Tag Archives: Clarkston

It’s Raining…

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In our newly-renovated house we have a metal exhaust pipe that releases air to the outside from the vent over the stove.  When it rains, the drops ping on the hollow metal and echo into the kitchen.  Ping…plop…ding.

This rain-music is one of my favorite new house sounds.  A surprise sound – one that slows time whenever I hear it. It makes me pause, waiting for the next metallic “…plop.”

The last few weeks, I have experienced the heart-sounds of raindrops in Clarkston.  We’ve been here seven months.  We’ve been largely just living, entertaining opportunities here and there as they have arisen. But lately, it’s starting to rain drops of opportunity, and my heart gladdens with the knowledge we are growing roots here.

The most beautiful part about these drops of connection is recognizing our powerlessness to generate them.  They are His.

A block party thrown with fun neighbors that pulled from every diverse corner of our city. It was a menagerie of personality and smiles, and it came in the middle of a long and frustrating run of crime in our area.  A bright spot and a collaboration.

A desire expressed by some moms at our kids’ school to learn about this city, its people, and opportunities to connect.  We have luncheon plans brewing for early November.  A chance to share the beauty of this place.

A victory won by Clarkston’s cross-country team at our kids’ school’s invitational meet.  This delightful intersection of worlds generated a dinner at our house with the Clarkston coaches and a possibility for future connection between the teams.  Amazing grace.

Watching where God chooses to stir up growth and where He allows lingering hard soil is fascinating.  We would have chosen other spots to see growth – success for our refugee friend’s job at the school, quicker building for new neighbors in the subdivision, more fruit from a serving fair at church last month.  More success growing from seeds we’ve planned, dreamed, and worked.

…But God.

Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things.” Jeremiah 14:22

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A Banner Week

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“We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.” – Psalm 20:25

This has been a banner week in the lives of some of our refugee friends.  As I have mentioned, it’s been hard to know how to invest – where to invest – when to invest – here in Clarkston since we moved.  We have dipped our toes into relationships with new refugee friends, but we’ve certainly not hurled ourselves headlong into anything.

God isn’t bound by our mediocre efforts, though!  He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the orphan and the widow.  Sometimes, He lets us participate.  When we do, we are blown away by His goodness to those who live in a state of profound vulnerability.

Sunday, we visited three families here.  Anyone who has visited with friends from other nations knows that three families in one afternoon is a miracle in itself.  Most 10-minute conversations easily stretch to 2 hours of interaction and hospitality (on their part).  There’s no such thing as “quick.”  But God multiplied our meager time.

God provided for the first family we visited by opening up a space at an adult literacy program, Mommy & Me, after registration had already happened.  These African friends have been here only two months.  The dad is brilliantly pursuing growth and life for his family (wife and four small children) through his study of English and through his job on the night shift at the poultry processing plant.  His wife is working hard taking care of their children in this hot, humid, very confusing new place.  Her English is not strong, and we are thrilled that she will have the opportunity to experience 9 hours a week of instruction while her two preschoolers are enjoying a pre-school class of their own.  What a gift – language instruction by masters’ level teachers, community, childcare…all within walking distance of their apartment for only $10 per month.  God is so good!

He provided for another friend with a job!  Amazingly long story, but this gentleman was a “random” connection in a parking lot on a day in March.  He had just arrived in the U.S. at that point, and he was overflowing with enthusiasm to work, pride in the 6 languages he speaks, and tales of the life he left in Djibouti.  His wife and three of his children are still there, but he is here with his oldest son, blazing a trail.  We very randomly ran into him again a few weeks ago.  At that point, he was discouraged by his lack of employment and by the prospect of keeping his 13-year-old son safe in the harsh environment he’d encountered.  That night, some friends joined us in praying for a job for him.  Very miraculously, our kind Father provided him a job that pays more than minimum wage.  And, his work hours are during the day, which is so good for his son.  We met with this African friend Sunday, and yesterday God secured a job for him.  How sweet!

Finally, God has provided restoration and redemption for a widow and her two children who we’ve known for three years.  We met her the night she arrived here.  She was quickly overwhelmed to the point of illness and hospitalization.  When we visited over the weekend, she proudly, laughingly served us food and coffee in her clean apartment. She adeptly holds a job and provides for her two school-aged children in a way that showcases God’s ability to uphold the widow and care for the orphan. He has not let her falter. She is being redeemed.

I’m so humbled.  We are so inconsistent and poor in our efforts to love His wounded children.  This is because we are wounded ourselves.  He is so gracious to pursue all of us with His grace. He allows us to glimpse His tangible power when we fellowship with the apple of His eye – the vulnerable ones who quietly face giant obstacles with faith and resolute determination, even when all of life seems daunting and overwhelming.  What a gift to watch Him delight to do what He does best – to redeem.

Please join us in praying for these and other friends as they do the hard work of adjusting to life in the United States.

Facts and Feelings

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The other morning, my husband came to the breakfast table with his Kindle.  He pronounced that he had a word for me from A.W. Tozer.  This pronouncement was made with a smirk on his face, so I knew there would be both truth and irony embedded within it.

He read these words: “I have had people tell me very dogmatically that they will never allow ‘feeling’ to have any part in their spiritual life and experience. I reply, ‘Too bad for you!’ I say that because I have voiced a very real definition of what I believe true worship to be: worship is to feel in the heart! In the Christian faith, we should be able to use the word ‘feel’ boldly and without apology. What worse thing could be said of us as the Christian church if it could be said that we are a feelingless people?” (A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship: A True Call to Worship, Chapter 7)

When Doug read this quote, he completely hammed up the “TOO BAD FOR YOU!” line, so that I could hear his heart towards me.  I could hear my husband’s kindness and patience with my feelings as they skate all over the rink of extremes, especially during this season of transition. He works hard to give weight to the value in my feelings, just as I work hard to see the need for all of his facts.

You know, men and women are pretty different.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending the day with Doug and our 11 year old boy.  It was great.  The facts were flying and the feelings were few.  By the end of the day, I even knew how a Neti pot worked and had seen it in action.  My men were safe and sound knowing their worlds were in order and the facts were lined up, even down to the facts of nasal decontamination.

As we’ve moved toward Clarkston, my feelings have been riled up.  Excitement, despair, hope, anxiety, giddiness, discouragement.  As we’ve moved toward Clarkston, Doug’s facts have been riled up.  Spreadsheets, contracts, notebooks with tabbed dividers, conference calls, and more spreadsheets.  When things get dicey, I spin my feelings up so that they become my only reality.  He spins his facts up so that they become his only reality.  We are totally, painfully typical.

This week, I’ve been thinking about the fact vs. feeling / man vs. woman / head vs. heart thing.  I thought about it when we realized our house is over-priced and Doug predicted we’d need to solve the problem by planning very thoroughly, while I simply wanted to play through the scenarios of what it would feel like to have to drop the price.  I thought about it when Doug shared the facts of our shared vision with a group of folks we had in Clarkston yesterday.  I thought about it when I left a Clarkston city meeting daunted by the feelings raised by opening doors to 15 new relationships in one evening’s time.  And, I thought about it when we closed on the first home in our subdivision on Thursday (yeah!!) and my heart produced a celebratory thank you note to our buyer, while Doug’s fingers typed instructions for a wire transfer.  Facts and feelings.

Jesus talked to us (men and women, both) about distractions.  He said, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:14-15)

I think Jesus knows lots about facts and feelings.  I think He knows that the worries, riches, and pleasures of this world will cause us to claim either fact or feeling as ultimate reality, depending on our bent.   But, Jesus says that only seed that falls on a heart made honest and good by His redemptive work can hold the Word in the soil of faith, even when facts and feelings buffet.  I think He knows and appreciates our facts and our feelings.  I think He wants us to experience the amazing grace that happens when roots of faith anchor them both, and we begin to grow.

Fitting under the Umbrella

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Last night, we had a friend over for dinner.  She lived with us for a year while she interned with the youth at our church, and she’s awesome.  One of those, “I hope my son marries someone like her someday” kind of young women.  Before dinner, we were chatting about life and love and the like, and she was sharing her feelings that sometimes she “doesn’t fit.”  She was referring to being single among the married, and I remember the feeling.  But, I also remembered the feeling from just a few hours earlier, too. Yesterday, as I drove home after work, I passed the line up of cars at the neighborhood swim meet.  My thought was “I don’t fit.”  I’m a non-swim team mom in a swim team neighborhood – I am not a mom whose kids are home all the time to even go to swim practice.  Custody gets in the way of so much – it hurts my kids, but it also feels like a rock in my own shoe.  Something doesn’t fit.

Isn’t that the lie that women all feel?  Perhaps my friends are all nuts, but I have had more conversations than I can count with friends who don’t feel like they fit – in one way or another.

Maybe that’s part of why I loved teaching high school so much and why I love refugee ministry so much.  Teenagers don’t fit.  Refugees don’t fit.  What we all feel on the inside is displayed on the outside in these two sub-groups.

I was so excited to find out from my friend that she is going to bring teenagers to Clarkston!  We’re going to hang out there next Friday with some youth who will help us do some work on the bungalow and visit with our new refugee friends from Somalia. Then, in July, we’re hopefully going to be able to do “block parties” at one of the complexes with some youth from our church, too.

As much as I am psyched about the individual opportunities to bring kids to Clarkston, I was encouraged by my friend’s heart…by what she sees in teenagers who serve.  She lit up when she shared about how much changes in kids when they serve.  She says that they change because they experience the gospel as good news, and she says they change because they realize that the people they are serving are just like them. Those who don’t fit become those who do fit.

So…I am encouraged by the gospel that helps us to see that we all don’t fit…and that we all do fit under the umbrella of the grace of Christ.  

Sign’s in the Yard

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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.