Tag Archives: Jesus

Update

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The last week has been my hardest one in Clarkston.  It held the very thing I was so afraid of, three years ago, when Doug shared his desire for our family to adopt a refugee family.  It held failure, brokenness, and deep relational pain.

I mentioned last time I posted that we had met a new friend in a parking lot in one of the apartment complexes in March.  He is a refugee from Ethiopia who speaks six languages and who has come to Clarkston via a very long and winding road with his thirteen-year-old son.  His wife and their two younger children are still not here yet.

He waits for so much.

When we met him, he was waiting for a job.  When we serendipitously ran into him again (same parking lot) in late July, he was waiting for a job…still.

The door opened ten days later for him to work at our children’s school via a temp agency that they use for their facilities staffing.  God’s hand was evident in the coming together of the details, and our new friend had a new job.  It was a good one – daytime hours, more than minimum wage by a fair bit, and offered us the chance to get to know him better as we drove him to and from work on our way to and from school every day.

Hope is beautiful.  It came alive in his countenance.  He dreamed big, grateful dreams out loud in sixth language English…

    “I tell my son he can be President of the United States!”

    “You to come to Africa with my family?  I show you my country!”

    “How much is car? How much is house?”

    “Job is good.  Very good.  Thank you for job.”

Three weeks of gorgeous hope.

Loss in the face of that much hope is devastating. Sickening.  Disgusting.

A week ago, our friend was sick.  His cheerleaders and teammates (his boss, my husband) told him the day before he was sick to be sure to call the temp agency if he could not come to work the following day.  He did not call.  He did not respond to Doug’s texts or calls.  He called (finally) at 2:30 pm and communicated what he thought best.  His words were received by the staffing agency as a lie. The combination of the late call and the perceived lie were enough to cost him this new job.

All week I have agonized.  “What if I had…?”  “What if he had…?” “What if the school had…?” “What if Doug had…?”  “What if his boss had…?”  “What if the agency had…?” 

Only one intervention on anyone’s part would have made the difference for him.  There was no intervention.

We found out (too late) that his pre-paid phone was out of minutes, which was why Doug’s messages had not gotten through.  He told Doug had used his son’s phone to call the agency in the afternoon.

We still don’t know whether the “lie” was a language-barrier misunderstanding, an attempt to deflect blame, or even a culturally different way to approach the hierarchical system of boss and employee.  Whatever it was, he used the wrong words to explain his lack of a call.  If only he had known…

I met with the school to share his story and convey the fact that Doug and I were on his team – to try to ask for mercy.  I was met with a lot of understanding, empathy, and care, but the communication even in that meeting was muddled and confused to the point that it moved the ball forward…none at all. The chapter is closed. Our friend cannot go back.

So the week has been rough.

I’ve spent a lot of time bargaining with God and asking Him “why?”  I am sure that our friend has spent so much more time doing the same thing.  We are still not sure he really understands how and why this all happened.  We are stymied and heartbroken.

Why do I write this story today, on this three-day weekend where those of us who are work-weary sleep in, cook out, do laundry, and meander through 72 hours of government sanctioned rest?

I write to tell you that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He knows, first hand, the brokenness of our world and He was broken for it.  I write to tell you that it’s harder to hold onto the sorrowful Jesus than the one who multiplies food and calms seas, but He’s the same Jesus – just as trustworthy and true.  He calls us to enter into the sorrow of the world and to be broken with it, too.  I don’t like that part, really, but it’s in His word all over the place.  It’s the reality of following Him.

I write to ask you to thank God for the work you have – even though it is so hard sometimes – because work is a gift that so many people (even in your zip code) cannot obtain.

I write because I cannot hold this sadness alone, and I selfishly ask you to hold a bit of it, too. I write because I ask you to pray for our friend, his wife, and his three children.  I write to ask whether you know of a job our friend could have…you just might.

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A Five Year Walk

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She walked for five years.

A few weeks ago, we attended a meeting for volunteers of World Relief at church.  Our trainer was excellent, and had much wisdom to share about interacting with newly arrived refugee families.  She told many stories to illustrate her points, one of which yielded a refrain that has been rolling around in my head for days and days.

She walked for five years.

This refugee woman, of whom my new friend spoke, walked for five years before she reached a camp.

Can you imagine running from danger, leaving everything, fleeing pain, and then walking FOR FIVE YEARS?

I am an arriver.  This week is packed with necessary arrivals.  I need to arrive at the school (about 15 times, to be exact), at work (at least five times this week), at the bank, at the dry cleaners, at the dog groomers, at the grocery store, etc.  And, each time, I will arrive back at home, open the garage door, step in the kitchen, throw my things down on the desk, and take up the task of all of the mini arrivals within my home.  Arriving at the washer/dryer, arriving at the computer to catch up on emails, arriving at the sink, stove, and refrigerator to make a meal, arriving at the mailbox, arriving at the recycle bin, arriving (thank God!) in my bed, etc.

Really, I’m addicted to loops that close, I think.  To going and to coming.  To leaving and to arriving.  To asking and to answering.  To wondering and to knowing.  To seeing and to understanding.  To planning and to executing.  To wanting and to having.

The last month has felt a lot more like a dusty walk than a neat arrival.  My dad had unexpected quadruple bypass surgery.  I got an out of the blue job offer that was a gift and a crisis, all in one.  Our Clarkston building process has been all question and no answer.  We have an official driver in our home (if that doesn’t create open-ended fear, I don’t know what does!)

I keep thinking…

She walked for five years.

If four weeks of lack of closure has torn me down and eaten me up, what would five years do to a soul?

This morning, I read a sort of caustic assessment of American Christians, but it hit home.  “The problem with Christians is that they have the answer…but haven’t lived the question.” (Ron Austin, quoted by Winn Collier in Holy Curiosity)

Jesus made a habit of asking questions.  When he answered others’ questions, He often did so with confusing parables.  I’m not thinking He was sold on the incessant departure / arrival feedback loop to which I am apparently addicted.  I think He was probably more into the value of a five year walk.

Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is replete with beautiful promises of God planting His people in cities where they will flourish.  He says things like, “He turns a wilderness into pools of water, and dry land into water springs.  There He makes the hungry dwell, that they may establish a city for a dwelling place.” (Psalm 107:35-36)

I ache for those who walk and walk and never find a settled place.  I also ache for those of us who drive and park and pull in and out and never get much from the journey because we’re too focused on the next arrival.

Somehow, the grace of Christ is that He causes us all to dwell, to be established, to be planted, to come home

Thy Kingdom come.

 

Orbiting the Fragile

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My first teaching job involved teaching 7th grade science.  Those poor kids!  I was 100% humanities trying to teach elementary physics.  When it came time to explain centripetal (centrifugal?…I don’t remember, honestly) force, I resorted to the salad spinner object lesson.  They had great fun swirling small objects inside my favorite kitchen tool. If you take the lid off in time, the detritus inside will fly all over the room. Yipee!

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Often, as I think about what it takes to be a mom, a wife, an employee, an American, a suburbanite, or a responsible member of the local pool, I feel like my sin looks like the salad spinner.  I am dizzily spinning around something that seems a lot like nothing, trusting that the constraints of life on the outside will hold me in my orbit.

Problem.  As Yeats lamented, “Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold.”

When I orbit in this way, there is eventual disintegration because the center is weak and the constraints are false.

Keller says that orbiting anything but God causes us to lose direction, to misunderstand our identity, and to experience isolation.  He says, “Spiritual darkness – turning away from God, the true light, and making anything more important than Him – leads invariably from disorientation to disintegration…We are all orbiting around something else.  And we’re all incapable of changing our orbit, because we inevitably, ultimately, seek to glorify ourselves instead of God.  So we are all on a trajectory toward a life of disintegration.” (King’s Cross, p. 205)

Sad.  Unless…

Unless Jesus.

When the gravitational pull of my idols becomes too weak or too strong; when things fall apart because the center has failed to hold; when the constraints fall away and I fly outward; then Jesus.

Those whiplash moments are His reminder to me that I am only safe, only held together, only home, and only in line with the Love and Laws of Heaven when I yield to Him.  When I acknowledge the brokenness of my gravitational toys and have faith in the power of His strong, centering grace, I am once again held together.  That center will always hold. Amen!

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in Him all tings were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” – Edward Mote

Today, where is my center?

Returning to Say “Thank You”

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I recently heard a sermon about the healing of the lepers.  The story goes like this: (Luke 17:12 – 19)

As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “ Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Now, I’m thinking that getting healed from leprosy and re-integrated into society after having been an outcast would create a whole set of problems on its own.  Probably, those nine other men were thinking “thank you…” while feeling great levels of anxiety about “…what’s next?”  They were excited and pre-occupied, both.  They did not stop to say “thanks.”

Tonight, on my commute home, I was trapped in the “what’s next?” line of thinking.  I realized that I have neglected to “return to give glory to God.”  So, here’s a list of sweet and wonderful THANK YOUs to God for His work in our Clarkston adventure…

THANK YOU – for a house in the subdivision that is now owned and occupied by a dear ministry family.  Over the last week, we’ve been several times and seen life there.  A young boy swinging from a rope swing.  A sister entertaining her friend in her new bedroom.  A house church meeting – young men and women praying in the living room.  A trampoline packed with rambunctious boys.  A mom happy to be cooking in her kitchen and drinking coffee on her patio.  Life.  Thank you, Lord.

THANK YOU – for a day yesterday of meeting workmen and contractors at the bungalow.  All morning long, Doug and I kept scooting over to the front window of the house, looking at the youth camp being held right across the street.  Our friend who runs a worship and arts ministry was teaching precious refugee children how to clap rhythm in a round.  (Thank you, even, for the incongruous sight of the white guy leading the nations in rhythm expertise!)

THANK YOU – that this process has taken so long.  If it hadn’t, we would never have met the four separate friends who we ran into yesterday as we ran our errands around town.

THANK YOU – that I found a Publix and Chick Fil A within shouting distance of our new home.  That’s good news!

THANK YOU – for two more closings on the other two homes by the end of the month.  Life will continue to be planted and grow in that tiny subdivision that God carved out and laid in our laps last December.

THANK YOU – for our friends who are praying with us and for us along the way.  We are grateful.

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.

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.

 

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.