Monthly Archives: May 2012

Yeast and Salt

Standard

The end of the school year and the start of summer always expose the hard mommy-places for me.  Our blended family forces become stronger as we work out custody arrangements and ask the perennial questions like, “who will pay for that?” or, “whose time will that camp fall on?”  And, my work / home balance becomes more acute, as finding childcare in the summer is expensive and a balancing act.

As a woman and a mom, I know I hold to certain ideals fairly strongly.  Seasonally, I think summer is one of those mommy-times that begs me to reach for the attainment of the ideal.  Lazy pool days, burgers on the grill, trips to the library, a week at the beach, and bored children playing card games in the rain.  These things capture what I think summer ought to look like.  Bummer, though, that I feel like I have to steal those moments from my own life.  This year, our summer as a family will consist of a grand total of one week at home with all five of us present.  One week is hardly enough space to fit a summer’s worth of life.

Expectation/reality clashes are where I reach toward control…toward careful design of my own destiny to avoid disappointment.  I am tempted to drill down on all of the corners of the uncertainty, leaving very little room for anything that is not planned or choreographed.  This summer feels more likely to catch me off guard since the move to Clarkston is nebulous and pending. So, I’m really fighting hard against the urge to allow hyper-urgent mommy or, on the flip side, throw-her-hands-up-depressed mommy to win the day.

Lately, as I’ve been asking God to open my heart more to His gospel and His Jesus, I have been finding the word “trust.”  Every time I turn around in Scripture, I see that word and her sister word, “believe.”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in Him.” Psalm 34:8 (Trust involves believing in God’s goodness.)

“Then they despised the pleasant land, they did not believe His word.” Psalm 106:24 (Believing God’s word is the anti-venom for despising our “pleasant lands.”)

“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25 (Fear of man is misplaced trust – wanting man to come through when God is the only one who can.)

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.'” Mark 9:23-24 (Wow.  The tension of my mother’s heart.)

Summer comes.  Every year. Every year, I must stare the expectation / reality gap in the face and decide whether I am going to control or trust.  When I control, I grab as much of my life as I can and hold it tightly.  By the end of the exercise, I find that my life has become very small, and my big plans have become subject to my own inadequacies. This type of life is like having a breath-holding contest with myself every day.  I turn purple and nearly pass out every time!

Or, I can trust.  Trust feels small to start with.  Trust God to continue to redeem our family.  Trust Jesus to cover both my striving and my lack.  Trust that the Holy Spirit is present, and that the Word of God is living and active. When I trust, I taste and see God’s goodness even in the 10 weeks of summer that aren’t up to my ideal…I experience confidence in the “pleasant lands” because He is trustworthy…I lay down my comparisons with other summer-mommies (fear of man) and find safety in being His daughter…I sense Christ’s regard for my mother’s tears and His encouragement that, “all things are possible to Him who believes.”

Bottom line, trusting God allows me to walk in the unknown places without fear.

Salt and yeast – small things with big impact.

Last fall, I put two jars in my windowsill.  They hold yeast and salt.  They remind me that, when we move to Clarkston, we go as bearers of His leaven and His savory presence.  It only takes the tiniest bit of yeast and salt to change the composition of a recipe.  It only takes a tiny bit of trusting for God to “show up big” and open up the wide places. The jars remind me that I only need to trust, I don’t need to understand or to control.

This summer, I pray to lay hold of small trust so that I can move into the big places of grace.

“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50 pounds of flour until it spread through all of it.'” Matthew 13:33

“Salt is good, but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50

Advertisements

Just the Facts

Standard

Dear Friends,

Many of you have been kind enough to walk with me and Doug over the last year or so, as God has begun to lead our family to move to Clarkston.  For a while now, I’ve been wanting to have a place where I can chronicle our journey and share it with those who want to know more.  This blog is my attempt to bring others along with us.

A few things to note…

I’ve tried to tell our story under the “Clarkston” tab of http://www.lovethestranger.com.  It’s a meandering one, and one that has barely begun to be written, but hopefully I’ve given some of the context of our last couple of years of involvement with refugees in that community.

Some of you have asked how you can pray or how you can serve.  I’ve listed our current prayer needs under the “About” tab, and I’ve listed Ongoing Opportunities that I am aware of under the “Clarkston” tab. I plan to update those two places as we have new needs or ways to serve.

This blog is our family’s Clarkston story, but it’s also (necessarily) the story of my own struggle with what it looks like to have a faith walk that goes to scary places and that confronts the question of the gospel in new ways.  Hopefully the ponderings of my heart will be an encouragement to you in your own journey of faith.

The Sign. Gulp.

As of Monday, the house is For Sale and we’re standing on the diving board, waiting to jump.

I’d be pleased for you, my friend, to take note of the messiness of the splash and be available to do CPR if it becomes necessary.

– Karen

 

 

Sign’s in the Yard

Standard

Earlier this week, the sign went up in the yard.  Up until now, there have been a lot of scary things about our move to Clarkston, but this one has topped it all. It’s not so much scary due to the physical part of the move, or even the adjustment part of the move. It’s scary in a way that I’ll call the “backpack” way.

I’ve gotten to the bottom of my backpack of coping mechanisms (the contents are few: control, persistence, performance, humor, and People Magazine).  Having thrown out control a few weeks back and having let my subscription to People expire, I’m left with only a few ways to cope.  None of them is very promising.  Humor helps, but I’m finding that humor is too close to cynicism, which can border on bitterness, and that’s no good.  Persistence is important, but I’m not sure that going to Clarkston running on pure resolution is going to be very helpful in my relationships – old or new.  So, that leaves my very favorite old standby: performance.

I hate it.  It’s the auto pilot setting of my life.  It’s nasty in its ability to generate pride and fear simultaneously.  When it fails, it generates shame and depression.

The reason I’m so bummed that performance is still in my backpack has to do with my heart’s desire for our move to Clarkston.

You see, I don’t want it to be about me.  (I don’t even mean that in a humble sense right here.)  I mean I don’t want the me part to get in the way of the God part.  I don’t want my performance-self to kick in stronger and harder in a place that will only, only, only be redemptive and sweet if the grace of Jesus is the illuminating, energy generating force behind what we are doing.  In my wildest spiritual dreams, freedom would be losing the backpack altogether and finding that the gospel grace of Christ makes carrying a backpack totally unnecessary.  “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25

When performance reigns, I go to bed at night measuring myself against the standard of the day, and then congratulating (cross averted) or crucifying myself.  This process yields pride or shame.  This belief that I’ll write the rules, measure myself against them, and then judge myself and pronounce a verdict is all a sinner’s attempt to circumvent God’s love, to get around the two most important words of faith: surrender and trust.  I think, too, that performance is my way of validating myself so that I won’t have to believe that God really loves me THAT much.  It’s a little like the old Rich Mullins song that says,

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

I cannot find in my own

And it keeps His fire burning

To melt this heart of stone

Keeps me aching with a yearning

Keeps me glad to have been caught

In the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

This morning, I took performance-girl to the real cross.  The one that matters.  She has been around my whole life, but I don’t think that I ever recognized that she needed to die in order for Jesus to live.  Call me dense, but I’m really not sure I’ve ever seen how prideful she is until just today.  I think I thought she was just a good mix of Sunday School and stewardship. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being the author of furious love that melts stone hearts. When echoes of performance ring in my ears, please remind me that she’s been swept away by the reckless, raging love of Jesus.

 

A Man of Sorrows

Standard

Today, I am afraid.

Yesterday, I found out that one of our friends in Clarkston, I’ll call him “G,” texted my husband to see if we could help him find a job.  My heart tore a bit when Doug told me that news.  You see, this man is a man of dignity, quiet strength, and deep service.  He came to the United States in a state of humility – a college educated science teacher who was scraping to survive in his homeland, coming to my native soil to find a better way to provide for his wife and daughters. He arrived, alone, and got a job at a chicken plant, doing manual labor for minimum wage…living with a family member…intent on supporting wife and children from thousands of miles away.  Within a few days of starting the job, he slipped on a wet floor, fell, and shattered his hip. He is now incapable of working manual labor.  He needs a job and even has skills that are transferrable…but jobs are so very hard to come by.  So, he humbled himself (again) and reached out to my husband, his one American friend, to see about finding a job.  I hurt inside for this brave man.  His dignity is being compromised, and there is so little I can do.

Last night, I felt so disturbed by the juxtaposition of my evening at the private school junior high band concert, with extra refreshments, unbounded optimism, and amazing community. In my heart, my friend G was home in an apartment, hurting in his body, and wondering how on earth he would keep forging ahead – after so many hard knocks and dead ends.  Why?  Why me?  Who knows?  Why is the skinny white lady so charmed, while the gaunt African friend is so pressed by life on this beautiful spring/summer night?

As I drove out of my manicured neighborhood, I remembered Isaiah’s words, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).  A man of sorrows.  If I follow Jesus, if I walk that path behind Him, will I not, too, be drawn into a path of sorrows?  If my one refugee friend (of…say…5 refugee families in Clarkston who I really “know”) is hurting so badly, and his hurt is hurting me so badly, what will happen to my heart when I know 20 families, or 50?  Will my heart break?  Will I become a woman of sorrows?

I’m not that lady.

I’m a careful friend.  I measure things out so that there is enough for me left at the end of the day.  I give in controlled ways so that I know how to breathe even in the giving.  I don’t want to drown in sorrows that I can help, fix, or mitigate.

Now, I know the spiritual answer.  The Jesus one.  He will go before me.  He won’t give me what I can’t handle.  His grace is sufficient.

I really do believe all that stuff.  BUT.

…What if I fail?  What if I can’t appropriate the grace, the power of the Holy Spirit, the surrender that is necessary? What if I end up bringing something to Clarkston that looks like pity or hard charity or lukewarm relationship because I want a way to define, touch, and then back away from the sorrows that are there?

Honestly, I’m not sure what the Gospel looks like in these places.  My hunch is that it looks much less like “helping” and much more like “friend-ing.”  My hunch is that it is much more process-messy than it is solution-neat.  My hunch is that the “me” part won’t add much, but that the Jesus part will bridge the gaps.  I suppose I  will find out.

But, the fear is not small.

Lord, may my fear of You be bigger.

May my thirst for Your glory and my wonder at it’s fullness eclipse my shame at not being able to fix, solve, or help where the sorrows touch my heart.  If I am to be a woman of sorrows, I pray that I would be a gracious one – holding close to the hem of her Master’s garment.

And, Lord, please provide for my new friend, G, whose dignity can only really be carried and restored by You.

 

Exploding Potatoes

Standard

Yesterday, I exploded a baked potato in the oven for the first time ever in my life.  They were big ones – on special at Kroger – and I was getting ready to make twice baked potatoes.  I opened the oven to check on them, touched one with the hot pad, and BOOM, it went everywhere.  If I had not been so stunned and simultaneously disappointed in myself, I would have marveled at the violence of an exploding potato, in real time. It was cool. Growing up, my mom would reference exploding baked potatoes as the mark of an inexperienced cook.  Those who did not properly poke the potato full of holes had not been “raised right” in the kitchen.  The husbands of those poor women deserved extra sympathy for having to put up with the kitchen foibles of an inexperienced wife, including the possibly even dangerous exploding potatoes.  We must mentor the inexperienced potato ladies so that they are not caught unawares by their lack of preparedness or knowledge.

Just like what mine looked like in the oven!

So, yesterday, when the 875th potato in my baked potato history exploded in the oven, I was thrown back to childhood tight-rope fears.  What if I do it all “right” (I promise I poked that sucker practically to death) and I fall off anyway?  What if the potato explodes and those around me assume I’m inept or feel sorry for the people I love…or try to love?  What if I fall off the tightrope in this move to Clarkston?

Our house goes on the market this weekend.  It feels like I am stepping onto a tightrope this week.  It feels like I could encounter carefully tended potatoes that just up and explode anyways.

We had the boys’ two rooms painted a “neutral color” yesterday, per the advice of a realtor-friend.  The youngest one came home and exploded like a potato when he saw it.  His face got red, his eyes got teary, and he looked for things to destroy in his room.  Several shredded Pokemon cards, an old box, and some tissues later, he pronounced, “much better.”  I knew he would be sad…I was sad to lose the blue on the walls that he proudly picked out by himself at the age of 6…but the explosion part was a little surprising to me, given his usual demeanor and reactions.

Exploding potatoes scare me.

Even at work today, I exploded a bit when I could NOT get a standard formatting issue to work in a PowerPoint I was feverishly working on for my boss.  Those pesky little bullets just don’t text wrap like you want them to when you’re under a time crunch and have to leave at 2:30 for a doctor’s appointment.  For the umpteenth time, the text did not wrap.  I experienced an internal explosion.  “Youmessedup Itsnotright Fixitfast Pullittogether.” It felt like I was wearing a sign, “Warning: Contents Under Pressure.”

A friend said just this morning in an email, “I really have felt that God is reminding me that yes, I’m a mess. He knows that, and once I admit it, it’s a lot easier for Him to do something with me.”

The gospel is both a narrow door and a spacious place.  I believe God is showing me that it is a narrow door in the sense that the ONLY way to the spacious place of grace is through the cross.  Jesus went through, crossed over, opened the door.  The cross was God’s best plan, and when I try to usurp His best with my own effort at good, thinking that my “narrow way” of getting it all right will lead to spacious places, I end up squeezing myself into smaller and smaller soul-spaces, so that things like exploding potatoes feel like judge, jury, and verdict on my inability to get it right.  When I enter through the narrow door of the cross; when I surrender and believe rather than redouble my efforts; when I deliberately step off of the tight rope and through the door, I discover the spacious place on the other side. When I surrender and believe, I can explode and still laugh.

Lately, I have been enjoying Proverbs 31.  Women love to moan about that chapter, because it feels like a tight-rope that could lead to explosions, I think.  But this week, as I’ve pondered the mother who was giving advice to her son, I hear her saying, “Son, find a cutie pie who messes up but still believes.  Find a lady who stands tall because she believes rather than because she tries.  Find a partner who laughs…a lot…when things explode.”  Proverbs 31:25, “She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.'” (NIV)

I’m quite positive there will be explosions in the weeks to come.  I pray that I fall off the tight rope laughing, secure in the grace below.

Life as a Stranger

Standard

On Thursday morning, I went into our 11 year old son’s room to say good morning. I was out of town last week, and I had not seen him since Monday, so I was looking forward to a hug and a quick catch up on his week.  In the moment, I was taken by the sweetness of his messy hair and his boxer-clad, man-child self.  I was hoping for a meaningful answer to, “How has your week been?  I missed you!”  He was barely awake when he answered my question with, “Mom, I need a new crossbow.”

What?

He needs a new crossbow – just like I need a haircut.  His 11  year old reality is one of slaying Siths and monsters and bad guys with his wooden sword, his wooden shield, and his marshmallow blaster crossbow (a gift for selling the most magazines as a Cub Scout.)

The arsenal

I have been musing on his cute comment since then.  Thinking about how our view of reality is what really shapes our perception of needs and desire and truth.  His current reality is that he cannot slay the bad guys until he can procure a new crossbow.  It’s very important –  he needs a new one.

Living as a stranger is something that makes us question reality.  After college, I moved to Japan with my first husband.  We both taught English there.  He knew quite a bit of Japanese, but I knew none.  Before I moved, I had a vivid dream that I was already there.  I was driving through the mountains and all of the landscape looked like the illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book.  Vivid colors, shaggy creatures, and twists and turns that defy gravity.  Life there sometimes felt like that Dr. Seuss book.  I was college educated, but could not even decipher the phonetics of the strange alphabets (they have three) to try to begin to be literate. I felt like a three year old in preschool.  I am a small person – only 5’2″, but in Japan, I was the tallest woman on the morning train into the city almost every day.  I felt gargantuan.  I am a good cook, but it was impossible to buy the ingredients to make anything recognizable because they were all so foreign to me. (One day, after an intense search for  Worcestershire Sauce, I proudly dumped Oyster Sauce into my dish and ruined the whole thing.)  My repertoire was reduced to eggs, apples, and white bread.  I was a stranger. It was confusing.

Living in Japan felt like I’d been transferred to a place where none of the rules or assumptions held.  I KNEW I was a short, well-educated, good cook.  But, none of those rules seemed to hold in my new environment. Which version of reality was true?

Don’t take advantage of a stranger.  You know what it’s like to be a stranger; you were strangers in Egypt.”  Exodus 23:9 (The Message)

“[Jesus said] I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” Matthew 25:43 (NIV)

God came as a stranger.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we did not recognize Him.  There must be something important about having the mindset of a stranger, if God Himself came to our earth as one, and if He placed His covenant people in a strange place for 400 years – long enough for the memory of “stranger-ness” to stick.

When we begin to see ourselves as strangers on earth, we begin to tune in to the “alternate reality” that is the Kingdom of God.  When we see ourselves as strangers on earth, we begin to wrestle with the question of, “what’s really true?”  When we are strangers, we remember the battle is not against flesh and blood.  When we are strangers, we remember that it is best to lay up treasure in heaven.  When we are strangers, we begin to grasp that grace and truth are two ends of the same continuum.  When we are strangers, the last is first. When we are strangers, we lay down life to discover it.

Thank you, God, for Clarkston – where I can be reminded that I am also a stranger.