Monthly Archives: April 2012

Keller – Friendship

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Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller (Dutton, 2011)

“However, there is a third quality to friendship, and it is not as easy to put into a single word.  The right word, literally, is ‘sympathy’ – symp-pathos, common passion.  This means that friendships are discovered more than they are created at will.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and C.S. Lewis each wrote well-known essays about how a common vision can unite people of very different temperaments.  Lewis insisted that the essence of friendship is the exclamation ‘You, too?’ While erotic love can be depicted as two people looking at one another, friendship can be depicted as two people standing side by side looking at the same object and being stirred and entranced by it together…The paradox is that friendship cannot be merely about itself.  It must be about something else, something that both friends are committed to and passionate about besides one another.” (p. 113)

“Have you ever traveled to a mountainous part of the world when it was cloudy and rainy?  You look out your windows and you can see almost nothing but the ground.  Then the rain stops and the clouds part and you catch your breath because there, towering right over you, is this magnificent peak.  But a couple of hours later the clouds roll in and it has vanished, and you don’t see it again for a good while  That is what it is like to get to know a Christian. You have an old self and a new self (Ephesians 4:24).  The old self is crippled with anxieties, the need to prove yourself, bad habits you can’t break, and many besetting sins and entrenched character flaws.  The new self is always a work in progress, and sometimes the clouds of the old self make it almost completely invisible.  But sometimes the clouds really part, and you see the wisdom, courage, and love of which you are capable.  It is a glimpse of where you are going.” (p. 121)

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Our foggy view this morning

This weekend we spent time in the North Georgia mountains. The above photo was our foggy view this morning.  While there, I read the chapter “The Mission of Marriage” in Timothy and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, and discovered the above quotes.  Also while we were there, my mother-in-law visited with me and Doug about what exactly we were moving to Clarkston to do.  “What will your ministry be?” was her question.

As much as these two quotes have to do with marriage, they also express so beautifully one of the hopes for ministry that we wish to see fulfilled in Clarkston.  You see, so many people think of the world in terms of “us” and “them.”  “If my spoiled rotted child (“us”) could just see the poverty and hardship that poor teenager endures (“them”), my child would suddenly become grateful.” (cry of the suburban American parent)  Maybe.  Probably not for very long, though, unless they encounter something so precious and so valuable…friendship…with that other person.  With “them.”  So that, the “us” and the “them” gets so blurred that WE become friends.  We find common ground.  We see the clouds part in each other’s lives, and we rejoice at what could be…what will be.  Then, as we stand shoulder to shoulder, we are both grateful for the grace of friendship and the peculiar way that God uses friends to show us more of Himself and to make us more gracious, grateful folks.

Our desire through moving to Clarkston is to call families into friendship with refugee families.  To erase the “us” and “them” lines so that common passions are discovered – so that the glory that is mostly obscure in a fellow sojourner becomes obvious just once in a while, and both parties cry “Wow!  God is Good!”

This afternoon, I got an email from the very first family that has taken a dip into the waters of refugee relationship alongside of us.  The email was sweet and tender and so dripping with relationship and shared  passions of life.  It also broke my heart.  The young mom in this new-to-America family tells her new friend from suburban north Atlanta that she is eating and sleeping a lot, because that is all she knows to do. She is finding herself lonely and even depressed in her new home. Friendship is a priceless, free, gift that erases loneliness and opens doors to views of God that are impossible when standing alone.  I am so grateful that this new family has a friendship partner.  I pray their friendship grows and community ensues, the gospel is lived and shared, and common rejoicing takes place.  More than that, though, I pray that in five years, every family that is resettled to Clarkston will have a friendship partner to stand with them, to break down “us” and “them” barriers, and to gaze passionately at future glory made possible through Jesus Christ.

The picture below was our view before we left today, from the same vantage point.  What a difference the parting of the clouds can make!

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Our viewpoint after the sun broke through this morning

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Belief at the Circus

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Last night I went to bed ticked off (and if I wanted to risk spoiling my Baptist, patent-leather image, I’d say pissed, but I won’t).  I threw things (a pillow, but still.)  I stomped on our house plans (mature).  I cussed. And, I even asked my husband to “pray with me” knowing that I could say things to God about life and about said husband that might provoke an argument if they’d just been said straight up.  Sort of like letting your husband listen to you rant to your best friend, but knowing he has too much propriety to stop you mid-rant and set you straight.  That, too, was super-mature.

There was the normal stuff – you know.  The washing machine broke.  “Hey, honey!  What’s that sound?  Sounds like a the shower is on in the laundry room.”  The kids need money.  Like $339 for Cross Country Camp.  $25 for the team Lacrosse gift.  Water shoes for the Scouts outing this weekend.  Even the dog – $48 for a grooming. (My hair should be so lucky.)

There was the deep stuff.  Living in the reality that many friends and people close to me are either pregnant or having children. I am (truly) happy for them.  But, that baby thing is the biggest button on the tenderest hot spot in my marriage.  Us – no babies.  Lots of reasons, but it’s a hot one.  I’m picturing Christmas-future.  My stepchildren off with their mother (because two kids make a family, right?)  My son off with his half siblings (sharing DNA creates a sure bet for family Yuletide commitments.)  Me and Doug with our stockings and coffee.  Silent night – great.  Silent Christmas morning – enough to make me want to adopt three babies right now.  (I do realize that this is selfish projecting I’m doing here, but I am setting the stage, so allow the indulgence, please.)

There was the Clarkston related stuff, too.  I’m up to here (picture top of red head) with open scenarios that have a lot of moving parts and no clear resolution.  The UNKNOWN.  Makes me feel deep empathy for those poor, brave covered wagon women who had the one pot clanging from the rope at the ceiling as they anticipated…well…just anticipated.  Sometimes it is hard to fill in the blanks, and the vast unknown creates a hole that feels filled with fear.  Worse when the fear is punctuated by the incessant clanging of the ordinary.

We got our house plans yesterday, for the umpteenth time.  I’ve been mentally working since late September on variations of living scenarios.  For about three months, this process was fun.  I became an avid Pinterest pinner of beautiful rooms.  I became a novice architect.  I forwarded house plans to friends and family with abandon.  “Do you like this kitchen?”  “Do the boys need separate vanity areas?” Now, though, the process of landing on a “just enough, but not too much” plan feels symbolic of the BIG lesson that I’m apparently not done learning.  It’s the lesson of the circus.

This morning, my longsuffering husband gave me a hug rather than a smack, and I answered him with a torrent of words.  (Best C.S. Lewis marriage quote is from Screwtape, “Make full use of the fact that up to a certain point, fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”)  The man was fatigued.  I was, too, and so the words flowed.  He answered my torrent with a fantastic analogy.  He said he feels like we’re moving out toward a calling from God, but that we’re pulling a full compliment of Ringling Bros. behind us.  So many heavy train cars.  Big elephants.  Tall giraffes.  Hyper monkeys (picture my dancing $48 priss-pot Havanese designer-dog).  A heavy, fat tent. We’re in the circus and travelling heavy.  Doug said he wished, “that we could be nimble – able to let that line of train cars go and pump off into the sunset on a diverging track on one of those hand operated track thingies.” (see photo, I don’t know the name.)

This was my husband's idea of freedom this morning!

True.  The house question is simply symbolic of the deeper questions…needs vs. wants…faith vs. action…simplicity vs. abundance…kids needs vs. kids wants…margin vs. passionate activity.  How many train cars do we have?  Oh, so many.

But, this morning, the message for me in my quiet time with God (who was, miraculously, still graciously listening after I pulled that marriage-related passive aggressive prayer stunt last night) had to do with a verse in Psalm 65.  “Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple.” (v. 4)  It was a bit of, “Hey, Karen – my house, MY house.  That’s where you live – all the time – no matter what’s going on with YOUR house.  That’s the place to be.  Dwell, dear daughter.  Be satisfied.  It is good to dwell with Me.”

This morning, Doug and I both needed to be reminded that God’s not really relying on us for anything.  The vision He gave us of being ambassadors for the cause of loving the stranger is His vision.  It’s His purpose (from, like, Pentatuch time) and He will accomplish it.  The journey of shedding the cars and following more nimbly is the journey He wants to work in us.  Perhaps we’ll open our embassy-home (house plan number 234) to fellow sojourners and tell them how HARD it was and how FAITHFUL He was.  It’s really hard for a “rich” man to enter the Kingdom.  All those train cars distract and pull and even stink.  Jesus’ eye of the needle comment to His disciples after that sorrowful young man walked away was compassionate and full of truth.

As I’ve prayed gospel prayers over the last several weeks, He keeps showing me that the essence of followership is trust.  Everyone in the gospels who was touched with miracles, provision, insight, truth, and passion for Christ TRUSTED Him.  They believed Him.  My mini-fit over the panic of not knowing and losing control of my tidy little (big) life (string of train cars) needs to be answered with the soothing sounds of His grace.  Trust me.  Dwell here.  My house is your house.  I will cause you to approach, dwell, trust, and be satisfied. I’m in charge – even of the disposition of the circus.

Believe, daughter.  Simply believe.

Grace Spaces, cont.

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I’ve been thinking about the small grace space a lot in the last 36 hours.  I’ve been picturing it in my mind, and it’s not too encouraging.  Trying to figure out how to pry open the door for good – maybe throw open a few windows and then take one of those old fashioned basketball pumps to the innards to try to blow it up bigger…bigger…bigger until it at least is obvious.  Not a lot of hope, there.

Doug and I took a walk last night.  I was talking to him about my view of work.  I’ve worked my whole adult life, with the exception of a few pregnant months and their aftermath back in 2000 and 2001.  However, I’ve been a “stay at home mom” in my heart that whole time.  Oops.  Finding out that I am really not a “stay at home mom” (16 years into a working adulthood) has created some soul tremor in me lately.  It was the dream I held on to – but it’s really only a dream.  Accepting what is and embracing what could be is the order of the day – this day, anyhow.

So, we’re walking last night and talking about small grace spaces and about how to find meaning and purpose in work.  I think my dear husband summed it up for me pretty well.  He helped define the two buckets that I’m struggling with in work right now.  Bucket #1 is just the tedium of a job that sometimes devolves into meticulous, lonely places which fall harshly on a creative, interactive soul.  This struggle asks me to actively wait on God to show me how to use who He’s made me to be in the arena that is most suited to His glory and my growth.  He will do that.  That’s a hopeful path, because it invites me on a journey, even a challenging or obscure one.

But, Bucket #2 is the kicker.  Doug says that Bucket #2 is my belief that I am not in God’s Plan A.  My belief that I am living in His Plan B for my life and that I’ve disappointed Him or let Him down.  My belief that I’ll never be living His best for me – that He’s so disgusted with me to date that He’s relegated me to the bench.  I can digress into reasons that I believe this way (divorce, failing to choose a “career path,” parental influence that happened before I could spell “bucket”, and all the rest…I can probably even find a way to blame my red hair for some of it.)  The roots of my belief are not important (here, anyway).  The fruit is infinitely important.  If I believe that God is disappointed in me, or if I think that I’ve blown my shot at impressing Him enough with my awesome choices and wisdom to earn a place in Plan A, then I will never, ever, ever have a bigger grace space.  Believing that I’m in His Plan B consigns me to a life living in an earned-love-cavern that echoes with More, Better, Harder, MORE.  The grace space will always be small; the cavern will be relentlessly demanding and so loud.

Back to that original question of the Gospel.  How does the Gospel fit here?  How does it enlarge the grace space so that it is THE place.  How does it blow grace  into every corner of that earned-love-cavern?

My, but the answer is so painfully obvious.  So hard to access for those of us who live in the caverns and can’t hear ourselves think for the echoes (or the Holy Spirit whisper, for that matter!)

What if…what if I just opened the door to the cavern to Jesus?  What if I stopped thinking I had to work hard to grow grace and simply asked Jesus to do all the earning, all the more, all the better, all the harder, all the MORE?  What if I let Him earn it all.  What if I believed that He really did accomplish on the cross the final earning?  What if it is TRUE that His love is enough?  What if it is TRUE that His love will whoosh out of that tiny grace space and fill up the cavern so that the echoes are silenced and His whisper of love is magnified?  What if I don’t have to work harder to expand the grace space, but rather let HIM move into the cavern and fill it up with His love.  No earning required.

I do believe that would take care of the Plan A / Plan B problem.  I think I’d know He was delighted.  I think I’d be able to rest where I am and trust His best.  I think the Gospel of grace would be taking root.  What if the grace space is really a mustard seed in disguise?  The Gospel says that he planted that tiny grace space in me and will release His love into the far reaches of my older-brother, tired, worn out working woman soul when I accept the fact that He’s the earner, not me.

That sounds like a miracle.  I think it is.

The Gospel

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As much as this blog is about our move and loving the stranger and how that will all take shape, it’s about something else, on a deeper level.

About two years ago or so, I began to pray a prayer that God would teach me the Gospel and make me passionate about it.

I was raised in a Christian home, went to private Christian school, was baptized at age 12 at the MacDaddy Baptist Church in the biggest bible belt city by the very senior pastor, and grew up with a father who was in ministry.  So – there was a lot of Jesus in my home and in my life.  For this, I am eternally grateful.  Also, for this, I am terribly blinded.  You see, I am an older brother. The worst kind, really…over educated, over memorized, over sheltered, and over wrought.

My heart is so hungry for the true Gospel.  The real Jesus.  It occurred to me only this morning that I have a vast place in my heart that knows how to receive love from people IF I EARN IT (and when that happens, I can gratefully and selfishly revel in the feelings of “payment for services rendered.”)  But, the place in my heart that knows how to receive lavish love that’s just given (even…God forbid…before I earn it) is minuscule and locked up.  It’s not that I don’t desperately want to understand grace or receive it as such, it’s just that the door to that part of my heart is perpetually rusty and squeaky and intractably difficult to open.  Older brothers have small grace spaces.

Doug, my husband, says that my divorce is God’s greatest gift to me.  Without that huge loss and failure, the grace space might be closed off altogether in this little put together life I lead.  He’s right, of course.

I’d love to share along the way about how God opens up the grace space in me and allows me to see the Gospel as Jesus brought it.

Not the memorize five verses and earn a badge kind.

Not the wear a promise ring and sign a pledge kind.

Not the hang out with the Christians because the world is scary kind.

I heard Dr. Ken Boa speak last week.  He talked about how Satan has never created anything new – all the evil in the world is the distortion of something good and true.  Everything.  Sometimes it feels like my whole understanding of Jesus and His Gospel has been an inverted or twisted kind of experience.  Truth, but distorted so that it makes grace seem like an earning, too.  Reality, but rotated so that it causes self-focus rather than God-worship.

God has begun to do some foundational work in my heart about His Gospel.  I have so far to go.  Perhaps you’ll want to journey with me in the prayer for true Gospel. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Kids

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River to the side of the path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So today we took our kids to the river park to spend some time talking about their fears and their needs in our move.  Doug and I have been praying all week about when to move and how to move.  We know we are moving – and that the Lord has opened doors and directed us TO move, but we’re praying on the how.

My neighbor and friend reminded me that we need to seek God on the how, not just the what, when I talked to her on Monday.  That advice has been with me all week.

A colleague at work reminded me about Moses and God and their conversation (can you really imagine?).  God asked Moses “what do you hold in your hand?”  And then He asked him to use that common instrument to accomplish leading a massive people out of a strong and vast land.  The “how” was important, but the “how” was also right there – very simple – and already in Moses’ hand.

So, along the “how” lines, we talked to our kids about the specifics that give them pause or make them nervous in the quiet hours.

Wow –

The one who rarely seems to be looking past his oh so creative nose fessed up that he was fearful of what our new friends would think if we pop in there and build a house on a lot in a subdivision that we purchased (long story for another time), but it was honestly humbling to realize that he was thinking so far outside of himself that he never said “me” the whole time.

The one who struggles to voice fears because she is so strong and brave all the time came clean in just that sort of a way…pure, clean, vulnerable.  Her tears come briefly and far between, but they appeared on the horizon today, and she was brave.

And, the one who can make any 30 minute endeavor into a ten second flash actually pondered…thoughtfully…and had a whole lot to say.

Humbled.  Doug and I have been praying all week – for them, for us, for direction, for wisdom, for protection, for grace.

God did exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all that we could ask, think, or imagine today.

Thank you, Lord, for kids.  They humble me, even in their proudest moments.

Stranger things…

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I’m realizing that life keeps taking strange turns, and the strange hides the most beautiful. This blog is about the twists and turns that have taken me to a geographical place to love the stranger. Our family of five is on a path to move to Clarkston, GA – a community heavily populated with refugees. We love them – these strangers – and we know God loves them, too. We’re excited.

But, this blog is also about other strange things, things that don’t always fit “just right.”  Things like living a blended family life, which makes for an odd relational jumble. And, it’s about being being an over scheduled suburban mom for whom the proverbial mid life crisis feels just around the bend, most of the time.  Also, it’s written from the heart of someone who longs to be passionate about the gospel in a more meaningful way, a real way…despite Southern, straight laced, well mannered, baptistmethodistpresbyteriananglican influences along the way.

For a long time, I’ve wanted a place to record and process and just LAUGH, cry, throw my hands up, and worship in the journey. Since writers write, I am giving in and setting up my “free” (or $25) blog. Hope it will be worth what I paid for it…even if it’s just a landing spot for my own musings about our strange times in a strange land.

Here you’ll find a few categories of verbal processing.

Clarkston:  Our family’s venue for loving the stranger.  The move there is pending.

Steps and Exes: A place to process the learning that goes on inside of a blended family.

Books:  The place of escape.  A few noteworthy or encouraging tidbits from books in the queue.

Stranger Things:  A catch all.  Sometimes the strange and the beautiful are quite indistinguishable.

So, thanks for coming.  I hope you’ll leave encouraged or just chuckling in recognition of your own plight or foibles.

This is me – about aged 10 – with book, glasses, cheerleading outfit, and several siblings who I was trying to ignore just outside the edge of the photo. The beginning of the introspective life!

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13 (NASB)

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9 (NASB)

“The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.”  – GK Chesterton