Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day Six: That's How We Roll

This will be a short write.

Today was filled with teaching, meetings, processing thoughts.  Tonight will be fellowship.

In the midst of it, I got a message from my husband telling me the excitement of the day in the remote location he is working.

I'm just wondering how many other women out there have to send messages like this to their men:

"Please don't try to make friends with a bear."

Welcome to my world.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day Five: This One's for You, Doc.

This post is in honor of "Doc"Alvin Warnick (sp?), whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Cattle Reproduction Clinic the girls and I attended in early August.  At 94-years-old, he still suited and gloved up every morning and tutored us in the finer points of pregnancy palpation in cattle.  On real cows, mind you. During one conversation he told me, "I have an idea that I'd like to write a book.  You may have noticed I'm very interested in people.  Well, I would love to write a book about married couples that tells all the different stories about how people meet one another."  This one is for you, Doc!

Ask anyone who knows him, and they will tell you that I married one of the best men on the planet.   Frankly, I'm not really sure how we ever found each other, because you could not meet a more unlikely couple.  We are living proof of the maxim that opposites attract.

When we met--goodness--I was a Birkenstock-clad, free-spirit graduate student, and he was a redneck Marine.  He liked fishing, chewing Redman, and going mudding (or muddin' as they say in Florida). I liked reading books, watching foreign films, and napping.

One thing we both liked, fortunately, was dancing--two-step to be precise.

So, one night he and his friends came to the place where I was taking two-stepping lessons with my friend. It was sort of a yuppie-ish, urban-cowboy kind of place that they typically avoided (because they were the real thing).  For some reason they gave it a try that night.

I love the way Mike first told me of that encounter.  He said, "I saw you standing there with your friends, and your jeans were all torn and frayed at the bottom, and the soles were coming off your boots, and you were just laughing and having a good time, and  I said to myself, 'Now, there's a girl without a lot of money.'"

That's right.  He picked me because I looked happy and poor.  (I was, actually.)

I didn't notice him or his friends that night, but they came back a week later, and we danced.  Good old-fashioned country dancing.  Two-step, swing, and waltz. George Straight and Alan Jackson.  The real deal.

 I loved that he wore snap-button shirts, had an accent, and was so polite. (Not to mention the rather impressive biceps I could feel when I placed my hand on his arm to waltz.)  When I told him I was in graduate school and he asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, I responded, "What do I want to do?  I want to knit and bake cookies.  Unfortunately that doesn't pay."  Apparently that sealed the deal as far as he was concerned.

Our first date was to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C..

The night I first met him, we was wearing a striking black cowboy hat and looked like a cross between George Straight and Patrick Swayze.  When he came to pick me up for the date, he was wearing the lovely hat in the picture above.

It was a test.

I think he was trying to make sure I wasn't some prissy woman who would fuss at him about his clothes.  (I guess my crumbling boots weren't evidence enough.)  Anyway, I passed the test.  Nary a word about the dog hat.  (True confessions: I was actually thinking that as long as he was wearing that awful hat, I could pretty much have him--and his great arm muscles--to myself.)

After we were married and the hat mysteriously went missing, my single friends would often ask me how I managed to find such a great guy.

My response was and always will be, "You have to be willing to look past the hat."

I'm so glad I did!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Day Four: Hurry-up and Wait

If you followed my ravings yesterday, you know that I had an offer to take a trip with a friend from She is Safe to visit Southeast Asia.  (I just re-read the post--so many CAPS!  I really don't yell like that in real life--well, only in my head.)

It's a go--sort of.   I haven't said no.  Just yes, IF.

This is the part of the "anything" equation that I'm not sure I love: Waiting for the answer.

I think I've done my part.

I got a new passport photo taken--(sooo bad).  I rushed my passport off to get renewed,  set up an online fundraiser and wrote a "snail mail" letter to send out as well.

I'm reading the required material, investigating what shots I may need, reading up on the country we'll be going to and the local customs.

I'm trying to forget the part about possible hostage situations and large bodies of water.   

All that, and the answer from God still might be "not this time."

It's funny, I always think of myself as a patient person, but I realize I'm not.  At least I'm not when it comes to God fulfilling my requests.

But then, isn't this supposed to be about ME fulfilling HIS requests?  I get it.

Lead on, Lord.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day Three: Anything?

I think God might be messing with me.  Two days after writing in tears about my gradually emptying nest, I got a request from a friend to take a trip with her.  To Southeast Asia.

This summer a group of my friends, some just starting out and others, like me, with a bit more "experience," read a book together by Jennie Allen called Anything.  The book is an accounting of what led her and her husband to pray the prayer that she says unlocked her God and her soul.  The prayer was simply, "Anything, Lord.  I'm in."

It was interesting for our group to discuss, because the group was composed half of young women preparing to leave the nest, and half of women whose nests were emptying.  To a woman, we were all on the cusp of a monumental life transition.   All of us were asking, "what am I supposed to do with my life?"

"Anything" is a prayer we all would benefit from praying, but most fear, because telling God "anything" means He could ask....well, ANYTHING, and most of us are pretty comfortable.  As comfy North Americans we tend to think in self-preserving terms, fearing that if we surrender and say, "anything," God will ask us to give things up or do something really big.  Big as in sell-your-home-and-move-to-Africa big.

I honestly thought I was pretty down with the whole "Anything" concept.  I had just the year before gathered some activist runners and put on a virtual 5k to raise money for an organization I love called She is Safe, and was ramping up for the second annual.  Not huge, but out of my comfort zone.

It's a funny thing about stepping out of your comfort zone.  It often takes you even further out.

Like to Southeast Asia.

I have to confess, my first response was not, "ANYTHING, Lord!"


You have to understand.  When I think of adventurous travel, I think Europe, or at least a country where I have an inkling of a chance at communicating--at least the same ALPHABET for heaven's sake. I mean, I went to Haiti during a cholera outbreak and political rioting, but at least they speak some French there.  And it's in the same general hemisphere.  My mental awareness of the globe sort of stops at France.

Also, this would involve flying over LOTS of open water--and I get panic attacks on a paddle board.

Truthfully, I have a plethora of really good reasons to say, "Not this trip."

Like justifying spending $2500 on myself--right before Christmas--when I've got two kids in college, every vehicle has 200,000 miles on it (and we don't do car payments), my students are sliding together down to the ends of our lopsided couches, and my sweet husband is working is tail off trying to make it all happen.

And speaking of my husband: His job takes him out of town half of every month.  We live on a farm, so going while he's gone means leaving the farm without a farmer, but going while he's home means giving up the precious little time I have with him.

Oh, and then there's that little section of the travel planning pamphlet that addresses their policy for hostage situations.  I'm reading about how they'll handle the unlikely event that I get taken hostage--and just the other day I was telling my daughter's friend about how I AVOID LEFT-HAND TURNS if possible because they are more dangerous.  What's wrong with this picture?

Still...every single objection I have can be summed up in this equation: Guilt + Fear = NO

But I have been pleading for over a year with people to please give a darn about the plight of women and girls in parts of the world where they are treated as commodities or burdens. This is a chance to go and see the beginning stages of the creation of a Transformation Group that could impact generations of communities in the areas we'll visit.

I'll have an opportunity in a tiny way to enter into the lives of women and children living in extreme poverty who earn money by separating out recyclables, and maybe, just maybe be able to communicate to them that in them I see dignity, value and the fingerprints of God.  It's a chance to see with my eyes, feel with my heart, touch with my hands, and then share with my words.

Plus, the fact that it seems so impossible makes it a just little irresistible.  What kind of God story might this be if God makes the impossible possible?

Here's the great thing about "Anything:" I am realizing (at least at this stage in the game), I don't have to say, "Absolutely" to this one thing just yet...I simply have to say, "As You wish," and surrender it to Him--come what may.

Will you pray for me?  I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Day Two: A Prayer for My Church

"If we allow people to be human and God to be God, the church has a fighting chance.  If you show up brave and true, and leaders show up brave and true, if you own your place and I own  mine, the kingdom will break through in every possible way. God is big and good enough to lead us all, and together we just might see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."  -- Jen Hatmaker, in For the Love

This Sunday marks a change in the life of my church. We're changing our name.  It's a big deal for some-- and not such a big deal for others (me).  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, after all.  This has been my church family since moving to Florida in 1998, so I know it intimately.  It's a biggish church, Southern Baptist in denomination, and, like any other church of any size or denomination, we're often times a hot mess.  But this hot mess is my family, and even if I sometimes feel aggravated to the point of distraction, I love them.

For me, there is much fuel for aggravation, but I think the irritation has a fair amount to do with the fact that I'm a Montana girl, and this is the South.  Being so close to Miami, this band of believers is an eclectic blend of Deep Dixie South mixed with a fiery dose of Spicy Latin Zing    Both come with their fair share of attitude and issues, bless them.  (We from the Northwest, of course, we have zero issues or attitudes.  Not.)  Suffice it to say that I am jeans and T-shirt in a land where the choices are panty-hose and sensible dresses or flamboyant frills and spike heels. I'm the proverbial square peg, and the holes in Florida are either round or triangular.  Consequently, it's not always what you would call comfortable for me here.  As you can see, these are not really doctrinal aggravations. Just personal challenges.

My church is also proudly a Southern Baptist church, and I am a product of a "non-denominational" faith influence, so I don't necessarily find the term Baptist something to be proud of (or ashamed of, for that matter).  We're all Christians, so Jesus should be the only thing we're proud of.  Anyhow, because of the difference in my background, my church has dearly held traditions and practices that I have to confess drive me just the teeniest bit nuts.  In these seventeen years, there have been many times when I have disagreed deeply with the way things were run or attitudes that were held. (In fairness, when we first joined the church, we knew exactly what we were getting.  Not to mention the fact that I joined them; they didn't join me.)  Still, there have been several occasions when the differences led me to consider finding another church where I fit better.

Except, here's the thing:

As itchy as it can sometimes feel to be a black sheep, this is my family, and you don't just quit your family because they occasionally make you crazy.  Ultimately, it's not about my preferences or my opinions.  Nearly every thing that makes me nuts is a non-essential in terms of eternity.  Even though I might do things differently if I ran the church (which is NEVER gonna happen, by the way, so you can breathe easy as far as that goes), there has never been a doubt in my mind that our leaders love Jesus and love people.  I may have disagreed with some actions or decisions, but any time that I have looked beyond the action to the heart of the person, what I see there is love.

Sure, we have a tendency to bicker and wound and judge and sometimes behave selfishly, but this family also loves big and cares for the hurting and offers grace in abundance.  And here's a newsflash:  EVERY closely knit gathering of flawed humans--religious or otherwise--is going inflict some wounds.

That's why community is risky.  People are just messy.

While the official church priorities may not always be the same ones I have, this church body--through the lives of individual members--is reaching into the world and our neighborhoods without fanfare or grand production.  As individual members of a bigger body, we are making a difference in many ways, some that I am aware of (foster care, community service camps, pregnancy centers, teaching ESL, restoration homes for victims of trafficking, care and service for sick or invalid friends) as well as  others I probably can't even begin to imagine. Knowing that, it's really not necessary for the church policy to cover every type of ministry I find vital--because the people of the church are living their lives in such a way that loving the world doesn't require church staff or an official program.  I kind of appreciate that the church leadership doesn't have to be in charge of every single act of ministry.  I like the fact that as a church community we can come to church to increase our learning, worship together, share our passions and ideas, support one another and then GO OUT and love the world.

So here's my cry: They are not perfect, but this is my family.

May we grow in humility, wisdom, transparency, intimacy and courage because we strive to love like Jesus.

Jesus, give us humble hearts to hear and respond to truth.  May each person engage in a way that is brave and true, and may each leader humbly show up and lead in a way that is brave and true.  Let us each own our place and give others the freedom and grace to own theirs.  May we as a body be intricately and openly part of Your Church in the world and not a separate entity with our own agenda.  May we allow one another to be flawed and may our love for one another come from Your Spirit in such a way that we can see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Happy Launch Day, Crosslife Church.  I really do love you.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Project 365: Day One

I’ve spent the last ten years giving assignments to other people; this assignment is for me.  I’m calling it “Project 365,” and my goal is to write something every day for an entire year.  My words can be many or few, but they must be written—every day.  

This is a completely arbitrary day to begin this project.  It’s not the first of the year. It’s not the first of the month. It’s not even a Monday.  Perhaps it’s a heart thing. Despite my classes starting on Tuesday, today was my last day of "mama" summer.  

Today the last of my two “Gators” moved back up to the university, marking the official, this-is-really-it-folks, end of summer.  The first to go back to school left on Wednesday. I am not actually this one’s mama, but I was for the summer, so the separation is just as hard.

For the most part, I am glowing with a rush of gratitude for the summer we had. It was a summer filled with lots of hard work, but also two blissful, relaxing and long-over due family vacations.  It was a blessed and slow-paced time of making things right, restoring broken places, and reveling with deep appreciation in the weirdness that is us.  

Now it’s over, and this year that feels particularly significant.

I am delighted with where each of my young people is at the start of this new year.  My oldest, Katie,  and our sweet Grace began the summer fragile, exhausted by adulthood, and anxious about life, but both returned to school with greater peace, direction, and confidence in themselves and their plans. I felt grateful and thrilled to see the work that this summer had done in them, and I am excited for their year ahead.   

Those who remained on the farm are moving forward just as much as the two who will have their own apartments. My free-spirit Hallie is working three jobs, going to college, and absolutely blowing my mind, because this is the girl who was content to stay at home, create beautiful things, and daydream. 

My baby, my almost man, is about to take college classes as a high school senior (pray for us) while beginning a new job and filling in as the stand-in man and lifter of heavy things when his Daddy’s away.  

 It’s a sweet place for a mama to be, standing on the sidelines cheering as her young-uns charge into the game with determination.  So, yeah, I am beyond grateful with where we are ending this summer. 

Still, I gotta say, the transition back to school feels especially momentous. This year I realize that--as of today--what Jen Hatmaker dubbed “The Family Years” are essentially over.  All my offspring are finding their own ways into the world brilliantly, but I'm acutely aware that those ways always lead eventually out of the nest--for good, if we've done our jobs right.   

We’ll always be family and always love and enjoy each other, and it will be good.  But we will never live all together in the same way again.  I realize this is a good thing; it was actually the end-goal of this whole clumsy child-rearing thing all along. 

For now, though, I’m sitting here blubbering (thank you, Christy Nockels for providing the accompaniment), and I feel the need to mourn—just for a minute. 

Because we Odells do FAMILY really well

I know the passing of this stage will lead us into a new one that is beautiful and rewarding in unimaginable ways, but—just for this evening—I’m going to lean into my happy-sad tears and take the time to say a proper goodbye.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Reason Why

Nearly every week I ask the girls in my Sunday School class: "What is the worst thing that could happen to you?"

The first time I asked it, I got a huge range of answers:

"I could get my phone taken away"
"not getting into college"
 "my dad could lose his job"
 "a parent could die."

All devastating things, to be sure (except maybe the phone), but not what I was hoping for.

So, I re-phrased the question: "As a believer, what is the worst thing that could happen to you?"

They had to think a little harder that time.

"Dying for my faith"
"Displeasing God"

Again, all bad things, but still, I have come to believe, not the worst thing.

As a follower of Christ, the worst thing that could happen to me is to lose my love for Jesus.

I've told my girls this almost every week and I am just praying they are starting to believe it.  I hammer this truth so hard because in ten years of working with youth my heart has been broken by how often they sincerely strive to avoid the wrong "worst thing" and don't even notice that the REAL worst thing is happening to them.  Eventually many of them move from being a leader in the youth group and Sunday Regular to being apathetic at best and more often drifting completely away from their relationship with Christ--

because, frankly,  they don't really love Him that much.

I desperately want them to GET the fact that not loving Him is the worst thing ever.

How does this happen?

Last week I think we stumbled upon something.  One girl mentioned that her friends at school find her lifestyle odd.  I pressed for examples and she said, "Well, for example they ask me why I want to be a virgin."

"And what do you tell them?" I asked, curious.

She was hesitant, as if she wasn't really confident about her answer.  "I told them I want to be a virgin because the Bible says that sex before marriage is a sin and I don't want to sin."

Well, now, that is true.  And a good reason for abstinence.

But the uncertain look on this sweet girl's face revealed something to me.  It was as if she knew her answer was a fact, and she believed it, but something inside her was questioning:  Is this all there is to my faith?  Not doing things because they are sinful?

I thought of her curious friends and remembered what it was like to be the one wondering about Christians--and how NOT compelling "it's a sin" was for a response.  (From what I have witnessed over the past several years, it's not even compelling to the kids who believe it.) Watching the more vocal Christians at my school work so hard to avoid sin because, well, it's SIN, did absolutely NOTHING to draw me to Christ.

Who wants that--living life in constant fear of disappointing the Rule Maker?  Thanks, but no thanks.

As I looked at the faces of my Sunday girls that morning, I realized: We're missing it.

We're teaching them right from wrong.  We're teaching them that sin is bad and should be avoided, but we're missing the point of WHY.

What if, instead of focusing so much on what the rules are, we revealed to them the heart of the God behind the rules?  Because, as I mistakenly assumed as a Junior High agnostic, God didn't make rules so that no one had fun on earth.

Nor, as I mistakenly believed as a young Christian, did He make rules so that we could work really hard to prove our commitment to Him.   (See how good I am, God?  I'm a virgin!  I don't smoke!  I don't drink! APPROVE. OF. ME!)


What if we could show our children and the young people we mentor--through Scripture and our lives--that God is loving and good and can be trusted?  That the "rules" are not for Him (as if GOD  needs to prove anything), but rather for us--to protect us and preserve us for His BEST? What if we took the time to show them that every single rule in the Bible is motivated by God's absurd, unreasonable, gracious love for them?

What if they really understood the concept of UNMERITED favor--that God's love cannot be earned through performance or obedience, but rather is freely given to us IN SPITE of our sinful bent?  What if they would obey Him because they trust Him, not to win His approval (which they already have in Christ)?

What if our young people, when questioned about their choices, could answer with confidence, "Because I know God loves me and wants what is best for me.  He says that's not best, and I trust Him because I know He's good."

It's a simple idea, but revolutionary.

God's reason for creating me (and you and everyone) was so we could enjoy a relationship with Him, and bring Him glory and draw people to Him through our delight in Him.  He demands to be first in our hearts, not because He's selfish, but because giving Him first place is BEST for us.

His love is the reason for the hope that I have.  His love is what I want my kids to know before anything else.

His love is the best thing that could ever happen to me.

Just imagine how compelling a church full of imperfect people living loved would be to a hurting world.


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