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Friday, April 29, 2011

If I Knew I Could Escape

Linking to Gypsy Mama’s Five Minute Friday.  Writing for 5 minutes, without regard to perfection…

The topic, today… If I Knew I Could, I Would.  I should say something selfless.  I should say… if I knew I could sell my possessions and give them to the poor, I would.  I would feed the hungry.  I would live like Christ.  If I knew I could, I would adopt Ukranian orphans or go to seminary or any other altruistic act of love.

Today, though, that’s not the truth.  Today, If {only} I Knew I Could… I’d escape.

I'm under the weather this week.  Head clouded, pressured, pounding.  Eleven kids in this house that felt, yesterday, like seventy two, all the needs, all the words, all the wounds.  So much to do.  So drained, so tired.  Today, I’m dreaming of retreat, breathing deep to fight the urge to puddle on the floor, to yell, to grump and gripe, to crawl in bed and stay there awhile.

Today, if I knew I could… I would crawl away to a cabin in the woods or on the beach or anywhere really, with a couple of candles and maybe even a glass of Riesling, and I’d pour over the Word while it poured back into me, filled me with what I needed, and I’d write and write and write and write until I was empty of words, and I’d sleep and wake and write and read some more.  And no one would whine or vomit or poop or bleed or hunger or argue or need me at all.  I would sweep dust from floorboards and words would float all around and Word would float all around and I’d be restored.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Pretty Swell Day

We have a new member of the family.  And no, I didn’t have a baby. 

I have a camera. 

And my love for her just might rival the love I have for my own children.  Or maybe surpass it, seeing as how she doesn’t talk back and comes equipped with an off-switch and a self-cleaning mechanism… things I often wish my other babies had been born with. 

I’m kidding, of course.

Kind of.

But seriously.  Love. This. Camera… the Sony Alpha NEX-3.

And I’m kinda twisted up with guilt over spending something like a week’s entire salary on this pretty little thang (tax time is always nice when you’re poor and have lots of children), but I’ve been waiting for years a big-girl camera, and I’m hoping this one will make it possible for me to take photos inside this dreary house with bad fluorescent lighting and even worse carpet.

As if I wasn’t already over the moon about my new toy (she needs a name, dontcha think?), I just ordered her a beautiful Marigold Jo Totes bag in which to live.  And it’s not even my birthday.  As a woman who still wears tennis shoes I bought on clearance eight years ago and hasn't had a haircut in as long as I can remember because I have a hard time spending money on myself, this is quite a splurge.  I'll probably be carrying this bag around when I'm 80, so I hope I love it in real life as much as I do in the pictures. 

Cool, huh?  And just yesterday?  I went to the mailbox to collect the usual pile of bills and such, when I spotted a brown paper package from Canada.  Don’t you just love brown paper packages from Canada?  I do, especially when they’re from a lovely sister-friends like Emily, and when those packages contain amazing books that I’m just dying to read, like Half The Church by Carolyn Custis James.  I just can’t wait to read it and share my thoughts with you guys.

Now, one would think all that squeal-worthy goodness just already set this week above the rest.  But today?  My post, Orphan’s Inheritance, is being featured over at {in}courage, my very favorite daily blog spot.  Hop on over there, especially if you’ve never been.  Put your feet up, grab a cuppa, and read about my journey with a little blonde-haired orphan that has stolen my heart.  Visit me over there, wouldya?

Thanks, I knew you would.  You’re just that peachy.  Bless you today, friend. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Love Accordingly

Words sting. 

I choke on hurt, anger rising.  Tears burn and I bite my own teeth, push it all down.

And I ruminate, imagining.  What would it be like to walk away?  To do life alone? 

It’s too hard, Lord.  It’s too hard to make it work.  Two broken people, bent on hurting one another.  Two of us that get to these places where we pass like ships in the night and our bitterness seeps through our skin and eyes and tongues into words and looks and thoughts that rip away at all that we have tried to build up, together.  We are both exhausted of this work and I wonder if this ministry costs us our marriage, if it will have been worth it.

There are days that I can’t remember why we do this.

(And maybe I shouldn’t put that out here… it’s my personal matter to attend to, but its reality, and what am I doing here unless its being real with all of you, exposing my heart that you might find yourself there, that we might heal and grow, together, friend?)

He and I choose to stop the words… no good can come of this.  But I have so much I want to say.  I have so many hurts to spill and expose and assign blame for, and when my mouth is shut, the injured feeling creeps up within me, surging steel cold through me, mind to heart to hands and feet and I will myself to stay put, to lift up desperate prayers and trust in a goodness that is bigger than me.

Stop all this.  You are MY bride,” The Jesus-whisper pursues and slows the heat.  
Live accordingly.  Love accordingly.”

I don’t always know how.  But I fill with Him and I breathe out the hurt and breathe in the hope and fall asleep spent.  And in the morning we sit side-by-side, the members of this imperfect marriage, and sip coffee and talk low about this and that and he sees through my quiet and leans in to kiss my cheek.  This is what forgiveness looks like, here and now.  My hurt has not left, not completely, but I take the gesture for what it is meant to be and hold on tight.  I know that this, this quiet forgiveness and listening to the tender whisper of His words… this is the goodness I am seeking.  This is the mark of a happy marriage and not, as I wish it to be, a life void of struggle.  

I choose, today, to thank Him for the wilderness, for hurt and for forgiveness, for cheek-kisses on hard days, for loving an imperfect bride and helping me love accordingly. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Two Are Broken

Living/working in a children's home, I hear a lot of he-said/she-said.  There are mounds of wounded hearts.  Kids that lash out and thrash the tender ones, so many words that pierce.

And now, its my own tender girl that’s being accused of hurtful words.  I confront her, gently… and she crumples in hot tears… “I didn’t say that!”  How could I think she would say that?  And my mother-heart is aching… I sure hope not.  But I don’t know… it’s purely a matter of who-ya-gonna-believe and a whole host of questions without answers. 

Its fear, I know, that I haven’t done a good enough job.  That somewhere within, my own children might think its acceptable to hurt back when they’ve been hurt.  To take an eye for an eye.  To hold the world at arm’s distance to shelter themselves from being crushed by the weight of the brokenness.

And I plead with her… “Remember?  What do we give in return, dear girl?  What do we do when they hurt us?”


Yes.  Love.

And I know its not easy and I whisper prayers to have the words to teach her and the actions to teach without words and I frantically search my own life … did she observe this behavior in me?  Did the thick black dust cloud of brokenness, in this place, blow off of me and cover her Christ-heart, fogging up her ability to forgive, to turn the other cheek?  Did she follow in my footsteps, somewhere along the line, and find selfish, gaping holes where sandaled-feet should have been?  Did she learn how to hurt others… from me?

And I know, did or didn’t, it doesn’t really matter.  Because whether these words were hers or not this time, she will utter words that hurt.  Deny Her very Savior with little-girl head games and the wanting of her own way in this life.  Because it is her nature.  Because she was born of man and broken flesh and she lives amongst so many results of sin and ugliness.  And so was I.  And so do I.

But she is redeemed… and so am I.  And I long for her to know and me to know that we are not those ugly words.  And we do not need to use ugly words because we are daughters of the Most High, and we have been given Another Way. 

Together, we remember.  What Love would have done… how to think His way, next time.  How to lift wounds to heal wounds, how to forgive through love that is not of this world.  We remember how the road to the cross resembles the well-worn path to a friend’s door and the stone-throwers along the way, and we two girls on knees together resolve again to be life-givers instead.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Being the Blessing

Have you heard of Reece’s Rainbow?  No? 

Me either, until today, when I stumbled upon this delightful project – a family bringing their boy home across miles, despite disability and financial uncertainties… arms and hearts waiting to hold their precious boy, raising the money to bless a child, to bless the world.  Visit here to dream big along with this family and make a donation (and to be awed by the many giveaways being offered to those donating).  Of course, the greatest giveaway is what we take from blessing others, but if you’re longing for an iPad or some eye candy of the most swoon-worthy variety, here’s your chance for a win-win). 

Be the blessing, today, friend.  J


333.    God not always giving us what we ask for – His wisdom to insist on better for us.
334.    Sleeping until 7 and drinking coffee, in bed, on Saturday.
335.    Paper plates.
336.    A time-out and tantrum free toddler playdate.
337.    Fresh bread, purchased from the joyful Amish woman we met in town this weekend.
338.    Watching my children scribbling gifts in their own gratitude journals.
339.    An uneventful surgery undergone by a friend, now home resting.
341.    A fruitful morning quiet time.
342.    Dinner with colleague-friends last night.
343.    Holy Week.
344.    Answered prayer…
345.    …even when the answer is “no"...
346.    …or, “wait”. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Five Minute Friday (A Day Late) -- On Distance

I missed Five Minute Friday yesterday, so it's a Five Minute Saturday Morning, if ya don't mind.  Linking up to Gypsy Mama, to just write for five minutes and not worry about whether it is just right.  Grace. 


It is too far.  I am too far.  And I wonder if it will ever feel like home.

Home that is 2200 miles away and then some.  Home in the hearts, too, that are so far from here.  Home because I fit there and it is like me and I am like it.  Home because my heart-seeds are scattered there and heart-songs sing there like the fog and sunshine and the very day.  

And I am far removed.

This distant place… this new landscape… is many things but it hurts to call it home.  It feels like treason to find home here… yet.  Here, where April scorches hot and flowers wither from lack of rain and salty ground-water thick with chlorine.  Here, where today we will splash in pools while those at home will re-wrap neck scarves and breathe into hands to warm icy fingertips.  Home is cold and ice now and most days I feel the chill, even here in this searing sun.

And yet, what is home?  Really?  Don’t I have all the proper makings of it, here?  Aren’t my children hugged and husband kissed and prayers whispered and bed made and coffee drank here?  Isn’t home simply that:  Being wherever you are?

I used to think I could bring home along with me, pack it up tight and carry it around inside, but some days I’m not sure.  Some days I forget that April sun is a gift and I long for pine trees and lakes and an end to the miles between me and home, when my strength crumples and I forget what it means to be home

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day One

Full day, today, so I thought I'd leave you with thoughts written a couple months ago -- the very first day I began counting gifts, seeking gratitude. 

It’s supposed to be my first day seeking eucharisteo – Greek for life-filling gratitude – the practice of which is exercised in giving thanks, recording blessings, one by one.  After receiving the idea, I soared on the high all day yesterday – the very notion of the power in giving thanks filling me with joy overflowing.  Today, as it would happen, my mood is sour and serrated.  I wake up feeling achy and tired, and like my throat is full of stones.  I’m snapping my wretchedness all over the house, to anyone in my path, and I’m disgusted with myself.  It’s all grating on my last nerve – all of it.  Everyone.  Every “mom!” holler makes me cringe, every child’s slight pushing me over the edge.  I grind my molars together, tense up my neck muscles, pick up a pen and number the page. 

Come, gratitude.  Come.

Thank You, God.  Thank you for… number one:  Morning sunlight in the kitchen window.

It’s forced and awkward.

For orange juice.  For Scotch tape.  For my toddler… who never, ever, ever listens and I just don’t know how much more I can take of this.  I turn inside of myself.

Yesterday, eucharisteo was a revelation, a world-crashing-in sentiment.  Today, though, I’m not sure this can be the answer.  This is the crudest, the rawest I’ve ever felt.  I’m a wounded animal – agitated and dangerous, and I just want to warn everyone, even God, to stay away.  Far away.  Out of my reach, out of my capacity to claw and bite into them.

The washing machine has been filling and, like me, its function switches and it begins to agitate.  Thank you.  For… a working washing machine.

The little one has his hands all over me.  He whines.  “Get my booger, Mommeeeeeee!”

Sigh.  For Kleenex.  For nap time still to come, today.

I am trying hard not to be consumed by Little One’s defiance.  This is important, and he’s distracting me.  I ask him to sit on the couch.  He comes closer and grabs on.  Whines.  Digs his fingernails into my arm and flops his body on me, kicking his legs behind him, spilling the glass of orange juice.  The fire rises in me.  This can’t be the time for this.  I will come to eucharisteo later.

Later, when life is quiet and I can be thankful.

And I feel even more wretched because I know that eucharisteo is not real until it happens in these moments.  This is exactly the idea.  Gratitude for all the gifts.  Even these.  Even boogers.  Even spilled orange juice and defiant toddlers.

“Sit down, now.”  I say it tense between clenched teeth, with clenched fingers.

He does.

And I am grateful.  More grateful than I’ve authentically been for anything yet today.

Thank you.

“Thank you for listening,” I say.  He is pleased with himself, and he grins, lowers his eyelashes, satisfied.

“Long, black baby boy eyelashes,” I write.  Number eight.  I think about writing “boogers” but don’t.  I’m not really thankful for them.  Not yet.  That’s the destination of this journey, perhaps… but I’m only on number eight, and there is much work to be done within me, still.

“Mama!  I need help with this question.”  Girl Child bounds into the room, glasses lying crooked on her face, and she twirls toward me as if on stage.  I start to feel annoyed, sure that I will never, in all my life, be able to gather several minutes in a row for myself, sure that I will never sit in peace long enough to even warm the seat, sure that the children will never get their lessons done without my nagging.  But I watch her spin and twirl, for a moment, and say nothing.  She sees me watching and pauses – awaiting a chastisement, sure I am going to tell her to stop and get back to her schoolwork.  The moment slows and I walk myself through it, deliberately.  I keep my mouth closed and move my pen down a line:  Number nine:  Twirling.

It is slight, but I feel it already.  The choice.  And I already begin to understand this to be something more than simply counting my blessings.  It’s making a choice.  A choice to change my perspective.  My reaction.  My experience.  Eucharisteo is the difference between wretchedness and beauty.  It’s what Christ did to prepare for His own death.  Gave thanks.  Broke bread.  Chose joy in the experience.  Even in the ugliness of that experience.  And it feels, ever so slightly, like growth.

Thank you for twirling.  For Girl Child.  For joy.

The phone rings, and a caseworker from the office is on the other end.  There’s this boy… he’s hurting and angry and not at all coping well.  Lashing out at others, acting ugly.  His mom died several months ago and he has learned, quickly, how to use anger to manipulate and control.  He can’t stay where he is, but its up to us.  Will we take him?

Fear rises.  I don't want to make this decision.  I don't want the extra weight in my head right now.

I think about the boy and see myself similarly, today.  Ugly and lashing out.  Not at all okay with the way things are going.  And I wonder where gratitude falls in, here.  I want to say no.  Our plate is full.  But this business of eucharisteo has slowed me down to the moment, if nothing else.  I slow to listen more and learn more about him, before I decide.  Stories, frustrations, worries… none of them sound promising, but I don’t know what else to do.  I say yes, send him.  I’ll prepare a bed.  And there is peace.  And I breathe in thanks…real, pure thanks for my children and that they still have a mother and father.  And for whatever we can do for this boy.

I begin to understand.  TrustEucharisteo is also Trust.  Gratitude for what God gives means trusting Him for His best.  Gratitude comes before Provision.  Christ gave thanks before partaking of the bread, before He broke His body.  And I am asked, also, to give thanks not after, but before.  To be grateful for what I don’t yet understand, as an act of trust.  This is hard… this was not on my agenda for today.  And it was hard enough for me to find gratitude for sunshine, today.  Now, I’m looking for it amongst death and rebellion and boogers.

But you know what?  It’s there.  I find it.  And I learn that the looking for eucharisteo is the very practice of eucharisteo. 

Thank you, God, for the exact measure of what I need, exactly when I need it.  For being trustworthy.  For the provision that I am certain will come.  For grace.  For eyes that can see all this… and ears and noses, and… boogers within them.

This time, that’s for real, and I start to feel a little enlightened and a little lightened – the weight of my foul mood is decidedly less jagged than it was an hour ago, and it feels like progress.  I pen a few more and I mean them… warm chamomile tea and candlelight and old books.

Right on cue, Little One chimes in with a whine.  “More boogers, Mama!  Moooore booogers!!”

Number twenty-one.  Thank you God… for your sense of humor.

(Photos are of the new DaySpring cards I found this weekend -- aren't they darling?)


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where Greed and Gratitude Collide

Nap time is upon us, and I sigh heavy.  I’ve been waiting for nap time today since the dawning of the sun, it seems.  I’ve spent most of the morning de-cluttering, but this can be a difficult project, what with my 2-year-old stomping through my piles, making a break out the front door and down the road to the playground (twice), and barking cranky orders at me as he continues his quest to assert his newly discovered mean streak.  And I fear we’re in for a long upbringing with him, since he yells with the power of an angry dictator and is wildly encouraged by how adorable the general public thinks that kind of behavior is, coming from a tiny boy with 2-inch eyelashes and swoon-worthy baby blues.

It’s been the kind of day that I look at these kids I love and my heart cracks and my feathers ruffle when I wonder how, despite my best efforts, they have been infected like the rest of us with the disease of privilege.

“I don’t want to sleep in my sister’s bed”, my oldest (11) says, when I tell him the sleeping arrangements will change when his beloved grandma comes to visit.  His face crumples in disgust.  I don’t like sleeping in other people’s beds.”  His video game controller is hot in his hands and his room is strewn with gifts and toys and clothes, and he begins to complain about how cramped we are here in this house that’s not really ours, and how unfair it all is anyway.  I hear the ingratitude and it burns and angers and I tell him he’d do well to realize how lucky he is to have a bed at all, especially since he’s the only one of the twelve of us with his own bedroom and bathroom.  Not to mention an endless supply of food and shelter and all his needs provided for.

So often lately, I wonder if I’ve missed something as I’ve raised them or whether the intrigue of worldly pleasures is just so overwhelming for little ones in our culture, today.  And with each passing day, I become more and more disgusted by the stuff that clutters our home and heart and calendars, and I wonder if the amount of peace and gratitude we are capable of experiencing is inversely proportionate to the amount of crap that sits upon our shelves.  I’ve come to dread the portion of holidays that involves the tearing off of gift wrap because no amount of effort on my part can discourage our relatives from spoiling them rotten, and while I haul bag after bag off to Goodwill, I can’t seem to escape the plastic wonderland that consumes their little hearts and minds and hands as I ever try to fill it with matters that matter more.

And today, I’m defeated by all of it.  I want the U-Haul trucks to come and haul it all away – my stuff, my kids’ stuff, and the resident kids’ stuff that begins to define all of us… and stifle, and maim, and seemingly squash our ability to see past our own noses.

I pray that we are not too far gone.  I pray that we have not all become rich young rulers.  Because it hurts my heart to think that we have so much abundance that it suffocates our ability to see it all as gift.  I decide to pass on the gift-counting, as a homeschool assignment, and I prepare gratitude notebooks for them each and hope beyond measure that learning to count every gift, to thank God for all of it, for every breath, will reverse the sad impact of the grip selfishness has on us all.

In case you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard of Ann Voskamp (just kidding), the “gift counting” I’m talking about here is the challenge she ushers in her beautiful book, One Thousand Gifts.  Find more info here:  www.aholyexperience.com

Monday, April 11, 2011

Religion Kills.

“Boring religious people killed Jesus.”

We took the kids to a concert last night, a collection of Christian hard rock bands, organized in an effort to show these kids a different side of the faith they thought they knew backwards and forwards.  One of the singers threw out the tidbit about religion that got us cheering and thinking and vowing to see beyond pews and neckties to the dirty feet and extreme love of the Christ we follow.

The music was admittedly a bit, um, intense for my listening tastes, but I’ve thought about those words a hundred times in the last 24 hours.  They’re true, after all.

Religion killed Jesus.

I knew that, of course… I know that.  But I know I often forget.  I’m a pretty verbal advocate for faith over religion, and love over law.  I have a handful of deep troubles with the church in general, and religion is at the top of that list.

But I wonder if I look at myself, right straight to the heart… how often I’ve done it, without the church’s help.

How many times have I killed the work of Christ within me, within this world, for the sake of looking religious or sounding holy?  How many nails have I driven into all that is lovely and consecrated and sanctified with self-righteous words or judgmental thoughts?

And while I cheer along with the crowd for the thought, I look back on that truth and I groan because I see how easily I’ve betrayed Him, over and over in my selfish sin and missed the point entirely.  How many times have I wanted to be right instead of righteous, justified instead of loving?  How many times have I killed Jesus, killed love, killed righteousness, killed the witness of love with religion?   

““He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”” - 1 Peter 2:24

It’s so easy to have the heart of a Pharisee, to look at others with judgment instead of love.  Free me, Lord, of hypocrisy and arrogance; strip me of everything within me that isn’t motivated by your kind of love.  Help me see all people through your eyes and to abandon religious motivation in favor of extravagant love. 

Thankful, with Ann, today for:
313.  A small treasure:  Clearance-rack cookbook full of mouth-watering recipes.
314.  Progress.
315.  Seeing kids, out of their comfort zones, embracing a new side of Jesus-love.
316.  Wildflowers, delivered by the neighbor girl... 
317.  ...then, passing it on and blessing another with wildflowers from afar.  Ah, technology.
318.  The needed quiet that Monday brings. 
319.  Warm sidewalks on bare feet.
320.  Sprouting veggies, in the garden. 
321.  Anticipation.  In general and in particular. 
323.  Peace-feeling over next year's homeschool plans.
324.  Abundance.  Of everything.
325.  The joy of sweet release.
327.  Husband's delicious cooking.   

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Redefining Normal

One of our resident boys went on a hunger strike yesterday, over something to do with floor-mopping.  Another one of them was caught cheating on a test and then cussing at the teacher.  Another proceeded to entertain us with tales of his “hood rat days” (his words), and precisely how he managed to steal 48 beers in under a minute without detection, then hotwire a car to bring home his newfound merchandise.  At 2 a.m., the bedroom window alarm screamed me into awakeness, alerting me that someone was trying to sneak out of the house.  

It’s easy to get discouraged, on days like these.

This is our eighth month here, and every day gets easier, and every day gets harder.  Easier because we learn, indeed, there is nothing new under the sun, and harder because our hearts are growing solidly to these young ones, and it hurts every time their choices reflect the life that was so normal to them before they came here.  Most days, we’re just trying to redefine normal. 

And more than most things, I am grateful, in this ministry, for laughter and the power it has.  I’m grateful that an exhausting night of prayer and worry can be solidified with smiles when a twelve-year-old shows me where in the garden he planted “refried beans”, and a bunch of marshmallow-stuffed mouths burble their scripture-memory verses for the week, chubby-bunny style.  When a hot-sauce-eating competition breaks out at the dinner table and the boys cheer each other on and Husband cracks a joke that makes milk escape several noses all at once.  This is my hysterical life (in more ways than one)… with boys and other child-type people.

I’m grateful for a God who doesn’t take things too seriously and who seems to send, at the very moment I need it, a light-hearted moment or a friend with an inside joke to turn up the corners of my mouth and recharge my will to do it for just one more day.

What made you laugh, today?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Five Minute Friday: If You Met Me

If you met me…

I’d talk too much and worry that you didn’t like me.  I’d have coffee in my hand, drinking it out of my favorite DaySpring mug, and toddler snot smeared across my shoulder, most likely.  You’d see my tattoo and ask me about it, wonder what it means, and why I had the audacity to brand myself with the word ‘write’ across my wrist.  I’d give you a half-hearted explanation and tell you it was supposed to say something else, in Latin, but as usual, I let the opinions of others weigh more than my own.  I’d tell you about the books I’m reading and the uncomfortable and yet exciting places on the journey God is taking me, lately.

I'd toss you an apron and you’d see last night’s dinner crumbs on my floor and the piles of unread and half-read and re-read books sliding haphazard on my makeshift dining room desk.  You’d see a stack of tissue-papered canvasses waiting to be worked on, waiting for time to finish the art class I’m taking in between the school bus’s departure and arrival. 

I’d tell you to “walk with me, talk with me”, while I putzed around and made phone calls and sent emails on behalf of the ten busy kid bodies in this house, while three of them climbed on me and interrupted our conversation and needed help pronouncing words in their homeschool reading books.  You’d walk while I checked chores and scribbled reminders in my notebook, my brain that sits on the dining room table.

And you’d probably think I’m a scatterbrain – I am.  You may notice my hair, badly in need of a coloring or a style at all, thrown into a crumpled ponytail this morning and my house, in various stages of decorated and not yet decorated, and the ugly furniture I try hard to hide with throw pillows and cleverly draped blankets.

You may wonder what kind of Southern Baptist I am, anyway, what with my Oregon-home photos and postcards wistful on the walls and my somewhat liberal viewpoints and tattoo and tank tops, since the name of my home, my place of ministry, echoes that denomination, and I’d maybe confess that I can’t call myself that, quite yet, because I’m not entirely sure, even after 7 months of being here, what it means to be either Southern or Baptist, but I love the Lord and that should count for something, even if the whole concept of denominational Christianity is a little weird for me, still.

And I’d refill your coffee and mine and you’d walk with me, talk with me some more, and I’d write your name in my list of gratitudes and smile because you, certainly, would have made my day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jesus Loves You. Pass the Pop Tarts.

God has been doing a lot with me in these last few months – challenging my perceptions on authentic faith in a variety of ways, from encountering a bizarre smattering of unfamiliar theological terminology that makes my head spin, to a simple wondering whether I’m really doing anything worthwhile to help the poor and needy… whether I’m doing anything to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.  And with every day that passes, I become a tad more disgusted with my half-hearted efforts.

Some of you know that I live and work in vocational ministry, raising many kids that are not my own in a children’s home in The Middle of Nowhere, Texas.  I moved far from home in an effort to follow God where He needed workers – and I was pretty sure that helping feed, clothe, and raise orphans qualified.  I was quite confident that His face could be found hanging out among the “least of these”.  But I’m wondering, a lot lately, whether my work here is also enabling a future generation of spoiled me-first Christians, iPods in hand, longing (but not for long) for new laptops and X-boxes and cell phones, owning salvation simply as “fire insurance”, and who will grow up to continue the ignorant idea that so long as I drop a buck in the offering plate on Sunday, I’m doing my part for the sake of the Kingdom, so aren’t I holy?

And don’t think I don’t count myself among those Christians.  I love my laptop and cell phone… and my fire insurance, and I am guilty of selfish motives just like the rest of us.  And He’s dealing with me.  But I’m longing for the “how”.  How do I show these kids that iPods are dandy and going to college is a wonderful gift, but its what you do with all these gifts you’re given that counts?  The sense of entitlement is astounding in a place like this, and I struggle to find the joy, anymore, in the giving.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and dozens of times in the last month alone, I’ve come across the feel-good sentiments about the joy of giving, the true gift that comes when you give, but I have to be honest for a second here because my heart is aching with emptiness over the blindness of the receivers.  A kid who didn’t have a meal to eat or a bed to sleep in last Thursday is complaining today because his cocoa puffs are the store-brand variety and the game system he got for his birthday from the poor widow down the road isn’t the color he asked for, and where is his monogrammed gym bag, already, ‘cuz he’s been waiting for it for a whole week now.  And this is bold to say, but I wonder, sometimes, if some of these kids weren’t better off when they had real-life in front of them, poverty and dysfunction and the whole mess of things… where the love of Jesus meant more than shiny new shoes and a slick skateboard.

And I’m disenchanted about what the point of all this is.  How is this helping?  I am keeping these kids alive, yes, and peppering their lives with scripture and smiles, but aren’t I also continuing the lie that will send them to their (silk-lined, consumerist) money-hungry graves?  “Look and see, God really does love me, after all.  I know because I got NFL tickets and an iPad on the same holiday.”  And there are days that I can’t remember the message I’m supposed to be sending here, or how to do it by giving and giving to encourage greed and gluttony. 

Jesus Loves You.  Now pass the industrial-sized box of Pop Tarts.   

(Linking to: 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Does God Need Worship?

“Do you really think there’s a God up there that needs us to all sit around and worship Him all the time – sit around telling Him how great He is instead of doing good things in the world?”

The question blind-sides me as I admit my own struggles with doubt to an unbelieving friend.

Do I?   I stare silently, for a moment, and roll this thought through my mind, down into my heart as the words sting and I feel defensive on behalf of My Father, and guilty on behalf of my selfish heart. 

“Well…,” I begin.  “No... and yes.  And no.”

This is difficult to answer.

“I think worship is vital to our relationship with God, but…”  I continue, ever so slowly.   

I want to get this right.  I am talking to myself more than my friend, in this instant.

“I think it’s more for us, than for Him.”

She looks at me, wrinkled brow, skeptical.  Where am I going with this?

“God doesn’t need anything from us.  I mean… He doesn’t doubt His own greatness… but… I believe… He calls us to worship in order to stop, as often as possible, and ground ourselves.  Remember ourselves in the scheme of things.  Remember that this whole big deal isn’t about us but about Him.  Acknowledging His holiness is putting everything in its proper order, so that we can do good things in the world.

“When we’re focused on ourselves, as we are, by nature, our desire is not to do good for others, but… that is His desire for us.  And worship connects us to the heart of that.  To look up, to go low, to get real.  To realize our smallness, and His magnificence and to remember, often, that the closest we can get to being like Him is to be love in the flesh.”

She nods.  I see that this is the first time she’s heard it this way.  And I don’t know where these words have come from, as I have never seen it this way before, but as I speak what flows through my mouth, without input from my (selfish) brain, it is all so clear. And I long, like never before, to worship, here and now, in this new understanding.

Worship is opening our hearts to our smallness and His greatness.  Not because He needs it, but because we do.  And we are free to be small, miniature even, inside of His Great Big Love.  To be lost in it.  To swim and dance and twirl in its open spaces.  To love enormously and make ourselves smaller as He grows bigger within us.  He loves us by making us smaller.  We love Him by reflecting His big-ness, by showing Big Love to a hurt world.

And I am glad because this is new to me, this realization, this connection, but also painfully aware of just how big I have made myself in this little life of mine.  

And it is there my heart whispers:  Lord… make me small.

Grateful, with Ann

279.  Compassion, where it is much needed.
280.  Running water.
281.  Peachy-orange roses, picked and shared by tiny hands.
282.  Impromptu dinner parties.
283.  Guests, full of grace for mess and imperfection.
284.  Twenty-two full bellies and smiling faces around our dinner table, yesterday.
285.  Enormous, extravagant love.
286.  Warm blankets.
287.  Bagels with cream cheese.
288.  Newly planted bulbs, sprouting.
289.  Anonymous notes of encouragement, given and received.
290.  Psalm 118:24
291.  A stack of books, fresh for the reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Real-Life Mother Hubbard, Sans Shoe

Ernest Hemingway could tell a story, in six words:

"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn."

I'm challenged to do the same, in hopes of winning a scholarship to the She Speaks 2011 conference.  I am a woman of many words, but six well-placed ones?  Tell a story, elicit emotion... with just six?

Oh, there are just so many options.  I could tell innumerable stories in six words, but... which to tell?  My story?  Let's see.  Any of these would suffice:

- She didn't sign up for this. 
- A one-woman Marco Polo game
- Real-life Mother Hubbard, sans shoe.
- Need me?  I'll be folding laundry.
- Broken. Divorced. Abandoned. Emptied. Sanctified. Redeemed.
- A River in a Paper Cup
- Learning to love a Divine assignment.
- Inspired to count gifts, discover joy.
Or how about...

-Ten kids.  Little sleep.  Send help.
- Kids need to eat every day?

I kid, I kid.

On a serious note, how about...

She bowed lower and thusly... soared.

Check out the other entries, or tell your own here at the She Reads blog

Tell me, what's your six-word story?

Five Minute Friday: The Very Breath

He is pulling me closer.

And lightheaded, I begin to swoon, buckled knees, bathed in light.  The dark fades with every passing moment as the light spills and spills and filters and reflects all over my ache and uncertainty.

With every passing moment, I want more and more and more and more and more, an emptiness that can never be full and I long to be satisfied but pray that I will never be.  

The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. (Job 37:10)

I begin, now, to understand why He calls Himself Yahweh - YHWH.  The very sound of breath.  The very Breath.  And like being underwater without it, I break surface and I splash wildly and I breathe in deep and fill my lungs with Breath.

It tastes like joy and atonement and it surges through.  And He is water and He is air and He is bread and He is breath.  Lungs to heart to veins to nerves to brain to fingers.  And I am filled.  Filled with a glorious moment, and I breathe out, and breathe Him in, again. 

My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. -Job 33:3-4