COVID-19 and Shifting Sand

Every day I waver between believing this COVID situation will all be over soon resulting in the return of normalcy as we knew it OR right now we are all witnessing society being reset in some kind of slow cataclysmic wave. I am not exaggerating when I say that every day my feelings shift back and forth in this regard. This emotionally charged shifting sand of feelings is primarily ignited by social media scrolling and by consuming regular news media neither of which are particularly reliable or healthy.

If I am not careful my mind will take me six months into the future, and depending on the day, that future may include sitting and listening to my daughter play cello with her orchestra OR sitting in my house in a hazmat suit holding her as she watches her college dreams slip through her fingers. My mother heart worries about my sons and whether they will ever go back to school and march with the band. Fear can consume a lot of my time if I let it.

And yet, I cannot control the future.

We don’t know the future.

While it is annoying that we cannot see where this is all heading, it is probably a mercy that we can’t. Our human minds can only handle bits of tragedy at once, and speaking hopefully, perhaps we are moving toward blessing rather than tragedy. Why does our mind take some of us to tragedy so swiftly?


Shifting Sand.

The last time my husband and I were facing a big change in our life I listened to a song over and over and over, and it comforted me. You can listen to that song here. I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone in your shifting sand faith.

I’ve learned that my faith shifts depending upon what I consume. Like the fable about the two wolves living inside a man, and the one who survives is the one he feeds, fear grows when you feed it. Make no mistake. What is happening in our world IS scary. Whether we are being controlled by the government OR whether we are all bound to contract a serious illness, both are terrifying prospects. In both scenarios we, the public, lose. And I don’t know what the solution is to either reality. I cannot control it. Neither can you. What I can control is whether I live in fear or whether I live in faith.

Am I suggesting we visit Walmart without a mask and lick the credit card scanner? No. Am I suggesting that we trust everything out of the mouth of the government? Absolutely not. I am not even telling you to avoid watching the news. But…

If you will grant me this moment in your media diet, and listen to the voice of someone who struggles with depression and who has family members who are enslaved by anxiety, be mindful of how much you consume and be aware of what beast lurking within you are feeding. And the beast within will tell you that you need to be well-informed. And the beast within will tell you that you have everything to lose. And the beast within will tell you that information will help you maintain control. And I tell you, as a survivor who still wages these battles every day, the beast lies.

  • Be informed, turn it off, and make your own educated decision based upon hope and not solely based upon a daily charged tweet, post, or newscast. Remind yourself that people make money off of those mediums, and sensationalism sells big.
  • Be aware that nothing you own is truly yours. Give it away.
  • Be aware that the people around you are of God’s concern, and He loves them more than you do.
  • Be assured that you do not even have control over your next breath. Appreciate the next inhale… and exhale.

(None of that is a comfort to those of you clinging to sides of the fear pit trying to get out. I know how it works. This is not intended to comfort; rather it is a reality check. You might even feel angry right now after being told to turn off the TV. Anger is born out of fear.)

Things ARE changing. Good things are happening within that change. People are stepping up and speaking out. Look for the good. Seek out what NEEDS to change in your family system and in your church system and in your work system, and be a part of that growth. Notice that families are walking together outside. Notice that the sky looks bluer. Take your next breath and be thankful. Be grateful to live in a time where you get to watch all this unfold. Both the tragedies and the blessings bear witness to God’s plan and provision. You may be part of His plan, so support the sick. Protect the endangered. Pick up the phone. Love your people. Make the pain of this change worth it. Breathe.

Wherever we are going, God is there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.

 

 

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: The journey begins.

ONE

Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole. 

Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky,  Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…

Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:

A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.

After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.

Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.

I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.

If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.

My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way. 

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17

Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect.  Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.

If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.

Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.

THe Rest of this story is currently being pulled together into book form. Pray for this endeavor and for all those on a journey of their own. Keep seeking Jesus.
If you have specific questions about our experiences, please don’t hesitate to message me or leave a comment.
I hope you don’t give up on me. I am a work in progress until my Savior calls me home. Until then, you are loved. 

School Daze: 12 Years later

lilTomorrow my girl begins her senior year. It feels like seconds ago I wrote this note on Facebook about her Kindergarten beginnings. My brain cannot comprehend the swiftness of time and how it steals away dollhouses, pink dresses, ponies, and fairies. Though my bathroom mirror tells a quite a different story. Twelve years ago Kindergarten seemed big, and it was. But I’ve found that while time changes a little girl into a woman, time leaves a mother’s heart much the same.

My baby girl started kindergarten today. Five years swiftly flew by… till now. Some mommies told me I would love “sending one off to school”. Others simply patted me on the back, and suggested I hit a day spa for a massage. I was unable to imagine the surge of emotions that came over me as the big day arrived. Today, the first of my three precious children set off to face the world.

Lily woke herself up bright and early this morning at 6:20 am, and said “I knew I had to get up and go today, mommy”. To start the day on the right foot, I tried to fit in all the food groups for breakfast. She ate blueberry yogurt, a sausage, egg and cheese homemade breakfast sandwich and drank milk. I opted not to grumble when she discarded the biscuit and only ate the sausage, egg, and cheese.

It was a one single day later that getting up early for school lost its luster. Over the years, bright and early, became dark and barely out the door. I’ve tried hard to feed my children well in the morning before they go, but by high school and with 6:20AM bus pick-ups, healthy breakfasts soon became “grab that banana and granola bar before you walk out that door!”

But just like that day twelve years ago, she’s ready to go. She’s ready for this year. She’s ready to move on. And like that day…I’m not so sure I am.

The chosen attire for the big day was a navy blue sailor dress with red trim and a red bow. She was not happy when her well-meaning and nostalgic mommy snapped a big red bow on top of her head. (I am fully aware there will be many days that she chooses her own outfits…today she wears a stinkin’ bow.) If you know Lily well, you are not surprised to learn- there was some negotiating involved in regard to the bow. Needless to say, tomorrow Lily will choose her own outfit and her own hair ornamentation. Today she wears a big red bow.

Her backpack is a two-toned pink Janzport that engulfs her little body. Seeing her swallowed by the supply stuffed backpack– is when I had to fight back the first tears.

And she never wore a bow again, until last week when she wore a black bow because she decided it was “ironic”. Pink also went out the window rather swiftly as our girl slowly became her own person. It has been fascinating to watch her become who she truly is. She wears a lot of black and t-shirts advertising her favorite bands. She’s had her own style and opinions from day one.  Most parents may panic over this. We rarely did. She has always wanted to be taken seriously as her own person and as a female. She’s never been a child in her mind; always the independent one and the individual. I am proud of her for that. I’d rather her be herself than lost in a crowd of plastic followers. She stands on her own two feet, has her own beliefs and opinions, and can stand alone when she needs to. 

Dave took the official “first day” pictures on the front porch meanwhile our two year old, Elijah, adopted Lily’s uneaten biscuit.

Her brother still finishes her unwanted foods sometimes before they are even declared unwanted.

Our family of four, soon to be five, climbed into the car for the delivery. The line to enter the school doors was long. Lily immediately noticed the “big kids” and quickly reached for my hand. She asked, “Why are the kindergarteners so big, mommy?” Of course, I felt terrible that I hadn’t explained that she would be in school with older kids, too. Suddenly, a flood of things I should have said ran through my mind. After explaining the bigger kids, we got into line and started the grand entry. We entered the doors just as the first bell rang. The elementary school aroma of new shoes and gym floor wax brought back so many memories.

There are so many things that I hope I’ve said. So many words that I wish I hadn’t let leave my lips. I have lists of things to tell her over the next 49 weeks, yet I know I can’t cover it all. What will I forget? What will she remember? Will she offer me grace that I don’t deserve for the mistakes I’ve made?

We turned the corner down the Kindergarten wing. She recognized her classroom from last night’s ‘meet & greet’, and her little hand started to sweat. I noticed Dave’s hand latched onto her other little clammy hand. Elijah rode on Dave’s shoulders, still eating the stolen breakfast biscuit blissfully oblivious to all the unfolding drama below.

My hands are sweating now. Time is so short. How do I do this? How do I let go of her hand when we only just walked her to that classroom yesterday? Her hands are now strong and sure. Mine shake.

We walked her into her colorful classroom and found her assigned chair at a little table. She sat quietly and stared at a couple of her classmates who were crying. I hugged her and told her to have a great day. Dave hugged her and said, “Lily we know you are such a good girl, and you will make good decisions, and we are so proud of you. Have a great day!” We both told her we loved her several times. She didn’t respond and simply folded her hands in her lap. Her teacher quickly passed out a coloring page of a gingerbread man to the miniature students and ushered the nervous parents out the door.

We stood outside the door peering in for about five minutes. We took a few deep breaths. We let go together and walked. I let the tears fall.

Tears fall again. But it feels different this time. My heart is full. I have the priveledge of watching God paint this beautiful woman into existence. I am honored that I can be a small part of His grand design in her life. I don’t want to begrudge her of one single joy this year, in this year of jubilee and celebration. One chapter of her life and mine meets an end while another is rushing toward us with a momentum that I can’t slow, and we eagerly await to experience the joy it brings.

Today was the first day I let my little girl face the world all by herself. It was hard. Possibly one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I’ve always been so hard on home schooling families, but now I get it. The temptation to shelter, hide, and protect my sweet little blue eyed innocent from the world is unimaginable.

Letting go of my little girl for something as simple as kindergarten makes me wonder… Does God ache to see us leap out on new endeavors? Does He hope for the best, and reflect on our victories past? Does He consider how much we’ve grown, and anticipate what is to come? Does He long to shelter us and hide us from sin? Or is He eager to see us fight Satan on our own? Does He eagerly wait at the end of each day to hear about our adventures?

I know there will be many more difficult days and times to let go of all my children. I can’t even consider college, and quite frankly, if given the choice today, I would undoubtedly lock them in their bedrooms. Today was our first step in letting go, and the first leap off any new diving board is difficult.

And there have been harder days. Days that brought moves across the country. Days without friends at the lunch table. Days of loss and betrayal. Days in the hospital after an accident. Painful days. But.. many…MANY countless other days of joy. The day she played the piano for the first time, the day she picked up her cello, the day she started middle school, the first day she drove, the days that she laughed at pug dogs and memes so hard she cried, the day she chose Jesus. Those are the days that I carry with me. The days of joy are what I choose to tattoo on my heart and dwell upon. Those are the days that sustain me.

Joy comes easy when I remind myself that all the love I have for my children is miniscule compared to the love God has for them. He knew them before I did. He holds them when I can’t. He blissfully watches their future.

And so we lift our heads and look forward. We wait expectantly for more wonderful days; days of success and joy and triumph and excitement in the planning of what is to come. God has had her back story and he holds her future. Glory to Him.

Senior year here we come!

Across the table from that guy.

beautiful christmas table setting
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.

But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen.  Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thoughts as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination.  Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.

As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.

Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.

As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.

My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy, all peace. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.

Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.

In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.

In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.

In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.

In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.

In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether of where to sit though the seats in that abode are not as comfortable.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

Head verses Heart

All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.

Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.

But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.

Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.

If I wanted to raise a school shooter…

lighted candle
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

This morning on her way out the door heading for school my daughter said her usual “see you later”. I responded with my daily “Have a good day. Love you”. Then she reminded me, “I won’t be back tonight”. She’ll be gone all night babysitting for friends. But those words stung my ears. I won’t be back.

Both of my older kids’ schools received threats yesterday. They determined that the threats weren’t credible, and I’m sure they came from an adolescent who thinks making a joke out of the death of children will get classes canceled. Yet when my mother heart read two emails stating that both schools had received threats through social media, emails, and calls, it made my work day feel longer. Because those threats that we think might not be credible might, in fact, be real. And today, I guess I won’t know until I’ve thrown myself at the mercy of God when the Twitter starts screaming that my kids’ schools have an active shooter.

I’ve been a part of the Facebook debates. I’ve seen how irate people can get when you suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s violent video games that have desensitized our children into warfare. I’ve also seen how Christians who profess to worship the God of ‘turn the other cheek’ hide behind their guns and their so-called God-given rights and freedoms to own them.

I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve been embarrassed of my community. I’m embarrassed of myself as I’ve attempted to come up with a quick solution to all this death and hate. Can we search 300 million homes in the next week? Can we take on a billion dollar industry and win? Can we simply just homeschool?

We politicize the death of children.
We politicize hate.
We politicize too much.

And still, we don’t seem to want to actually discuss the reality of how it could be anything and everything that makes our culture what it is today. It’s us. It’s all of us.

If I wanted to raise a school shooter, first, I would let media raise him instead. From early on, I would let him watch the Disney Channel, and he would rarely see my smiles as he’d be plugged into a screen. And when he would look at me, I’d be glued to my own personal screen as well. Then, as he ages, I’d let him watch tween shows where he would quickly learn that the children are always right and that parents are usually useless and disinterested.

Around age 9, his father and I would grow weary of our relationship and either divorce or go on our own adventures to “find ourselves”. But, no worries, because we will train our son to achieve the greatest dream of becoming a professional athlete, the pinnacle of success. He wouldn’t notice our dissolving familial commitment because he would be shuttled from one sport to another. Kids are resilient after all.

At 10, His still undeveloped brain would start to watch Youtubers from around the globe who may or may not have a moral compass, and he’ll start to play video games that train him that death is temporal before his frontal cortex knows otherwise. But the games keep him occupied, quiet, and still. I try my hand at them when he isn’t home and get a kick out it. My son will see his first porn on his phone in his bedroom at 11:30PM. I try to tell him that it’s a normal interest, but he probably shouldn’t look at it.

At 11, I’ll realize that I’ve neglected his spiritual development, so I’ll drag him to church and try to squeeze in youth group events between soccer, football, piano, and baseball practice. I’m surprised that he doesn’t enjoy church and can’t seem to make friends at youth group when he’s there at least once a month. But I simply don’t enjoy church either, and I complain regularly, in ear-shot of my son, about how the music is so antiquated and the preaching is lame. Why can’t the church be about what I want? We try several other churches to keep it interesting.

At 12, my son will bring home a failing grade. He is frustrated and embarrassed and blames the teacher. I do too. So I call the teacher and give her an earful. While I’m at it, I call the coach and tell him my son has been working harder than all the others so he’d better start in the next game. Of course, I won’t be there because I have a date after a late business meeting, but I’m sure to remind my son to practice so he can be better than the other kids. College recruiters are only six years away! Go ice that shoulder, buddy!

At 13, my son will start to notice girls, and I’ll ask if they are pretty, rather than ask if they are smart. I’ll make jokes about women regularly and laugh at the sexist comedy on HBO. He’s probably heard it on the bus anyway. My son decides to add marching band to his packed schedule to be with a cute girl. I’m relieved at more entertainment for him because he stunk at football, and I’m working now more than ever.

When my son turns 14, I’ll be deep into my career and myself. He is so busy with teen life that family time doesn’t exist. We haven’t had a family meal in months. Church didn’t work out for any of us, and the guilt trips are more than we can take every Sunday. Not to mention that God loves and forgives us anyway so why go? Haven’t you heard of grace? Clearly, those people at church haven’t, but we smile and pretend to like them when we run into them at Walmart.

At 15, I’ll take my son out shooting and rage about my rights to believe what I want and own what I want unwilling to discuss any other options. I’m an American. I have rights, obviously, everyone else doesn’t have their head screwed on straight. I watch a news channel that affirms me in this every day. Those idiots can yank my rights out of my cold, dead hands.

At 16, my son stays in his room whenever he is home. And I don’t check in much, both because I’m busy, and he is practically an adult. The fight to get him to clean is too time consuming. I check in on his grades to make sure he can get to college. He struggles in English, and I hammer him for it. I remind him that he’ll never get into college being so lazy. I guess he has friends at school. Who knows? I’m looking forward to two years, when he is out of my hands and I have the place to myself.

We have systematically abandoned childhood. We have busied the children without giving them time to learn the value of failure. We have taught them to follow their hearts while training them that success is measured in popularity, achievement, and money. We don’t model servitude. We model self-actualization with zero accountability. We have become our own gods and have trained teenagers to bow only to themselves. We dehumanize people of whom we disagree, and we are incapable of self-sacrifice for the good of all. Should we be surprised when a child picks up a gun and shoots up a school as they shockingly discover that they cannot achieve the standards set before them, when they’ve been trained that people are only people when they agree with you, and when they realize that their community never looked deeper into their lives than how many medals they received?

Stories worth reading

I visited a tiny, one room library that was more than one hundred years old today. And while one hundred years isn’t really old compared to libraries in other parts of the world, it struck me while I breathed in musty air and admired the artistry that often embellishes antique books, how many ideas and stories are housed in that tiny place now silenced waiting for the yellowed pages to be carefully turned again. I recognized a few authors, but most I didn’t. I opened several, read a few lines, and tried to connect my limited memory of American History with the copyright dates.

A century is more than enough time for a country to radically change. Within a century families see great, great grandchildren born and with them ideas, theories, doctrines all aptly developed and soon considered old fashioned after what seems just a few moments.

My grandparents were born more than a hundred years ago, and I wish I could sit and understand them more now as I witness how quickly our life pages yellow with age.

Truly, the ideas, dreams, and stories found within mankind don’t really change at all. Sure technology advances and architecture ebbs and flows like fashion, but love is the same, justice is still required, family is still paramount to the health of a community, and the value of a person to those who love them is still immeasurable.

Our lives are merely a vapor, and it is our duty to live them well. Not for our own selfish pleasures, but lived so that when all that remains of us is a yellowed memory on a shelf, the pages of our life still speak in truths understood to the readers hundreds of years later. Did we love? Did we speak for justice? Did we live a story worth reading?

Just a little pruning, boys.

It’s finally warm enough in Houston to prune my climbing roses. I have three climbers, and they are a mess. Luckily, my boys are grounded from the Xbox, so they are officially enlisted to assist me with the big chop.
img_4003Some roses grow year round in Houston, though most still need an annual pruning to put on a good show in spring. Mine are in desperate need of attention. There is dead wood mixed in with new growth which prohibits airflow and can, and has, cause disease.

My roses have been through a lot this year. After all, they survived the pounding rain, forceful winds, and floods of hurricane Harvey. They also survived surprisingly below freezing temperatures seldom seen in this part of the country. They survived my boys nearly running them over with the mower and the trimmer. They survived our pug dog’s horrible choice of where to potty. And here, you see, they are still blooming. Somehow through all those tests and storms, I was able to cut a couple sad-looking blooms and place them in a vase.

These roses are a testimony to what is possible within our lives. Life brings heavy storms. And if we all knew what was coming, we would swear that we wouldn’t make it through. Yet, somehow we do. We pull through…just like my roses.

But…

If I leave these roses alone after this last year of trials, they may survive, but it won’t be pretty.

The harshest test of all for my roses will be my attempt to prune them. I’ll cut them back to nearly nothing. I may damage some good vines in the process. I will definitely cut off all the winter growth, and they won’t look like much after I put away my garden shears. To quote my youngest, “you always cut them down to nothing!”

God does this to me sometimes. He allows life to cut me to the quick. I don’t believe He wishes to bring me harm. I do believe he disciplines me so I know where to grow next.

God’s plan for our lives is to cut away whatever is no longer growing or serving His purpose. He knows that if we keep the old dead diseased aspects of our life, we won’t bloom into what He desires.

Pruning is one of most difficult lessons for a Christian to learn. Sometimes the direction we want to grown is not in our best interest nor does it fit into the Great Gardener’s plan. We must submit to the Gardener, though it hurts. We must submit to the Gardener’s plan even if our plan seems easier and painless.

If life has brought you pain this year, try to see it as pruning. If a prayer was answered with a ‘no’ from the Great Gardener, press on and pray that He leads you to where you can best grow.

Spring is coming and with the Great Gardener’s help, your new life lessons will make you unstoppable, healthy, and beautiful. After all, this life we live is His garden, not ours.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. -John 15:2