Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twenty: You Can't Cure a Disease by Treating Symptoms

I feel like I need to explain my statement in a previous post that God did not use me in Myanmar.  It doesn't mean that God had no purpose for sending me.  It's just that I suspect that the primary purpose for this trip was not so much for me to be used by God to save others, but rather for God to teach me.   I hope that in sharing what I've learned, however, the trip will have value beyond just my personal enrichment.

This trip felt like a bringing together of several strands of knowledge that I've been learning since a trip to Haiti in 2010, but the short version is this:  There is a right and a wrong way to engage internationally to foster justice and fight oppression, and She is Safe does it right.

I saw the results of "aid gone wrong" on a post-earthquake trip to Haiti.  Although I couldn't have put my finger on it at the time, I was troubled by a rather dependent mind-set on the part of many (but by no means all) Haitians whose answer to difficult times was to request money or rescue from their wealthier non-Haitian contacts.  In hindsight, I believe the attitude is one WE created over decades of well-intentioned but poorly designed efforts to help the struggling nation.

In their book Helping Without Hurting, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert suggest that "helping" can actually hurt the recipient because it too often fails to address the roots of the problem.  For example, many programs by churches and humanitarian organizations have the goal of poverty alleviation.  However, the programs have an incomplete and unbiblical view of poverty as a lack of material goods or financial opportunity.  In this view, the "solution" is too often simply to give the needy the material goods that are lacking.

In reality, this approach is merely treating a symptom of the much deeper and more complex psychological and social roots that lead to poverty.  As a result, our well-intentioned handouts have the unintended side effects of creating dependency, undermining the dignity of the materially poor, and perpetuating the underlying causes of poverty.

Corbett and Fikkert prescribe a more biblical and holistic view of poverty as "rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation."  Using the Bible as their guide, the authors propose modeling development efforts after God's mission of what they call "comprehensive reconciliation" in ways that restore not just material possessions, but opportunity, dignity, and an appreciation of one's identity as a divine image-bearer.

Applying the perspectives offered by Corbett and Fikkert to the important anti-trafficking work that is much more in the spotlight these days, I can see how I have made similar errors in thinking.  When I first learned of the extent of human-trafficking in the world--and particularly sex-trafficking--my response was what I hope most people's would be: "We have got to stop this!  We have to rescue the women and children enduring such horrors!"

It's not wrong thinking, but it is incomplete.  Yes, we must have programs that work directly to rescue people from slavery and exploitation.  However, until we address the underlying systems of thought and culture that foster the treatment of humans as property, until we attack thinking that elevates personal gratification over all else, trafficking will continue to flourish.

Such an approach is a daunting undertaking:  It is slow, complicated, messy, and definitely not for the faint of heart.   On my trip to Myanmar, I had the privilege of seeing such efforts walked out by She is Safe staff members and their partners in Myanmar.  Seeing all of my book-learning walked out in practice in a context that is so ripe with opportunity is why I can say with confidence that my trip was a success despite the fact that I rescued no one.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How God Used Me

If I were a real blogger, here's how things would have gone down:

After my initial posts about my invitation to travel with She is Safe, I would have shared regular updates chronicling my thoughts and the process of preparing to go halfway around the world.  Instead, what I will offer (I hope) is an after-the-fact processing of the journey.

Since I'm still waiting for my brain to get home from Myanmar, this will likely come in scattered snippets (mostly because that's how it's coming to me).

After reading my last post about the trip, I recognize a major shift that has occurred in my thinking and my "justification" for going.  As you can imagine, it's not cheap to travel more than halfway around the globe, and most of my turmoil while preparing for the trip was using the generous contributions of other people to fund a trip on which I had no clear role.   It's incredibly awkward to be asked, "So what will you be doing in Myanmar?" when the only honest answer is, "I don't really know."

After reading Helping Without Hurting, I was able to have a certain degree of peace, but that was mainly because I felt that even if I didn't know what my job was on this trip, God did.  I felt a sense of anticipation about seeing how God would use me.

Now I'm back, and do you know what?  He didn't.  I can probably kiss any future fundraising for trips goodbye with this statement, but God had no use for me on this trip--and I am completely okay with it.

Here's what I've discovered: Sometimes God puts a fire in a person's heart and gives a vision, a purpose, a passion, and a commission to carry out a task.  In fact, on this trip I was privileged to travel with two such people and meet several more.

In my case, however, I don't know that this was a commissioning event or an issuing of a grand task--at least not right now.  Rather, I had the very humbling yet liberating sense in Myanmar that He was just inviting me along to learn and gain some understanding of how He's working there.

He didn't want to use me, He wanted to show me.

I'm not sure if I can articulate what a gift it was during a spiritually lonely and frustrating season to feel that the God of the Universe just wanted me with Him, as a child and a friend, to watch Him work and feel His love for all people.

So, I guess my first take-away is for all of us goal-oriented Americans with a hidden hero complex and a need to perform:

It's okay--vital even--just to be the sidekick sometimes.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Eighteen: To my Beloved Atheist:

Note: While it is written to an atheist, I challenge Christians--myself included--to read this letter as if it were written to them.  Because we are just as prone to the attitudes I am addressing here. 

It is not written to a specific person, but rather to a compilation of many people whom I love and who have deeply held beliefs that are different from mine.  I use the term atheist, but it could just as easily have been a person who passionately holds any belief system that is different from mine, be it religious, educational, political, or nutritional.  We have become such a culture of critics and--to use a technical term--side-takers. This is my attempt to offer a better way.

To My Beloved Atheist:

I read the following phrase yesterday:

"There's plenty of space here for differences and disagreements, but I will not save room at the table for aggression or harassment, I won't respond to condescension."--Jamie Wright

I almost shouted, "YES!"

Yet here I go, about to respond to condescension, albeit unintended.  I respond not to win an argument, because I don't believe I can. I am not intellectual enough nor self-assured enough to match wits with you, and we both are too deeply passionate about our beliefs.

My kids' logic book would classify it as a stupid argument: one that cannot be won because neither party can be swayed.  First of all, the key point of difference in our beliefs is one that cannot be empirically proven.  I can show you scientific reasons for why I believe there is a Creator, and you can give me scientific reasons why you believe there isn't.  However, I cannot PROVE to you there's a God, and you can't PROVE to me there isn't.  So why fight about it?

I don't want to.

I would, however, like to invite you to take a peek at my perspective.  Whether it is right or wrong is not the point of this conversation.  It is just my perspective, and I'm not sure you've ever considered it.

When you proclaim your beliefs, it is often from a stance that feels very confrontational, with the implied suggestion--if not declaration--that anyone who disagrees is an idiot. Or delusional.

I know you love me and would never tell me to my face that I am a simpleton.  Yet you ridicule my beliefs to rooms full of people with me standing there; you shout your disdain across the Internet, knowing I'm out there somewhere, living a life based on what you mock.

You don't mean to say that I am stupid.  Just people who think like me.

It doesn't offend (okay, maybe it does); mainly it hurts.

I know, Christians can be just as gifted at condescension as atheists, as can passionate Republicans, Democrats, vegans, gun owners, or gun-control advocates... you get the picture. Maybe we all have surrounded ourselves so completely with like-minded people that we forget that not everyone is like-minded, and so we scorn some imaginary "others" whom we never consider wounding because they are a caricature, not a person.

I don't know.

I do know we all need to be nicer, and put a real face to that other, that fool, we are ridiculing. So next time you feel the urge to speak or write something belittling Christians, I would like you to picture my face, and write as if you are saying it about me

Because you are.

While I don't want to argue whose beliefs are RIGHT, I do think it's helpful to listen more than we speak.  Even more, we need to listen to understand, not to simply to respond.  I would be happy to share with you why I believe what I do, if you are ever curious and think you could listen and be open to the possibility that a person can be rational, sane, and even intelligent, and yet arrive at a different conclusion than you did.  I would also love to hear what reasons you have for why you believe as you do, and with such passion. You're very clear about what you believe, but I don't feel like I know what led you to your set of convictions.

If we could let go of the need to convince one another long enough to hear each other, it might be a beautiful conversation.

The other point I'd like to offer some perspective on is one of motives.

You are often rather evangelistic in your proclamation of your beliefs. Whether you intend it or not, when you forcefully pronounce the superiority of your faith in no god, I feel very much as if you are trying to convert me, to get me to renounce my faith and turn to yours.  Any why not? Christians are pretty enthusiastic about converting others to their faith.  It's only fair.

Except here's the question I have always had: Why is it so important that I don't believe?  If you convince me, how is that better for me?

If I understand correctly, you believe we are products of chance, life is what it is and nothing guides or influences it other than the actors in the play.  We are on our own.  Let's even assume you are right about this.  How does it benefit my life, how is it better for me to believe it?  I can cling to my very satisfying delusion and when my life is over be none the wiser.  Delusion or not, if there is no God, and this is all there is, then I'll be too dead to be disappointed if I'm wrong.

On the other hand, if I concede that you are right and reject my faith to believe as you do--I will have turned away from my hope, my purpose, my meaning, and my joy.  Sure, I have might been wrong about it all, but what difference will it make in the grand scheme of things?  If what you believe is true, why do you feel the need to convert me--particularly if my "delusion" encourages me to love others, live humbly, give generously and fight injustice?  It doesn't feel like your motives are loving if you would take that away and offer nothingness in return.

Now humor me and try to imagine I am right.  Remember we're not debating if I'm right or not, we're going for understanding of my motives. Suspend your disbelief for a moment and pretend that what I believe is actually the truth...

What I believe is that we were created to be in relationship with a holy and loving God. Consequently, it follows that by not believing, you are rejecting him and missing out good things.  Ultimate things, actually, and I want good for you.  Furthermore, I believe that this life is not all there is, and that if you reject God during this lifetime, there are pretty serious and eternal consequences--the very least of which is spending forever with no way to feel love, joy, or satisfaction--and acutely, eternally aware of the loss.

So think about this: even if that is impossible to believe, can you at least appreciate why it would be important to me to let you know about what I believe?  Can you see that even if it makes you uncomfortable, or embarrassed or annoyed,  the motive behind the sharing of my faith is a loving one?  If I love you, and if I really believe what I say I do, then I'd have to be some kind of a jerk not to at least try to make you aware.

In fact, I should probably apologize for not trying harder.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Seventeen: Setting Things Straight About Sex

"Your naked body deserves the honor of being shared only with someone who is covenanted to never stop loving your naked soul."—Ann Voskamp

I read these words, which ring so beautiful and true, and for some reason I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young woman this summer.  She told me, "the problem with all of the purity events I went to is they push the message on us that the most important thing about a girl is her virginity."  There was a twinge of anger in her tone that broke my heart.

I was at some of those events, and I know that was not the intended message.   Still, the fact that even one girl came away feeling like that is jarring to me.  Regardless of intent, if that message is the one a young woman internalized, we failed her.  Even worse, we failed the gospel and the message of grace.

So, for every young person who has felt like that, let me set the record straight.

You are so much more than the status of your virginity.  In fact, the whole idea of "purity" is misleading.  Apart from Jesus, none of us is pure--not even the most virginal--but in Him anyone can be--even the most promiscuous.  Your value has absolutely nothing to do with your sexual status, but rather your status as the creation of a loving God who thought you were worth dying for.   One of the things that always tore me apart when this discussion came up in Sunday School or at youth events was the way issue of virginity was used as a measuring stick in hurtful, competitive ways--at least among the girls.  Those who were still waiting felt proud, and those who hadn't waited assumed the others were virgins only because they were undesirable.  

Hear this: no matter whether you have never looked at the opposite sex or have been around the block and back, you are precious and worth fighting for. You were created for a big, powerful, sacrificial love and you. are. worth. it.  

The only reason your virginity matters to God is that He wants the best for you.

I'll be honest. I hope my kids marry virgins (and marry AS virgins), but not because that would make them better people or more deserving of love.  I want it because I think it is the safest, easiest way to enjoy the gift of sex--as designed and free of baggage. However, do you know what I want more?  I want them to marry someone who treasures them the way Jesus does, because he or she understands His love.  I want them to marry someone who loves their soul and not just their shell.  

Also, I hope you get that sex isn't dirty, and it's not shameful.  God actually created sex, and He wants you to enjoy it.  The reason we old folks want you to wait is that we've learned--some of us the hard way--that when you try to enjoy God's gifts outside of the context for which He created them, you lose out on the full joy He wanted you to have.  That's why I love the quote above--it's such a great picture of what He intended and why it's so wonderful HIS way.  The human body is so much more complex than just hormones, urges and interlocking parts.  

Even secular science is finding that the best scenario for physical intimacy is within the context of a committed, monogamous relationship. Good sex releases chemicals that bond you emotionally to another person.  The only way to have sex without creating that bond is to have bad sex, and who wants that?   It's also no surprise to find out  that psychological research is finding that those who follow the hook-up culture's message of sex without relationship or commitment often suffer psychologically.  Whether your mind accepts it or not, your body and your subconscious know that sex is more than just physical.  

I guess that's the message I hope you get. You are loved whether you wait or not.  You are valuable whether you wait or not.  But when I urge you to wait, it's because I know something.  Someone needs to counter the message that the culture is sending.  

We were made for something different and so much better.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sixteen: For My Girls

The other day as she was making a rare appearance at home, my almost 20-year-old was cleaning her room and chatting about her friends.  (THANK YOU, Jesus, for these friends!)  Being college-age, they are beginning to pair up, and my girl finds the whole process fascinating.  I think I've got a Dolly Levi in the making here.  She loves to mentally put people together into well-matched couples.

When she paused, I asked, "Do you know anyone musical?  I've always pictured you with someone musical, I'm not sure why."  She agreed that she saw her self with a musical man, too, but that more important than musicality was a love of Jesus and the outdoors--and a sense of humor.

As she elaborated, I realized that she was very accurately describing a young man I've had picked out for her since she was twelve.  I had the pleasure of teaching him for a few years, and temperament-wise he just struck me as a perfect fit for my super-smart, somewhat scattered, very artsy middle child.  I have sung his praises for years now and she always rolls her eyes. 

Naturally,  when she described her ideal man, I couldn't resist pointing out that she had just given me an exact description of young Mr. Right.  

She's not there yet--she's got this ridiculous notion that she wants someone she's actually had a conversation with in the past two years.  (Can we please bring back arranged marriages?)

Today I was messaging with Katie and our Grace and told them about our exchange regarding Mr. Right.  He is at the same university they're at, and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks he's a catch.  Grace said, "Well, she'd better move fast..."

I'm guessing he's quite the hot commodity up at UF.  Smart girls.

As great as this kid is, I have to say, no, she doesn't need to move fast.  

I do want my kids to have an idea about the deep qualities that they think are critical in a mate, because cute only lasts so long.

However, even more importantly I want them to realize that THEY are the catch, and they don't need to compete for love.

The REAL Mr. Right for each of my girls, will see the treasure that is uniquely her, and he will want to move fast to win her.  

The whole exchange has left me feeling grateful for the gift I have in my husband. I never felt like I had to win him, had to compete with anyone else.  And it's not because others weren't trying.  He's quite a looker.  At the time we started dating there were several ladies who were not happy with me for taking him off the market. (They'd obviously never seen the dog hat.)  They were trying to compete, but I never felt like I had to.  I never felt threatened--not because I was so confident in myself, but because he was so happy with just me. He certainly had plenty of options...many who were more beautiful, talented, and successful than me. But for whatever reason, in me he saw his match and he quit looking.  I may not be the perfect female, but I was perfect for him, and he let me know it.   I remember when my mom asked me what was so special about this guy and I answered, "He's the first person I've dated who likes me for the same reasons I like myself."

So, my girls, all of my girls--whether you are in your twenties or in your fifties--I wish for you this kind of love.  Wait for it.  You don't have to be the perfect woman, you just have to wait for the gem of a man who thinks you are perfect for him.  I pray that you can feel the safety and rest that comes from the trustworthy, unconditional acceptance of a man who is smart enough to see the treasure that is you.  

In the meantime, I know Someone who thinks you to die for, and if you don't know Him, I'd love to introduce you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

15: It Hurts so Good

I have a good friend who loves to tell other people that I am her role model for being a "tough mom."

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I am loving.  It's just that my love is not always displayed in normal mom-ish ways.  My love is expressed through inside jokes, read alouds, ice-cream, and regular gifts of new running shoes--whether said child runs or not.  (I told you; it's a problem.)

So, my toughness is partly a matter of perception.

I also think that a little bit of toughness is actually an expression of love--because if we try to protect our kids from every hurt or heart-ache, we rob them of opportunities to develop the resilience and compassion that come from hardship.

In the years I have taught English and Sunday School for youth, I cannot tell you how many times a mom has come to me in agony because her child is feeling left out by others.  Often either mom wants to intervene, or wants me to intervene in the situation.

When I respond, they usually look at me like I am from another planet because my first response is always this: "I think every person needs to know what it is to be left-out.  This is a gift."

I really do get it.  I don't have these super-popular kids who never experienced feeling left out.  I know the ache a mom feels when she sees her beloved child wounded and rejected by peers; it's gut wrenching.  I also think there are definitely times when intervention is needed because what is going on is malicious bullying that shouldn't be tolerated.

However, the fact that the student in these situations had a mother wanting to step in and fix things was proof that these kids where not lacking love and support. Moreover, most often the hurt feelings were not a matter of malicious intent, but simple adolescent preference and insensitivity.  Nine times out of ten, the wounded child is one that I know has close friends and a rich social's just in one situation that peers are rejecting.

I have actually been grateful when my kids have felt this type of rejection, because I want them to know what it feels like.  I want that wound to give them sensitive hearts, eyes that can see hurt in others, and arms that reach out to embrace the lonely.  I want them to know from experience how to care for a hurting soul.   I want them to want to fight for the underdog because they have been one once.

I wonder how helpful it is if as moms we rush in to avenge every wound.  We may feel better in the short term, but what does it do to our give them the idea that they have the right to be liked by everyone, invited to every party, protected from every slight?  I'm thinking such assistance will not be a great catalyst for humility and compassion.

Instead, what about helping a wounded child remember that they are valued by an infinite God even if not by other teenagers? What about re-directing their thoughts to the friends and family members who do love and support them.  What if we simply enter their pain with them and help them grow from it?    I think a better use of mamma-bear instinct is not to crush the opposition, but to use the hurt as a teaching moment and offer a more complete perspective on the situation.

As we walk with them through the pain, we have a chance to speak truth, turn their eyes from themselves to others, and help ensure that the hurt makes them softer and not hardened. What a great opportunity to teach that while we can't always control circumstances or the actions of other people, we can control our reactions.  One thing I asked my kids in times of disappointment in friends was, "are you gonna let it make you better, or bitter? Because that choice is yours."

Does that sound tough?  Maybe, but in my experience, if, in addition to what may seem like tough words, there is a lavish amount of affection, ice-cream, and running shoes, kids will come away feeling loved in all the right ways.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Day Thirteen: Who am I to Judge?

More and more lately I've been hearing derogatory comments about "judgmental people" (usually, but not always referring to people of faith).  It's true, there is a sort of judgment among people of faith that is faulty and destructive.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for it.  This sort of judgment results from a fixation on rules and legalism.  It is harmful particularly in respect to reaching out to people who do not believe as we do.

The purpose of Christianity is redemption of souls, not modification of behavior.  So when judgement refers to prideful and puffed-up critiquing of another person's actions in hopes of correcting wrong behavior--or worse, in an effort to elevate my own opinion of myself--I agree wholeheartedly that it is bad.  There is an evil and destructive tendency in each of us to place our actions and opinions on a pedestal, and belittle and scorn the actions and ideas of those who disagree with us, but it has no place among the followers of Christ.  We, of all people should recognize that every human is a fallen being and redemption is made possible only through the blood of Christ--not by our perfect performance.  I really want to wrestle through thinking about this, however, because while I think that legalism and pride have wounded too many broken souls, I think we're heading in a direction that is also not quite right.  I don't claim to have any answers at this point, just some uneasiness that needs to be sorted out.

If any pastor or seminary types read this, I'd love your input!

You see, lately the context in which I am often hearing scorn of "judgement" as if it is the unpardonable sin is different from the haughty reproach of legalists wanting the whole world to act better (meaning exactly the way they act).  

However, more and more when I hear people proudly assert that they judge no one and no one should judge them, it is really more in the sense that it is wrong to call anyone else's actions wrong. (Please don't miss the irony there.)  It seems today that to call any action wrong is deemed "judgmental." 

I usually find myself thinking, "You keep using that word.  I don't think it means what you think it means."

Here's my discomfort:  Nearly every time I hear a person say we should not judge others, they typically mean "how dare you call any one else's behavior a sin--because you are not God."  No, I'm not, and we should all be exceedingly thankful for that.  But here's the thing:  God IS God and He did leave us some instructions.  He even gave some commands and prohibitions, and they are pretty easy to find.  Many of them could actually be considered absolutes.  So, because God is God and He set some guidelines, there are some things that are, in fact, sinful.  So it's okay to call them that--not because I say they are sins, but because God says so.  Stating a biblical truth isn't necessarily being judgmental.

Everyone seems to be very familiar with the verses in Matthew 7, where Jesus says the famous lines, "Judge not, lest ye also be judged," and warns listeners that they will be judged according to the standard they use to judge others.  Sobering council, for sure.  However, the advice He gives later in the passage is not to ignore sin, but to "FIRST get the log out of your own eye, and then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."  

We are to search our own hearts first, but we're also expected to help our friends deal with theirs.  I think it's also important to note, for people who love to beat "judgers" over the head with this passage, that I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking so much about individual sins, but about our standing before God.  

At the time, the Jews relied heavily on performance, rituals and their belonging to the Tribes of Israel to make them right with God.  They relied on the law of Moses. The problem is that they missed the point of the law, which was to show them their fallen status before God and help them recognize their need for a Savior.  He was that Savior and was about to institute a new Covenant by which all people, not just Jews, would be judged.  He wanted all people to realize that just as Isaiah said, "all their righteous acts [were] like filthy rags" compared to God's holiness. 

Therefore, if they were judging others according to how well they kept the law--they were in trouble because they themselves would be held to the same standard. I just don't think we can say from this passage that if we call an action sinful that we are judging another in the way Jesus said to avoid.

In fact, later in the New Testament there is ample teaching that in speaking the truth about sin, we are in fact loving others and obeying God by leading them to Him.  For example, in 2 Timothy, Paul instructs: "Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."  

Later in the same letter, he advises Timothy, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing an His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience an careful instruction."   I fear that anyone who follows his charge today would be criticized by many for being judgmental.

We must be gentle.  We must handle the word correctly.  And our motives must be pure--the redemption of others.  We CERTAINLY must first do some log-plucking to get our own spiritual vision clear.  But then we are commanded to speak, while leaving eternal judgement up to the Only One who has the authority to judge.

Think about this:  God will judge men in two ways.  By their own perfection (because perfection is what is required to be in the presence of God), or by Christ's.  Because most people today don't like to think about sin, or call a sin a sin, they consequently assume that they are good enough and God is loving enough that everything will be okay.  Except that it won't.  Not without repentance and submission to Jesus.  But why repent if you don't think your actions are sinful?

Can you see a little why I am feeling so uncomfortable with the whole "let's not be judgmental" movement? I am SO not pushing for legalism.  I am not at all negating the fact that we are also called to show others the grace we have been shown.  I just have some fear and trembling that in an effort to be gracious we are avoiding conversations that will ultimately bring salvation. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Day Twelve: Roller Coaster Ride

This little guy doesn't look so much like this anymore.  I am sure I've mentioned this a time or two before, because I'm the teeniest bit obsessed about it lately, but, God willing, this May he will graduate high school.  For me, this is a big honking deal because I have homeschooled him since kindergarten--since birth, actually, if you want to count learning to talk, eat with utensils, and use a toilet.  (Fun Fact: Every mom is a homeschool mom.)

I homeschooled all three of my kids, but the girls got a few years in the local public school. The daunting tasks of teaching a child to read and cementing the basics of arithmetic were performed by the wonderful professional staff at Geneva Elementary School, God bless them.  With my girls, I just had to build on the excellent foundation they received during their first few years of formal education.

Not so my boy.  If you know me and know him, it's a little insane that I even attempted schooling him, but here we are! For better or worse, we are in the homestretch.  I should tell you, if my son were to give his version of our homeschool journey, he would say that I taught him until the fifth grade and then he pretty much taught himself.   MY version is that until the fifth grade I gave him the tools he needed to self-educate, and then from fifth grade on gave him ever-increasing opportunities to apply those skills.  Those opportunities included on-line courses, group classes through a wonderful umbrella school, and dual enrollment classes at the local community college.  (Just for the record.)

This spring will be my third and final graduation, and then this very significant task will be complete.  I know some women grieve this event, but I will be doing a hallelujah dance.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved homeschooling and the family bonds that have resulted for us.  Especially with my son.  Let's just say that this has been a beautiful but very hard thing for me.

Circle Christian School, the private umbrella school that we have used since he was a third-grader, puts on a beautiful graduation ceremony. In recognition of the vital role of parents, at the graduation ceremony it is the PARENTS who hand the scholar his or her diploma, not school officials.  Dad gives the diploma and mom moves the tassel on the graduation cap.  As each student walks up on stage to meet his parents, the audience has an opportunity to listen to a pre-recorded message from the parents to the graduate.  It's a great tradition.

As we recorded our message for our first graduate four years ago, I said to my husband, "When Reed graduates, I get the WHOLE forty seconds.  I've earned them."  Truth be told, though, I don't think even the whole forty seconds would suffice.  We may need an entire book.

Schooling this human mountain of exuberance, curiosity, and sensitivity has stretched me beyond imagining and revealed character flaws that I might have remained blissfully unaware of.  The two of us are a study in contrasts.  When we did the Cloud/Townsend assessment of personality, my score on the Introvert/Extrovert scale was on the very extreme of the Introvert end.  His score blew right on past the end of the Extrovert portion.  Seriously, they will have to invent a new test to measure his extroversion because this one just didn't go high enough.  I have a high need for quiet, he makes noise even when he is sleeping.  You get the picture.  Not exactly a match made in homeschooling heaven.

We definitely had our days.  One that stands out vividly was a battle we had over math and the fact that I INSISTED on making him re-do problems that he had miscalculated. Emotions ran high enough that I had to give MYSELF a time-out.  My friend Carla dropped by and found me sobbing on my bed promising, "I am so sending him to public school---and I don't care if they make fun of him and tell him he's stupid!"  (That little confession is for all of you out there who think I'm this sweet, saintly woman who reads aloud to children and is a constant ray of sunshine.)

To add to the excitement, when he was in fourth grade, I began teaching homeschool writing classes to help supplement the family income--leaving him with a list of tasks to accomplish in the dining room while I was in class in the living room.  This poor social being dreaded those hours and HATED those tasks.   Even though I am certain he felt that he worked diligently during those times, I was routinely left with evidence of what else had occupied his time.  Once after a long afternoon of solo work, I came to check his progress and found a disturbing amount still unfinished.  He groaned, "Can't I stop?  I've been doing school aaaalllll daaaaayyyy."  It was so pathetic I might have had pity on him, except that there was a pile of a thousand paper cranes on the table and an upside- down bike (wheels still spinning) in the front room.  On days like that I prayed his diversions were evidence that I was raising the next Thomas Edison.

Another day I finished class and went to check on him.  Nowhere to be found.  So I went outside and called for him.

"I'm up here," he answered from high in a tree by our front porch. "I needed fresh air and movement, so I'm doing my school outside."

 Ever the skeptic when it came to him and school, I asked, "Oh, really? What are you working on?"

Please take a moment to fully appreciate his response: "I'm doing my handwriting lesson."  (Because everyone knows that cursive is much easier to do if you are also trying to balance on the limb of a tree!)

And don't forget that proud mama moment when, on a field trip to the local radio station, my impulsive son  ANSWERED THE TELEPHONE HOTLINE when it rang.  They were not amused.

So, you can see, it's been a roller coaster educating this boy/man, but did we did it.  My boy learned how to learn.   I daresay he learned as much from what he explored while he was avoiding schoolwork as he did from the schoolwork.

And I learned a few things, too.

I learned that it's not good to shush an auditory thinker--because he has to HEAR himself say things in order to understand.

I learned that it's much easier to make up a math deficiency than a relationship deficiency.

I learned that some days it's okay to throw the academics out the window and just have a good belly laugh.  (Our go-to on days like that was a wonderful book titled, "Walter, the Farting Dog.")

I learned that even though silence is golden to me, the endless words of my son are far more valuable and will only be ringing through my home for a very short while.

Most of all, I learned to love the roller coaster.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Anything Update. What a Difference a Week Makes.

A week ago I sat teary-eyed on a couch explaining to my bible study group about my invitation to travel to Myanmar (formerly Burma) with two staff members of She is Safe. My tears were the result of an inner turmoil that had been churning for days.

I really want to go, but really couldn't see why I should.  As I hashed out my struggle to decide, one friend finally asked, "So, should we pray that you WILL go, or that you WON'T?"

My response was, "Yes."

The fear factor really wasn't an issue after the initial shock of the invitation.  As I told my friend Katy, I'm pretty much always afraid, so I've learned to mostly charge on in spite of it because I don't want to miss my life.

My reluctance really had more to do with the fact that it is a large chunk of money, and whether it's out of my bank account or the from the generosity of others, it could just go straight to the work of She is Safe and not spent on sending me halfway around the globe.  I wasn't sure (and I'm still not sure) what I have to offer that would justify the expense. In fact, when I first spoke with the adorable woman who will be leading the trip, she encouraged me just to be open to using "whatever special skills I might have" while we are in Myanmar.  I could not think of a single special skill that might be useful.  I'm really nice--which I guess is a skill--?--and I'm great at reading stories aloud to children.  Aaaannnnd that's pretty much it.

As I sit and type this now, one short week later, I'm in a completely different place, feeling that as long as God keeps giving His yes in response to my yes, I'm going to Myanmar. And I'm fairly certain that it is what I'm supposed to do.

So what changed? First, I finished the book Helping Without Hurting, which is required reading for the trip.  (Everyone should read this book, by the way.)   In the book, the authors emphasize that short-term mission trips, to be most effective, need to be in support of long-term, preferably grass-roots efforts run by nationals in the host country.  The author told of the vital importance of visitors engaging and encouraging the field workers they meet, even claiming that such interactions provide far more value to the trip than any physical or material help.  We westerners (like me) want to hit the road and serve, which too often means doing things that local people could do themselves.  We tend to think of going so far just to fellowship as unproductive.   

So false. 

Think about this: in most of the Majority World, Christians are in the minority.  In Myanmar less than five percent of the population is Christian. To be able to meet with believers from across the globe and know that they are not alone, but supported in prayer by brothers and sisters whom they have now met face-to-face and shared meals with---think what an encouragement that is.  Maybe there IS a need for my "talent" for being nice!

The book was instrumental in changing my perspective, but so were people.  My friend Katy and new friend Kristin, who will be my travel partners, have been a huge encouragement just by sharing their experience, wisdom, and confidence.  Even though we can all agree that we have very little idea how I will be of service on this trip, they are certain that I will be a valuable member of the team--and God will show us how.

It has also been an amazing week to sit and see God work.  Before I even got support letters printed and mailed out, I had received over half of the money for the trip in donations from friends excited to be a part.  Given that encouraging sum, the trip leader called me yesterday saying that she felt comfortable going ahead and purchasing my ticket even though I was still a few hundred dollars shy of the full cost.  On faith we went ahead with buying tickets. Within minutes of getting the confirmation e-mail about the ticket, I got a notification that I had received a donation that would more than cover the needed cost of the ticket.

That's enough confirmation for me to keep moving forward!  If God can make all this happen (because it surely wasn't me), then I guess He'll find a way to use me, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Day Ten: Where'd the Money Go?

My father, because he had four children who just insisted on being fed, clothed and educated, began saving for his retirement when he was 50.  I remember this because I have a vivid memory of riding in a truck with him just after his 50th birthday and he told me, "If you start now saving $25 a month into a mutual fund, you will have more money at age 65 than I will have if I save $500 a month starting now."  (Excellent advice, by the way.)

I am now the age my father was when we had that talk.

I should have a rocking' retirement account going now, shouldn't I?  Not so much.  And because I have passed the half-century mark, I've been thinking seriously about retirement money lately.

I took his advice--at age 20 I opened a retirement account and diligently socked away $30 every month.  Then at age 25 I used the money--minus a penalty--to go to graduate school.  (It was okay, I was still young, right?)

The thing is, between the two of us, my husband and I (mostly my husband) have made a decent amount of money together during our working years.   Not riches, but we've worked hard and been paid for it reasonably well.

Lately as we look at the balances in our respective retirement accounts--and how much is NOT in them-- we scratch our heads and think, "Where did all that money go?"  Surely we should have more to show after all this work!

We joke that we are on the Rapture Retirement Plan.  Jesus needs to come back before we're too old to work.

This search for the missing money has gotten me thinking about the fact that where it went says a lot about what we treasure--so I've been looking back to see what the money trail says about what I value.

I can tell you where it didn't go.  Not to fancy cars.  Not into a fancy house.  Not into decor.  (I think after 22 years of marriage we only have three pieces of furniture that we purchased ourselves. The rest is other people's lovely cast offs.)  I don't have a problem with people spending on things like that, but if you come to my house, it will be clear that my treasure is not in home decor.

Some of the places I see the money spent make me happy--like to support two handsome scholars in Haiti and a sweet girl in the Philippines who sends me the loveliest pictures.  Some of it has helped support missionary pilots for the long term, and some has helped young people take shorter mission trips.  A fair amount of it goes to support the work of organizations who work effectively to help alleviate poverty in transformative ways or help fight human trafficking here and abroad.  I'm also a big believer in participating in the ministry of my church with both my time and my money.  I'm good with this money not being in my retirement account.

I'm also fine that we spent some money on family trips and college educations even if it means we have less in our golden years.


There is a dark side that my spending patterns are revealing about my treasures.

My bank lets me get reports in the form of pie-charts about categories of spending, and it's quite an eye opener (okay, not really).

I treasure food.  Not eating out, just eating.  When I saw the piece of pie that represented spending on groceries, I asked the hubs if maybe we could get by on just two meals per day...

I treasure books.  It's embarrassing, really, how much I spend on books when there's a library just seven miles away.   (But then the expense would be library late fees....)  Amazon prime with it's free shipping and the instant gratification of Kindle books has definitely put a hurting on my ability to retire young.

But the biggie, the deep dark underside of me is this: I have wee bit of a problem with shoes.    Not any shoes--I don't even own a pair of pumps. No, the problem is running shoes.  It may be a mental-health issue, but for several years now I have been on a rather quixotic quest to find the perfect running shoe that will protect my knees, cushion my aging hips, and at the same time make me ridiculously fast.  I fear my desperation has made me an easy target for any reasonably talented copy-writer working for a shoe company. (In my defense, I only buy shoes that are on sale.)
Don't believe me?  I submit to you my attempt at running-shoe perfection from just this past year--and it doesn't include a pair that I gave away to a college student.

(I know, right?  The purple ones are my current favs.  I've come this close to buying additional pairs--on sale, of course--in case they decide to discontinue them.)

Seriously, if I am ever going to retire, you need to pray that I will let go of this ridiculous dream and accept the fact that they will not create a shoe that can make me fast.

In the meantime, if you happen to wear a size 7.5 I'm having a sale on slightly-used, almost-perfect running shoes to help fund my IRA.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day Eight: Better Words than Mine

Today instead of offering my own words, I want to make the gift of these words that touched me this morning.  They are the words of the Apostle Paul, written to believers in Colossus.  Think how beautiful our world would be if we all just lived this advice:

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."

Shall we take this challenge, my friends?  I'm in.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day Seven:Do-Over Lessons

Since I was a "late bloomer," getting married at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, and since there was some concern that I might have a difficult time becoming pregnant, our idea of family planning was "we'll take what we can get when we can get it."  Okay, that was Mike's policy.  Since said babies would be issuing forth out of my body, I added a little fine print to the policy: "until I am 35." 

Turns out, I didn't have a difficult time--as in three babies in four years--which was good, given our late start and all.  Still, by my calculations, I changed diapers for seven consecutive years.   In fact, because of their spacing, every phase happened all in one long stretch.  The toddler years,  preschool years, peewee soccer and basketball years, elementary years, middle school years...high school years....ulp.   With two in college already, I am now in my final year of the high school years.

Well, THAT went fast.

I joke often nowadays that once the baby (the six-foot something baby) graduates, we should get a set of "do-over" kids now that we know what we're doing.  (As if we do...)  Actually, unless the "do-over" kids come with a "do-over" energetic body, I think I'll let that dream go.

Still, I'll pass along some of the things I've learned through the phases.  (NOTE: I'm not claiming to be a perfect parent--so not.  Remember, some wisdom comes from failure.)

1. Let them eat dirt.  I know there are awful stories of kids getting sick from eating raw cookie dough, improper hand washing and what not, but generally speaking, they have a tendency to live. I am convinced that my kids are so healthy now because when they were young they ate dirt (or worse, in the case of my taste-testing last born), chewed on the occasional bug, walked around barefoot, and entertained themselves swimming in ponds, digging craters in the back yard, and making potions out of mud. Most of this was without my permission, mind you, but they are living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

2. Consistency in discipline is far more important than what method you choose.  Naturally I am talking about appropriate and loving discipline.  This tip I learned from a wonderful pediatrician in Bellingham, Washington who had a rather large brood of kids with a wide range of personalities.  He told me that more important than whether I opted for time-outs or spankings, what my kids needed most were clear expectations for behavior and consistently applied consequences for misbehavior.  Children need to know the deal and know that you can be trusted to keep your end of the deal--even when it's unpleasant.

3. The goal of child-rearing is not to control their behavior, but to help them develop self-control.  Perfect behavior may feel more peaceful in the short-term, but if their behavior can only be regulated by external forces, we're not really raising adults.  Every human being has free will. Our job is to teach our children that choices have consequences, but the choices are theirs to make.  Help them own their choices by letting them make choices--even the wrong ones.

4.  Child labor is good for the child.  Give them chores.  Age-appropriate chores build self-confidence and autonomy.  At the same time, taking part in the chores of the home gives kids a chance to be part of a bigger team.  Along the same lines, (and this one was a tough one for me) don't do for a child (or teenager) what he can do for himself--even if you can do it better and faster.

5. Let them get bored!  Do I really need to explain this?  My sweet momma actually strategically applied #4 and #5 together: If we told her we were bored, she had a long list of chores for us to relieve our boredom!  Some of my kids' sweetest memories and most creative moments came from the need to find a way to cure boredom. (So did some of our biggest messes, so be warned...)

6. Praise character over performance, or intelligence, or beauty.  Hard work and perseverance are praiseworthy, regardless of results.  Kind actions are praise worthy.  Honesty is praiseworthy.  In contrast, intelligence and beauty are simply a matter of genetics and God's design--they are no more praiseworthy than freckles, height or hair color.   Although this applies to both genders it is CRITICAL for girls.  They need to internalize at a young age that their value lies much deeper than the outer shell.

7. Let them take risks and give them permission to fail.  You can't have great success without risk, and risk brings with it the possibility of failure.  Encourage them to count the cost, take risks, and recover from failure.  Share stories of your own failures and what they taught you.

8.  Model humility by admitting when you are wrong.  Ask for forgiveness. Kids don't need perfect parents (which is good, because there aren't any); they need authentic and humble parents.

9. Let them see you and HELP you serve others.  It's great for kids to experience their parents serving them, but they also need to see their parents serve someone besides them.  The most unhappy people I've met in my life are people who live only for their own happiness.  Help your kids experience the satisfaction of looking beyond themselves and working for the happiness of another.

10.  Always remember that your life speaks much more loudly than your words.  Live the truth you want them to understand.  If you want them to value honesty, be honest. If you want them to be kind, be kind yourself. If you want them to love Jesus, delight in Him. 

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 where 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 who works for an international Christian organization to visit Southeast Asia.

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


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"--the goal is to get one year's worth of posts (365).  Even if it takes me five years. 

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.


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