12.09.2015

God is the Best Type of Ridiculous



My jaw fell to the ground beneath the jungle gym. I studied my friend’s eyes to make sure she wasn’t messing with me. How could that be the way that babies are made?

I wonder if my playground face was similar to the face Mary makes when the Angel Gabriel shows up and tells her she's going to have a baby. I've been thinking about this during Advent as I decorate and get ready for Christmas.  This angel shows up in Nazareth to her, a virgin, and says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

My Bible translation says she looks “understandably perplexed.” Who is this angel? What is he talking about? Is he messing with her? The angel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Mary doesn’t skip a beat, “But how can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel responds simply, quietly, patiently with God’s best mic drop (microphone) answer, “Because the Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

God is the best type of ridiculous.

The first shall be last. . . A virgin will have a baby. . . who will save all people. . . Oh, and her friend, who is way past child-bearing age will have a child too. Our God isn’t just a God of forgiveness and grace (and don’t get me wrong, this Lutheran gal loves grace), but also a God of the impossible.

And what’s more, God’s people are called to be a people of the impossible. Mary looks at this crazy-talking angel and responds simply, quietly, patiently with her own best mic drop answer, “Here am I, the servant of the lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The angel leaves. He’s got nothing more to say.

And maybe neither do we. A jaw dropped to the floor seems a pretty appropriate response when we realize that God is using us—yes, messed-up us—to do God’s good work with and for the human race.

Mary expects and trusts in the impossible from God and boldly from herself. What would it look like for us to do the same?


26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” - Luke 1:26-33





11.02.2015

When You Don't Feel Forgiving



"Don't let the age of this book fool you," the wise woman said.  "Check out page 39."  

I curled my fingers around the tattered copy of Catherine Marshall's, Something More, completely unimpressed.  But I hate awkward moments, so I pretended not to notice the yellow, out-dated pages and took it.  If nothing else, I could relate to it's worn-out cover and tattered pages.  "Thanks," I said, and tucked it in my purse, planning to just keep it long enough so she would forget she'd given to me.

The past month had been rough, leaving me feeling more like a beat up, old book, than the mom I wanted to be.  As I looked at my actions, I wasn't impressed: 
  • Impatience with the kids 
  • Annoyance with every little snag in my day
  • Focused on the negative, unable see the positive 

The wise women (a.k.a. my mom) saw through my actions and realized I was suffering from a case of needing to forgive.  While I didn't realize I needed to forgive, and didn't feel like forgiving, I turned to page 39 in Marshall's book and read:  

"(To forgive) can be a simple prayer like, "Lord I release_____ from my judgment."

It seemed too easy, but I did know that forgiveness was my only way out of the emotional-stew of bad behavior.  The trouble was that I didn't have the energy to feel it, to bring the required oomph this kind of forgiveness would require. 

So, with just a sliver of hope, I took a breath and read the prayer filling in the blank.

And then felt nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  No watershed moment.  No holy-healing, hands-in-the-air hallelujah.  Just me, still sitting there awkwardly in the car, still just as worn out as the book in my hand.  Unsure of what to do next, and sure that I'd been at this stop sign for far too long--even in a small town--I turned the next yellowed page.  Three words stopped me short, "a non-emotional release."

Non-emotional.  That was exactly how I felt.  I didn't feel forgiving, and it would take days for me to notice the change, but in meekly forcing that thought through my head, in just saying the words, something had shifted.  I was no longer in charge of this person's accountability.  I felt light, like my muscles could move, finally out from under the boat-load of resentment I'd been heaping on week after week.  

I am ridiculously capable of building my own prison.  God's gift of forgiveness is like a key.  He keeps the original, but has gone to the hardware store to make us a duplicate, ensuring we're never left out in the cold.  He first forgives us, then gives us the grace to forgive even when we don't feel forgiving, His spirit loosening hinges we didn't realize were rusted tight.  

And it doesn't make sense.  God's peace beyond understanding, for the millionth time, restores my soul, and I'm left with gratitude, like a fresh new book, pages crisp, ready to be turned once again for the first time.


Psalm 23:1-3 He restores my soul

God, my shepherd!  
   I don’t need a thing. 
You have bedded me down in lush meadows, 
   you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, 
   you let me catch my breath 
and send me in the right direction.

9.16.2015

With Us and For Us



John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden. You might have heard of this book in English class, or (perhaps more likely) from Oprah's book club.  The story  focuses on Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain killing Abel.  The novel hinges on one key word in the story: Timshel. 

This interesting Hebrew word translates as "thou mayest."  

Mumford and Sons have a song with this word as the title.  The song, much like Steinbeck's book asks the question, "Why does God let us choose when we have the capacity to choose so wrong?"  

​Why does God trust us that much?

Even when our choices or the choices of others leave us imprisoned by hurt or death or illness or addiction, at the very bottom we find the purest and most loving of gifts from a Giver who's not afraid to go to the bottom with us and for us.  

Grace gives us choice, loves our will, empowers us to ask for forgiveness and when we find ourselves asking, "Why?" Grace says to us, I love you. . . thou mayest.

***

Great Giver, 
Thank you for choices in life and for support You provide for us when we feel our choices are stifled.  May we show and be grace for others today.  Amen.


9.09.2015

Quit Asking What You Want From Life

I'm anxious about the Husker season, and not because of the hail Mary loss last week to BYU.  I'm nervous for potlucks that will bring THE question, "So, how's the new job?"

(I recently quit my cool college teaching job to take a cool youth ministry job. . . which didn't work out. . . and I got a cool opportunity to teach eighth grade English. . . an hour away from home.  The end.  Er. . . the beginning.  So my real answer to this question is a bit of a game day casserole.)

I am loving the kids.  I am hating my closet as I stand there in the morning unsure of what to wear.  There may have been some ugly crying.  I feel like the closet thing isn't really about my clothes.  So, how about them Huskers? 

It's good. (Smile.)

In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks notes that character is built through drama and the everyday.  But don't I have enough character?  Can't we be done with this stretching?  My elastic is sorta starting to crunch.  

Angsty teenage responses aside, Brooks does help me process.  Instead of the typical, "What do I want from life?" he directs us to ask a different set of questions:
What does life want from me?  What are my circumstances calling me to do?  In this scheme of things we don't create our lives; we are summoned by life.  The important answers are not found inside.  They are found outside. . . Your job is to figure certain things out:  What does this environment need in order to be made whole.  What is it that needs repair?  What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed?  Or, as novelist Frederick Buechner puts it, "At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world's deep need?
I've seen this Buechner quote before, but I always focused more on the "my own deep gladness" part and less on the world's deep need.  

In all this change I am reminded that the Christian walk is more descent than ascent.  My bubble is intact, albeit a little deflated, but God's power is made perfect in weakness.  

And yesterday I was feeling pretty weak. 

Today is better. 

Gratitude grounds us when the familiar gets shaky and new: 

  • I'm thankful for work that challenges me.
  • I'm thankful that my littles (C & O) are so well cared for by Grandma.
  • I'm thankful for my students, the quiet ones and the crazy ones and the ones who fart loudly in the middle of reading Poe's Tell Tale Heart.
  • I'm thankful Brene Brown audiobooks that speed the commute.
  • I'm thankful for the grace to write about the twists in the past few months.
  • I'm thankful for my prayerful, supportive family.
  • I'm thankful even for the tears that are washing something away, making space for something new.
***

"You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.  What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope." - Thomas Merton

7.21.2015

goodness installed from the get-go


The smack of the glass cracking woke me from the frenzy. My little six-year-old arm was still up in the air, fresh from flinging my 1980's hair elastic (the kind with the two plastic balls) at my mom's head.

Luckily, I had missed her.

Not so luckily, I had hit the etched glass window in our front door. A long winding crack ran up the right side, evidence of my fit. I don't remember why I was mad, but I do remember how quietly my mom sat me down on the couch.  Couldn't she just yell?

My parents replaced the beautiful etched-glass window with a plain one.  Every time I looked at it, I was struck at its functionality, but also knew that I had destroyed something beautiful.  That's how I see sin working on the human side of things.  God forgives us, but sometimes we have to clean up the mess we've made.  Sometimes we have to pay a penalty, rebuild a trust, put in a new window.  And sometimes, things and relationships are broken irreparably.

Our relationship with God doesn't work that way.

As far as the east is from the west is how far God has removed our sins from us (Psalm 103:12).  So no matter how guilty we may feel, no matter how beautiful the thing we've destroyed, God sees goodness shining through us, goodness installed from the get-go, goodness to be shared through our relationships with each other and our relationship with God.

***

What are 10 things you're grateful for today?  Stop for a sec and make a list.


5.27.2015

Faithful and Flexible


“When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes—the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father—he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.” (John 15:26-27, MSG)
---
"What is​ this mama?" my three-year-old said grabbing the rock from my car console.

"Oh, that's my prayer rock, honey.  Do you want to hold it?" I said.

"Yes!" she said grabbing it with her tiny hand.

She quickly tucked the rock into both paws like a squirrel who just found a precious nut.  With her eyes closed and body tight, she prayed aloud, "Dear God, please help my toys come alive!"

I smiled at the genuineness of her prayer, and at the helpfulness of that silly rock.  I say silly because it's just a rock, but a very helpful one.  Awhile back I wrote the word "faithful" on a rock, and made a promise to be more consistent in prayer.  After a week of trying really hard, failing, and realizing that I had two small children and life was happening, I flipped the rock over and wrote another word: flexible.

Even though I wrote that word for practical reasons, more and more I'm starting to believe that flexibility and faithfulness are important for the holy spirit to work in our lives.  If my schedule is so rigid, my day-to-day so planned out, where is there space for me to respond to the spirit's nudging, when the time comes for us to--as the verse says today--give our confirming evidence to our faith?  

This Lutheran girl gets a little shy around words like testify and witness, but when I googled "How to be a good witness," I found this helpful list for preparing to be called to the stand in a courtroom.  Some parts of it have helped me to think about sharing my evidence when called to testify in real life.

DO'S and DON'TS - Being a Witness (shortened from litigation.findlaw.com) 

DO take a subpoena seriously.
DO be honest and forthcoming with your testimony.  That doesn't mean spill your guts out, but answer questions fairly and with intellectual honesty.
DO dress as well as you comfortably can.
DO follow your attorney's advice.
DON'T ever guess.  You are in a deposition or on the stand to give facts, not to try and figure out what might have happened.  Even if makes you feel stupid to say it, sometimes "I don't know" is the best answer.
DON'T help.  It is human nature to want to explain things so that your listener understands.  Resist the impulse.  It's is your opponent's job to get the answers.  IT is your job to answer only the questions asked, and not help.
DON'T try to be funny, unless you are actually Dave Barry.
DON'T get distracted.
DON'T answer a question you don't understand.  
DON'T take any drugs or alcohol before you testify.

1.  What is your evidence?  Why do you believe?
2.  What is one way you can be a good witness this week not just with your words but with  your actions?

4.24.2015

Just do the thing

 

 "The doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing." - Amy Pohler

Amy Pohler doens't claim to be a Christian author, but I find myself wanting to hold up my hand and say, "Amen, sister."  Like her, I've been guilty of over-analyzing and over-thinking well. . . most things.  I don't seem to notice that when I over-plan and over-reflect on everything, I squeeze life juice right out, until my days look like some gray, dried up sponge.

At some point I've got to stop talking about and thinking about and analyzing it all, and lace up my Nikes (or whatever sensible shoes I'm wearing) and just do it.

How often are we guilty of talk, talk, talk without much do, do, do.  I am not suggesting works righteousness where we earn our way to heaven or climb the ladder to being good enough for God.  But what would it look like to live a life of action motivated by Christ, by thankfulness for the gift of faith?

What would it look like to finally just do the thing?

You know that thing I'm talking about.  The one thing that is just sitting there patiently waiting for you to do it.  Maybe it's an e-mail to say I'm sorry, or a conversation where you really ask forgiveness, just showing up, or maybe it's stopping to move a bit slower and respond to that need that is right in front of our eyes if we would have the courage to admit that we see it.  The admitting is hard because once we do, we have to act.

Law and Gospel.  Words and Actions.  What matters most?  Don't get me wrong, I love words.  I'm a word girl, but sometimes words and thoughts are what we're doing instead of doing the thing that God is calling us to do.  

God is like the best parent, attending to our every need and aiming to draw out and illumine what is best in us.  I don't think God wants to break our will, but to help us learn to wield it.  It is with the gift of courage that we can each take the next tiny step.  It makes me smile remembering how fun it is to not know the ending of the best stories. 

Moving from talking to doing often requires an act of faith.  We can't have faith if we have it all figured out. The good news is that no matter what way we turn or where we go, or the bad decisions we make, God promises to be with us.  You can be sure that no matter where you fall, you will also land in the outstretched arms of Jesus.



2.18.2015

Spring is in the Air



I know this doesn't sound very gratitude-y, but I would like to formally start a petition to skip the months of January and February next year.  Feel free to sign your name below.  Nebraska.  Dreary.  Cold.  Gray.  Bleh.  These last few months have been tough as it was dreary out and I felt dreary in.

But then the snow starts melting.

The birds start chirping.

Time change is one way the holy spirit works a change in me, and thank goodness because I was starting to feel like winter might never end.

And just like that, gratitude isn't something I'm striving for, something I should be doing, but something I'm living, breathing slower as the sun warms up more than my face.

If you're not feeling that this week, I dare you to take your eyes off this phone or your screen for a minute and just look out the window and notice.

This time of year, when the tulips are just pushing through, I always think of one of my favorite poems by E.E. Cummings.  You can read all of "In Just-" by clicking here.


After spring comes my favorite, SUMMER!  Start unpacking those flip-flops and check out these two workshops I'm doing in June!  So excited.

   



2.11.2015

Live Your Thanks Today

Photography by Curt Brinkmann
My own face squished up wet, next to her little tear-soaked cheek.  I hugged her and told her we would get brave together.

My daughter woke up in the middle of the night, scared of the "monster on her wall."   

We tip-toed up and touched the shadow together.  It wasn't until we got right up next to the source of her fear that she realized it wasn't real.  We laughed at the fear, and that helped too.

Whether you're three or 103, there's one way to see if your fear is real.

Get up close and personal with it.

Yeah, actually move toward it (insert awkward laugh here).  The anxiousness fades when we realize we don't need to get brave alone.  Get a buddy to be brave with you, laugh at the fear and take one itty bitty bolstered-step toward that thing that you're sure is holding you back.  Yes, some things we go through really are scary, but sometimes it's not all that scary after all.  And yes, sometimes when I act courageously it doesn't work out, but sometimes it works out in ways I couldn't have imagined.

I'm starting to see that my fear pops up most aggressively when I'm going to something that matters.  What if instead of using the fear as an indicator to run, I used it as an barometer, telling me to keep moving, keep trying to help?

We'll never know if the fear is real unless we take the courage God's giving us and act!  Take that little step and live your thanks today.

****

I recently got an idea that seemed scary.  I wanted to share my friend Curt Brinkmann's photos here.  Because I was scared, I asked.  I am glad I did.  The little guy pictured above has a "God-given quality that makes everyone around him feel better."  Curt and his photography also have that quality.  Check out his new, beautiful website at http://www.lifesastoryphotography.com.



1.15.2015

Get a gratitude helmet

This has been a week of screw-ups for me, my imperfection showing off. . . fantastic.  All of it leaves me feeling complain-y and Eeyore-y  But, when we're not feeling thankful, the gratitude of others has a way of rubbing off, contagious.  Grab a helmet--because they're gonna blow your mind--and invest time in one or both of these videos.  The return on this investment = gratitude, pure gift.

1.  Everything Is a Present  - Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer practices the piano for three hours each day.  She has a story that puts everything in perspective.  Stick with it to the end where she teaches gratitude--with beautiful giggles throughout.

2.  Michael Keaton's Golden Globe acceptance speech (Start at around 2:13 on the clip) - We've all seen people get up to say thanks for an award--the thing that this blog is all about--but Miachel isn't just thankful, he's filled with gratitude.  I love how he gives thanks for the real award/reward in his life and the thickness of the audience's silence in this thin space/holy moment as his cup overflows.

  • Dare Choice 1: Write down three things that have deep meaning in your life.  When something goes wrong today (as it probably will), shift your thoughts back to your list.
  • Dare Choice 2:  Write up or reflect on your own life story like Michael does, "My name is ___ the son/daughter of ___ etc."  Let it inspire you to write a note of thanks.