Learn what He wants to impart to our spirits. You won’t be embarrassed or put to shame. Christ Himself has promised that He will do this. He will turn our ashes into beauty. Our mourning into joy. Our pain, shame, bitterness, and anguish into a beautiful work. Our despair into hope. This is His business. This is His work.

He is our hope. And the good news for us is that when we place our hope in Him He will never let us down.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭NLT

We all have pain. Pain is always a part of the story for every influential leader. Pain is a part of life, and how you work through pain will largely determine what kind of character you have. One who gets knocked down, time and again, and yet always hopes, always perseveres, always loves? Or one who gives up, gives in and lets cynicism take over? The choice is up to us.

Have you been through difficult circumstances recently? Have you made some major mistakes? You’re in good company. God does amazing things through those who are willing to let Him use us even in our sufferings. Don’t hide from the painful parts in your story. Embrace them. Lean into them. Claim them and allow God to work through them. So get back up and get to work.