There is a lot to stress about, and should you begin to forget all our troubles, the news and your social media feed will swiftly remind you of all the many reasons to be upset.
This morning I am watching the first snowflakes fall while a backyard squirrel chews on a corn cob feeder we put out for him, and I take note that squirrel isn’t panicking or crying because winter is coming. He’s just living his life and enjoying his blessings preparing for the cold even as it covers his fuzzy tail in specks of white. He is attuned to what he needs to do and his provisions. He isn’t gazing up at the sky, shaking his tiny fist, and counting the unjust flakes as they fall around him seeking for someone or some god to blame. He toils onward.
We are not squirrels. I suppose our issues are more complex. We face painful losses in human life. We have all lost friends and family over the last year. As I’ve observed though, the biggest loss we accrued over the last few years is our trust and kinship in our fellow man, and perhaps even our trust in our maker. We have all been on the receiving end of both a literal virus and a hateful virus where we are attacked for beliefs we hold true or behaviors that others deem unacceptable. This makes me more sad than sending friends to heaven too soon quite frankly. One is physical and cannot be stopped, the other loss is optional and is a divorce of our choosing rather than understanding, forgiveness, or reconciliation.
I do know that when I feed it my fear it grows; just as when I feed my anger, it seeps out in all areas of my life. Hope and trust must also be fed and nurtured. Loyalty and love must be lived and practiced. Like the squirrel storing up for winter, love, hope, faith, loyalty must be our focus and sole agenda if we intend to move forward in healing and healthy ways.
If your news media makes you distrust your neighbor, turn it off. If your social media feed is full of hateful rhetoric, unfriend, unfollow or log off. Prepare your winter stores with what will sustain you and your neighbor: love, hope, faith, trust.
Thanks to Leslie Knope, Galentine’s day is upon us. There are so many things that I love about Leslie Knope. And even though she’s just a fictional character, I wish I could be her, have her energy, her zest for success, and her never-ending devotion to her friends. (Thanks, NBC, for gifting us with Parks and Rec. We rewatched it three times during this pandemic.)
My favorite Leslie moments usually include Galentine’s day, the day preceding Valentines Day when Leslie gathers her female friends and celebrates their relationships. Usually an over-the-top celebration in true Leslie style with excessive, yet personal, gifts while making more than a few people uncomfortable with verbose declarations of Leslie’s appreciation. Leslie’s Galentine’s day celebrates female friendship, getting closer to others, and love outside the demands of Hallmark, chocolate, and romance…and the requirement of women to have an interested male in their life in order to feel valuable.
I have no issue with Valentine’s Day. My dad has bought me chocolates in a heart shaped box for as long as I can remember. I like the floral cards and all the hoopla, but Galentine’s day is slowly becoming more important to me. You see, I was that girl. That girl in adolescence who didn’t feel pretty unless a boy noticed her. That was me. You know her, that annoying girl too infatuated with princess stories of damsels in distress waiting for her knight in shining armor who always showed up in the nick of time. Fast forward 25 years and now I observe my husband and my sons and how impossible it is for men to meet those expectations, and when men don’t cower to whatever female particular of the day exists, they are punished severely for it. See, Valentine’s Day is difficult for men, too.
Further, when I look into the eyes of my daughter, I never want her to feel valued because she is simply pretty or has a boyfriend. As I tell her: pretty fades but smart stays. I don’t want her to give up who she is for a manufactured and commercialized faux love. I also don’t want her to expect a prince when what she will find may in fact be the opposite. You see, my prayer is that, our children are autonomous servants of others and God regardless of what earthly relationships occur.
I fear this world’s definition of love fluctuates between impossible expectations and/or gratuitous sex. Both extremes will break all of us and are not love at all. Wouldn’t a healthier option be to celebrate real love like Galentine’s day? I suppose unyielding loyalty, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness are not sexy enough words to use in a red and pink card. If you are like me and you’ve witnessed divorce after divorce and scandal after scandal, those words are sweeter than chocolate and more lasting than the most expensive rose. And really, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness are the only things that keep any relationship strong.
You may have an amazing spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever else kids call it these days, but rest assured, friend, that significant other in your life doesn’t make you important, valued, or more of a person. God bestows your worth and value and purpose. You are uniquely qualified to fulfill a God-chosen purpose on this earth. While a partner may help you, they do not bestow those gifts to you that God intends for you alone to put to use. And if that relationship falls apart or never happens, you are still expected to be the good in the world. Because the reality is human love is fallible, but you can bank on God’s love and He is all you need.
So, to my dear friends on this Galentine’s day who have stuck with me through the tough times, through ugly tears, who show up and ask the hard questions, challenge me, and move me toward action in order to change the world for Jesus, thank you. Thank you for being my loyal friend, for sacrificing your time, and forgiving me all my gross mistakes. I’m thankful for the chance to serve alongside you. I hope you thrive today. I hope you practice real love. Happy Galentine’s Day.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Here’s the deal. You know those ‘Christiany’ posts about filling your cup with joy so you spill out joy? I believe that. I do. I try to fill my cup with joy. I try to fill others’ cups with joy. I’m trying to fill all the cups. Joy. Joy. Joy in all the cups.
BUT- life is just not that simple. And the plain old fact is life is hard. Most people, especially now amidst Covid and our country’s general morale, are living lives of pain and anxiety. In fact, there are a lot of cups spilling out pain all around us and that pain will splash onto our clean, white newly pressed joy shirts should we bump into their proverbial emotional cups of coffee.
And rather than shriek at the stain on your shirt and the pain of that burn, greet that person with compassion and kindness and patience and understanding rather than contempt. Then maybe, just maybe, we will season their brew with a little sweetness.
Grace, always grace, especially over platitudes. -in love.
What if every single thing that has happened around you in your life, both tragic and blessing, every sunset, every sunrise, every laugh, every tear, every burial, every birth, what if every single second that passed, God intentionally and specifically used all those moments to draw you to Him?
Not causing the bad but taking hold of it and molding it into a moment to whisper in your ear…”I’m here.”
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
Two years ago, I was inspired by an amazing friend who prays for God to reveal a theme word to live into every year. At first, this sounded to me like that crazy mystic-Christian fluff stuff that drives me bonkers. Nevertheless, with a cynical heart and a sense of desperation for God’s guidance, I tried it and asked God for a word for 2019. I know many of you will think I’m crazy, but I believe He gave me two words whilst I was in the bathtub ugly sobbing my way through a prayer that only a mom who is about to send her first kid to college would understand. (I wish sending a kid to college was the most difficult issue we faced in 2019.) It is probably because I am hard-headed and needed an extra dose of heavenly lessons that God gave me two words rather than just one. I wish I could explain how I know that these words were from God. I can’t. Let me just say that He inaudibly finished some sentences for me before I could think or speak them.
The words for 2019 were Trust and Loved. God proved in that year that I cantrust Him, trust others, and that I am intentionally loved. The lesson was loud. The lesson hurt, but the rewards are healing and precious. I came out of 2019 no longer doubting God’s promises and viewing my world very differently.
The words for 2020 were Joy and Run. I was excited about the first and frustrated with the last. What I learned was that Joy from God doesn’t come from financial security, good health, jobs, perfect marriages, children, food etc. Joy from God comes when you can look around you into a crumbling world full of fear, hate, and mistrust and still smile knowing that God is there amidst chaos. Happiness is earthly and temporal. Joy is heaven-focused (and can be stolen–hold tight to it). As far as running goes, I did try to get back in the habit. And especially once we moved north I was running about every other day. I have wondered if that extra strengthening of my lungs helped me get through Covid, honestly. Because the cough I developed was no joke. God knows. Perhaps God was telling me to run toward the hope of 2021.
Enter 2021. Since January 1, I’ve been praying and wondering about my theme word for this year. And on January 2, I think I may have received the word…maybe. Regardless, I did get a good laugh. On January 2, I woke up and immediately thought the word “unfettered”. Now this is not a word in my everyday vernacular. I was only halfway sure I knew what it meant. At first I wondered what the heck I was dreaming about. Then, when the word stuck with me through my shower rather than fading into my subconscious like most dreams do, I researched.
Because I believe in testing the spirits, I pulled up the Bible on my phone to see where this word fit into God’s Word. Unfettered? Could this be my word? In my quick simple search I pulled up three verses where this word is commonly used in various translations of the Bible. The first is found in the book of John where John says he is not worthy to untie/unfettered Jesus’ sandals. The second is before the triumphant entry when Jesus tells the apostles to go and find a colt or donkey and untie/unfetter it for Him to ride upon. And finally the last verse that pulled up is found in Job. When I saw one verse was found in Job, I thought, “Yep. This is it. This is the word for me.” I thought this may be it because last year, when my husband and I were going through one of the most horrific spiritual journeys of our lives, we read Job. Now, post spiritual crisis, that seems melodramatic as God led us and guided us so much more pleasantly than poor Job. Nevertheless, I pulled up the verse in Job that uses the word unfettered…
“Who gives the wild ass his freedom? Who unfetters his ropes?” Job 39:5
Wait. What? Did God just call me an ass?
I laughed. I laughed hard.
In hindsight, over the last two years, there were several, or if I’m completely honest, plenty of times when in fact I was an incomprehensible ass when it came to my faith. I doubted God’s provision over and over again, and even so, He still showed up. I was so angry at God for taking us on a journey of loneliness and abandonment that there were days when I wouldn’t speak to Him. Like a spoiled child, I refused to do what God was calling me to do because of my lack of faith. I blamed everyone in my path for my lack of effort in my relationship with God. I blamed the liberal left. I blamed the self-righteous right. I blamed the heretics living next-door. I blamed churches. I blamed church people. I blamed my parents. I blamed my husband. I’m pretty accomplished at the blame game. So, yes, I deserve that name among a few others, I suspect.
After I got over the initial shock of Job 39:5 and the potential of God having a great sense of humor and justice, I reminded myself which word I was given twenty minutes earlier. I read on. The rest of Job 39 is a list of several animals described by God that exist as a result of complete dependence upon Him. God was putting Job in his place in this chapter and essentially reminding him who was boss. Spoiler, it’s not Job…nor you…nor me.
This very same lesson God was teaching Job is exactly what He wanted me to learn over the last two years. And since I finally let go and accepted God’s guidance, the sensation that I continue to have is one of freedom. In fact, I’ve said that very word – freedom – many times since God relocated our family. I feel free.
I feel free of my fear and anxiety. (Though I do have some moments of relapse that I’m working through.)
I feel free of the constant judgement and expectations of others. (Whether those were real or imaginary, probably both, they plague me no longer.)
And quite frankly, just being able to get back into nature and seasons that I recognize and enjoy has set my soul to soaring. Leaving behind the concrete jungle has freed my spirit in ways that even surprised me, and I knew I loved nature, but now it seems as I inhale cool crisp mountain air…I can finally breathe again.
So, yes, I think unfettered is a fine word for this year. I will thank God daily for the freedom He gave this awkward questioning soul– both my freedom from the law of sin and death and freedom from where I was literally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am free indeed.
“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:5-6
There is a direct correlation between the amount of TV news I consume and my anxiety levels. Ignorance truly is blissful. There are days when I want my naivety back and I simply want to trust that the faces I see on the street are not about to key my car or scream at me for buying white bread. My fear of others is relatively new, but I would have to admit to having some kind of social anxiety since I was a toddler. The talking heads seem to nourish my disorder by reminding me, albeit in the subtext, that anyone outside my small circle is not trustworthy especially if they look, talk, vote, worship differently than I.
And now it isn’t just the news. Social media news outlets and “friends” also remind us that we are all just fragmented parts of a very divided America. There are two distinct sides and you should firmly plant yourself in one of those groups or so they will it. Many of my family members and friends have bought into the derision of unity. We witness strangers openly attack one another and make outlandish accusations against people they don’t really know at all based upon hearsay and heartburn. And if you put yourself out there, chances are someone will take issue with what you say or even imply. Honestly, these divisions have existed for a long time. Churches have a long, ugly history of division. We should own that. Division is louder now and it sells in the marketplace. As it turns out, playing on our fears of the unknown is an easy way to control the populace and make money.
When I close my eyes I feel as if we are all on a ship heading for uncharted territories, and whether it is the apocalypse or utopia is yet to be seen or described by the captain. Depending upon the day or the current, I’m either nauseated or I’m enjoying the sea mist in my face. My vote, even if I cast it, will not stop this ship. I have zero control of the rudder and regardless of where we land, I have no choice but to trust this captain and be content with the destination. This ship doesn’t reach port until the captain says so. Sure, the ultimate destination is heaven, but right now I’m just sailing toward next year. It matters not, same captain.
I’ve learned that a great deal of fear comes from a lack of control. The older you get the more you realize that you have control over very little in life. I control my choices. That is it. I don’t control my circumstances, and I can’t get off this ship. I definitely do not control my spouse or my children. I can’t control the weather or politics or my health. I can’t control what others believe about me. I only control my attitude. Letting go of the facade of control is both terrifying and a reclamation of that lost bliss. A great deal of flexibility is required in letting go because it insists that you ride with the current more than against. Sail on!
Not everyone will like you. In fact some people, just don’t. You are not Miss America and chances are, if you are Miss America, most people will only be your friend until the next princess gets the crown. Be kind anyway. Don’t assume people hate you because of your color or religion or otherwise, and if they do, let them. Often some of us never get the memo that it is really is ok to be disliked by others and that life is not about competing for likes or popularity. And I know this is un-American, but you are not even required to fight for your right to be whatever it is you chose to be. I don’t know if you saw Titanic, but the party was definitely better below decks. When I let go of trying to please the masses, I became extremely intolerable to some, but the greatest part was being freed from the slavery of pleasing others. I know a guy who gave up all His rights. It was painful, but it worked out well for the rest of us.
I’ve had some battles with my God over trust. Yielding to Him has not been pleasant. I confess that it took me being completely empty and hopeless to let go. I do not wish this for you. Avoid it if you can. Like most virtues, peace and trust take effort and practice especially in times of unrest and uncertainty.
The waters are murky right now and fierce waves on the horizon.
I wish I could tell you who I sat with last weekend. I wish I could share each of their stories so you would feel what I do about them. I wish you could fully understand where they came from and where they are going. But instead I’ll tell you this.
Last weekend I sat in a circle with ministers and their spouses on a retreat. I did not want to be there. Sharing circles are not my bag. Being an introvert, spending the weekend with people I don’t know who tearfully pour their heart out and then stare at me expectantly waiting for my reciprocal soul bearing sounds like a complete and utter nightmare. I admitted openly to the group that I ate cold turkey a few days previous in the hopes of developing food poisoning. I’m not joking. I did not want to be there with these mystery people forcing me to talk. I was judgemental from the start. I assumed most would be southern. And let’s be real, most southerners take a good five years before they are authentic with you. I went in ready to cross my arms and roll my eyes.
Enter my husband who would not stop bugging me about it for months…years even. Last weekend has been in the works for years. We had been invited three separate times over the last four years, and it was me that refused to sit in the share circle of lonely death each time. I am sorry for that, now.
I went. I, begrudgingly and heels dug-in deep, went. And I am changed.
What I heard from the mouths of ministers who serve the church:
I heard stories of loss. Loss that I wouldn’t make it through. Loss that would send me to my grave.
I heard stories of betrayal. Betrayals that angered me and lit a fire within my soul all for the sake of people that I didn’t know.
I heard stories of broken hearts and abandonment.
I heard stories of ego crushing self-doubt and spiritual confusion.
I heard stories of wayward children who have yet to come home.
The stories were rich and painful and beautiful. Some had happy endings. Some were still trapped in the throws of conflict. And some will find no resolution.
These people in the circle, their lives full of adventure and stories worth writing about, all could have chosen to walk away from God. They could have chosen to leave their churches many many MANY times, but they didn’t. They remain steadfast to the reason for all hope. They remain faithful and resolute to the calling by the One greater than us all.
That is the lesson.
So many in ministry walk away from the call. Some are forced out due to moral failure. Others simply are work-worn and tired. Here’s the clincher: Most of us are work-worn and tired. But we press on faithful to one who won’t abandon, who won’t betray, who won’t die. We press on because the work needs to be done and there are so many souls out there who need to see what redemption and grace and love truly look like.
So, while there are churches out there who would raise an eyebrow at the pain and trials of ministers, and while some scoundrels who call themselves believers would wonder if God is punishing us for our poor theology and errant church branding or label, I say to you, minister, press on. Press on to the prize and hold on to your calling.
As for me, I have a few new friends and facebook connections. I have a few more stories in my pocket of transformation, grace, and triumph. I will cling to those stories on my difficult days.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Lord, I love you, but don’t make me say so too loudly.
Lord, I love to sing praises to you, but don’t make me sing that old one.
Lord, I love your word, but don’t make me go to bible class and learn it.
Lord, I love all your children, but don’t make talk to that one.
Lord, I want to live for you, but don’t make me uncomfortable.
Lord, I want to be a Christian, but don’t make me look different than my peers.
Lord, I want you to provide for me, but don’t make me look at that homeless man.
Lord, I want everyone to go to heaven, but don’t make me tell anyone about you.
Lord, I want to pray to you, but don’t make me do it in public or when I’m busy. Lord, I want to be with you, but don’t make me give up…
I’m 400 miles from my mother. It is a seldom occurrence that I can sit with her and hold her hand. I hate that distance between us. I miss her. I miss watching her eyebrow raise when I say something sassy, and I miss hearing her equally sassy reply. The apple doesn’t fall far.
My mother is always the last one up in the house. She reads or watches a decorating show on HGTV late into the night after my dad is already tucked in and snoring. She sits in her little maroon chair and enjoys her solitude without my daddy fussing about the president or the church or the grass that’s dying in the backyard. I always steal a few moments of her time when I’m there just to sit with her and visit. We catch up on the garden and on dad and life.
She is so precious to me.
Forty years ago my mother left her traditional Texas life to follow my dad onto the stateside mission field in Idaho. I remember growing up hearing her frustrations about not finding okra or black eyed peas in the grocery store. I remember watching her heart break as she tried to relate to the personalities of the people in the great northwest which is vastly different from the Texas debutant culture of which she was raised. But she challenged herself and changed for the sake of a church minutes from the Grand Tetons and the best trout fishing in the country. I watched my mother learn to snow ski, clean a fish, tent camp, and shovel snow on top of teaching Sunday School every Sunday morning, providing countless meals for potluck dinners, and raising three daughters all while hosting a young church in her living room.
My mother shared Jesus with every coworker she had. She always worked outside the home and always made friends where she worked. This didn’t come naturally to her. She was shy and introverted, but ministry trained her to be otherwise. Jesus developed a natural evangelist out of a woman who hid behind my grandmother’s skirt as a child.
She loved my daddy. She loved her girls. She taught us scripture and demonstrated the art of being a Godly wife and mother. I can still hear her voice when I sing certain hymns. Hymns connect me to my mother’s heart and to God’s as they did her. She never missed a worship service.
As I sat next to my sweet mother that night and listened to her, the conversation quickly turned back to Jesus as it often does in my parents’ home. She looked into my eyes and hers filled with tears and she said, “I just don’t know if I’ve done enough. I just hope I’ve been enough.” My heart broke.
After seventy eight years of following a stubborn preacher around the country leaving the land she knew and parents she loved?
After years of sharing Jesus with three year olds to atheist co-workers?
After countless hours over a hot stove cooking for the sick?
After leading three rather precocious daughters to Jesus?
After a thousand greeting cards mailed to the lonely?
After decades of turning pages of scripture to the point of your bible falling apart?
You, mama? You don’t feel you’ve done enough?
I looked down at her work worn hands folded in her lap and tried to process how a woman who devoted her life to the Lord could believe this.
We are all prone to the same self-doubt disease. We all still believe that what we do can somehow change the mind of God. We all still try to earn His favor. We all still doubt that He will accept us and our mess. The best of us and the worst of us all struggle with this sickness and it does its best to break us.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Life will zap any confidence you have. I lose confidence in the church regularly. I lose confidence in my job, in my purpose, in my abilities, in family, in my friends…the list goes on. People let you down. Sickness comes. Money isn’t reliable. Children leave home. Politicians lie. Putting confidence in life here is risky at best even if you are not a believer. Because we are all on our way out the door and we will trip on our way there. We are not graceful beings, but that is the point.
His grace covers the lack of grace we offer ourselves.
Rest assured there is one thing of which we can be confident, and we can set our life on the outcome. And that is the grace provided to you by God. It’s done. The debt is paid. There is no bill collector. There’s no red tape. There’s no border to sneak across, no forms to fill out, no entry exam. Stop beating yourself up. You waste your time, friend.
Your doubt isn’t in yourself. Your doubt is in the one who already paid the debt. Don’t doubt His sacrifice and insist His death wasn’t enough for you. Thank Him for it. Trust the sacrifice was not in vain and that you reap the eternal reward of what He did. Praise indeed!
Mama, you are enough. You’ve always been enough to me, and I know you are more than enough to Jesus.
Because His grace is enough.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10