Thursday, July 28, 2016

Being Peter

One of the things we Christians hear over and over again is to live boldly for Christ. It's impressed upon us to courageously answer God's call - no matter how crazy it might seem - with a resounding yes! We're taught that God wants us to put our trust in Him, so even if we think what He's asking us to do is impossible or hard or scary or will take a whole lot of work, we should trust He's got us and will carry us through.

So we volunteer to teach Sunday School. And we volunteer to sing in the choir. And we take meals to the new mama and the new widow and we pat ourselves on the back and feel good about all that we are accomplishing in God's name.

And none of that is bad. In fact, it's all very good and very necessary and very appreciated. But, well, how radical is a chicken casserole really? How far out of our safe, comfortable life have we gone for Christ?

There's a story in the Bible where this guy, Peter, is out doing his job: fishing. Day in and day out Peter catches fish to pay the bills. He's got himself a boat and some nets - the things he needs to do his job. He's made his investment, now he's working on making his profit.

Jesus sees him, chats with him a bit and is like dude, man, you gotta trust me - if you quit your job, like this instant - and hang with me, your life is going to be more impactful and more purposeful than you could ever imagine... like radically different.

I'm kind of taking the liberty to paraphrase here.... but the point is, God asked him to choose to live boldly for Him; to take the comfort of everything he knew and just chuck it out the window to intentionally live uncomfortably, without much of a plan, without any visible or tangible safety net. The plan was for Peter to quit the business he built and walk around following some guy around (Jesus).

Somewhere along the way we have become crazy obsessed about safety. "Safety first!" I'd yell out to my kids in the car, my reminder for them to buckle up.

We check expiration dates and ingredient lists. We read hours of consumer reports before buying the safest stroller and argue intensely over the pros and cons of educational video games. We accept the job when we can be assured the pay and benefits are an improvement. We gather our nest egg and eat at the restaurant where we know the food is good. We go on a trip after all our vaccinations and after we check all the hotel reviews. And we always pay for the traveler's insurance.

We don't make a move until we know it's going to be safe. Until we can prove that our decision makes sense.

We need to be more Peter-ish.

Can you imagine that exchange in today's world? Can you imagine Jesus walking up to a modern day Peter and saying, got this great idea - give up your business and let's go walking. Peter would have to see how much he could get back on his investment - what the boat is worth, the nets, how much he could sell them for. Then he'd calculate out his missed wages, could he afford to follow Jesus and for how long? If the thing with Jesus didn't work out would he be able to buy his boat back? Or another comparable one? What about his house? He would need time to go through his belongings, figure out what to keep in storage, what to sell, what to give away. He'd have to announce it to his friends and family - surely there would be a going away party filled with friends giving cards and hugs and words of encouragement.

Shoot. Can you even picture Jesus waiting on all that nonsense? He'd be like look, if you don't want to follow me  just say so - clearly you're not ready.

Are you ready? Are you really ready?

I have a friend who answered God's call to adopt a child.... except she was 25.... and single.... and she had to navigate the Romanian government while not speaking a word of their language.

Nothing about that made sense.

Nothing about that was safe.

She was too young and it was too foolish to spend money like that and who would purposely want to be a single parent? Wouldn't it be better if she got a full time job and saved her money and found a nice man to marry and settle down and buy a house and then they could discuss adoption?

But God had a child in an orphanage whose life needed to be changed right then and there and He placed the call... will you follow me?

What would have happened to that beautiful child while the appropriate amount of money was being saved and the right man was being met and the right house was being found? What would have happened to her precious little body without proper medical attention? What would have happened to her heart without a mama's arms to wrap her up tight?

Sometimes our need to be safe has the harshest of consequences.

And another thing? We need to stop judging others when they actually do live boldly. See, there aren't a lot of Peter's anymore, so when we see one, we just don't know what to do with them.

You think Peter didn't walk away feeling good and hopeful but then, hours into the journey, when it got dark and quiet, all of a sudden reality hit him? There were probably times when he wondered if he had made the right choice. There were probably times when things got hard - real hard - and he thought what have I gotten myself into? I doubt he was 100% sure and 100% happy 100% of the time.

Answering God's call is never easy and rarely is it without experiencing the extremely hard and incredibly difficult. But that's kind of what makes it about God: this is hard - this is scary - but do you still trust me?

There are the beautiful few among us that boldly follow and keep following, no matter how hard and how scary it gets. We should be high fiving them in the street not shaking our heads behind their backs telling anyone who will listen how ridiculous we think they are.

My friend, the one who adopted as a young single mom? She went on to foster children as a young single mom with a newly adopted child. And she adopted another one. Because God asked her to.

I imagine there were days when she thought about what her friends were doing and compared it to her life. I imagine there were nights when she felt like she was too young to do what God had asked her to and she'd rather be enjoying dinner with her friends without having to spend hours arranging childcare and then feeling guilty that she wasn't home spending quality time with her kids. I imagine there were days when she looked over her messy house with the jelly smeared faces and wondered who would ever want to marry into this. I imagine there were a lot of people who figured she had created this hard life for herself so she kind of deserved to sleep in the proverbial bed she had made. Even if that meant feeling isolated and alone.

But she did marry. She married an amazing man who saw her goodness and her light and saw her courageous spirit and the boldness in her trust in God. Someone who wanted in. And they had two more children. And they continue to foster. And life is hard and sleep is fleeting and the issues that come with broken children and their broken childhoods sometimes seem insurmountable and threaten to consume them whole and sometimes it's the weakest of whispers, but still they say, we trust you God.

Meanwhile, the good, well meaning people of the village shake their heads while providing running commentary: they can't handle it, they took too much on, they should just focus on their own children, look how stressed they are, they never seem to get enough sleep, they're not doing this right, this can't be good for their marriage....

Judgment in the face of boldness. Cynicism in the face of radical obedience.

While God sits, smiling proudly from His throne, "well done, good and faithful servant. Well done."

We need more Peter's. To obey. To say yes. To follow without securing that earthly safety net first. To live boldly and radically for Christ - because that's where the radical difference in our world is going to come from.

We need to silence our judgments when the Peter's are revealed. We need to stop shaking our heads and trying to make the bold conform to our safe, comfortable, make sense lifestyles.

We need to use our voices and our actions to encourage the Peter's and support the Peter's and learn from the Peter's: how to be brave. How to take the hard step and how to keep taking the hard steps. How to live boldly for Christ even when it makes no sense to anyone else around us.

We need to cultivate and grow more Peter's - birthed from our own bold examples. Not try to snuff them out or make others think they'd be fools for considering to follow God's call.

Are you being Peter?

Are you living boldly and radically for Christ?

Or do you play it safe?


Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men (and women) instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
Matthew 4:18-20 [MSG]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Midwest Americana Bathed in Light

This is our everyday.
Surrounded by the calloused hands of early morning risers, the ones who vacation around mother nature and milk prices, the souls who give away their plenty because that's the way God intended.
Miles of corn and beans and wheat and hay stretched out wide waiting for the rains to quench their thirst.

The slow crunch of the much too late in the night truck wheels on gravel as the farmer finally makes it home, his children tucked in hours ago. Another meal missed and still another field to harvest and the margins are slim and the stress is high and the price of corn went down by .33 but there's a plate warming in the oven and cold milk in the fridge.

And sometimes he forgets and pays more attention to the Ag Market than the jelly stained cheeks around his breakfast table but his love runs deeper than any three-piece suit on the commuter train headed toward the city.

This life isn't easy but it is good and it is decent and one of the few places left where a handshake can make an honest deal and every one in town remembers your grandmama's cobbler.

It can be hard and tough and overflowing with loss - crops and livestock and babies and barns. But there's also blessings. Too many too count. Sunrises and births and neighbors coming together. Laughter recalling memories around big kitchen tables where elbows knock against each other because family isn't restricted by DNA. Where sunlight bathes in golden light reminding us of what truly matters in this world.

This is our everyday.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Waiting to See

Last week I was at an eye appointment where it was deemed necessary to dilate my eyes. I was assured that within two hours things would be back to normal.

Except they weren't.

My world remained fuzzy and out of focus throughout the majority of the day. My eyes were abnormally sensitive to light, even in the grey drizzle of the rain. I was uncomfortable and out of sorts.

And I was angry.

Angry because I hadn't planned on any of this. I had work waiting on my desk and I needed my eyes to review the plans and write the reports. I hadn't planned on not being able to see the computer screen and I could barely type out a text message complaining about my now aching head.

Nothing looked right or felt right or was right. I was frustrated because I felt so helpless -- I couldn't do anything to speed up the process of getting back to normal.

Then it dawned on me. I could be angry and rant and let my frustration boil over in epic proportions - or I could trust the doctor. He had assured me, hadn't he? That while my vision was going to get worse for a bit, that it would, in time, become clear once again. And all I had to do was wait. I had no guarantee other than the gentle, comforting promise of the one who knows.

So I waited to see. I waited in trust.

When Avery died, I heard it over and over: someday - not now, but one day, the haze will lift and your new normal will emerge. Just give it time. I was told not to fight it, but to roll with it. Cry when I needed to, talk when I needed to, stay still when I needed to, scream when I needed to. But don't force it. Don't try to snap your fingers for an immediate fix. Time was the only thing that would heal this shattered heart.

Our lives are filled with moments when everything suddenly shifts out of focus: a death. A divorce. A diagnosis. Unemployment, a fight with a treasured friend, a call in the middle of the night. A moment when we realize that the place we have stood in comfort for so long is suddenly unrecognizable. We become a stranger to our own lives. Nothing, no matter how hard we squint, looks the way it used to. And that can feel unbelievably scary.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Psalm 86:7

But we can put our trust in the One who knows. God promises us that He's going to get things back into focus. It might not look exactly the same way as we remember, but it's in focus.

I think about all the times my life has gone out of focus: an abusive relationship, custody dispute, a failed marriage, an unexpected death, a scary diagnosis.... and always, always, has the time come when I could see again. It just took time. And it meant that even though I desperately wanted things to get better this very second and even though I didn't feel anything was happening fast enough and even though I hated every uncomfortable, hurting moment I was experiencing and even though I was scared of what my future might look like, I had to trust that the One who holds my heart was the One who was going to make all things right and would do so in His time. I had to wait in trust. And waiting can be hard. But my heart always emerged more perceptive, more compassionate, more caring than it was before because now it focused on the things that matter.

There is a healing and growth that comes from the times when life is hazy.

There is a strength and courage that grows from the times when life is hazy.

There is a future and hope that emerges during the times when life is hazy.

Sure enough - although it was well into the night by the time it happened, it did happen. I don't know exactly when it did, only that around 7:00 that night I looked up and realized hey! I can see again! It had taken much longer than I expected, much longer than I had wanted, but my vision was where it needed to be and my surroundings became clear once again.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Come as You Are

The other night I was in a bar with a group of my high school classmates celebrating 25 years since we graduated. We gave hugs and caught up and talked about things we remembered from years ago and after a while, an old friend crossed over the room to me and asked me a question: "You go to Lakeland, don't you?" 

Lakeland (or, Lakeland Community Church, as it's more formally known) is where I physically go to worship Christ each and every Sunday. 

I grew up on Sunday School and bedtime prayers and I knew there was a God in heaven that just had to have been awfully disappointed in me because I never did seem to get things just right. I was way too sensitive and argued back way too much. But I knew that if people got really sick or really scared you could pray.

What I didn't know was this God I had heard so much about was actually one of my greatest fans - I just couldn't wrap my head around it. There were so many better people in the world than me - people who let puppies lick their faces and who generously donated homemade baked goods to every sale; people who eagerly awoke in the early morning light and sipped coffee while reading their Bible before heading off to volunteer at the local old folks home. I wasn't any of that - I'm still not, and probably never will be -- but I learned that God loves me anyway.

This friend and I talked in a bar about God and church. She's seen my Facebook posts and started going to the early service. (Which means I'll never see her because I'm a late service gal.) And when one of our other friends asked what it was about this particular church, she thought about it for a minute before explaining, "I don't know.... I like the music and I feel good when I leave."

I thought about how I started going to Lakeland... numb, confused, grieving... full of a sorrow so thick and heavy I didn't think I'd ever work my way out. I would come in and sit not even knowing why I was there exactly, just that I needed to be somewhere and hoping I wouldn't feel worse when I left. 

It was the music that got me. Maybe more correctly a voice. I had heard people sing church songs before but I had never heard someone worship Jesus while letting a bunch of people watch as they did it. There was a pureness I had never experienced before. 

The sermons I heard were ones that tugged at my soul: fear, restoration, prayer, attracting heaven. Words that explained, helped make sense and calmed me.

And more than that I saw an example being lived out in front of me about what a relationship with Christ looks like. And that included the fact that not a single person in that entire church judged me. Not a single one. 

I went to a church and sat in a chair and when I left, I felt full, hopeful, renewed, refreshed and unspeakably loved by Christ.

I want everyone in my life to experience a love without judgement. A love that has no strings and no conditions. Just love being showered on them simply because they are loved.  

I want the people in my community to be less worried about whether or not church is for them and more interested in finding out who this Jesus guy is. 

I want the people who sit in my church to not give a rip about what others are wearing but instead take the time to smile, say hello and make someone feel welcome and encourage them to come back.

Lakeland Church is responding to a need in Walworth County in an exciting way. At 9:15 am on Sundays you're invited to meet Jesus at the old Belfry Theatre (just down the road from Lakeland's big church building.) 

The Belfry is a super cool, historic site that's warm and inviting. And there's a worship band and coffee and people who overflow in their faith. Their love and compassion is contagious.

And you don't have to wear fancy shoes or know where every book in the Bible is found. And you don't need to quote scripture or sing old hymns from memory. All you need to do is come and sit.... just like I did. Because, trust me, God will do the rest. 


For more information: follow Lakeland - Belfry on Facebook.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Childless Mother on Mother's Day

This is my third Mother's Day without my daughter Avery. She died suddenly in a car accident about 6-8 minutes after my oldest daughter, Jadrian (who was 17 years old and driving) pulled out of the parking lot after Avery's gymnastic practice let out. She was on her way to church youth group.

This is my third Mother's Day with a huge gaping hole in my heart. And my third Mother's Day being utterly disappointed, forgotten and let down. I could go on and on but really, what would it change? Let it be known that when my time finally arrives to have a sit down with Jesus, I'm going to ask him to explain why he had me experience the single most difficult emotional thing a mama could ever go through with someone who expresses zero emotion whatsoever.

That being said, I'm here to help all those other men in the world who claim to have no idea what to do on Mother's Day for the Childless Mother in their life. Maybe you messed this Mother's Day up. Maybe the last three or more. But you can decide to want to do better.

(1.) Do SOMETHING. Doing nothing hurts. It just does. Continuing to avoid the pain of the day like it doesn't exist makes the hurting worse. By a lot.

(2.) Plant a flower, bush or tree that blooms in her child's favorite color. It's beautiful to watch something continue to grow and bloom over time. It's kind sucky to have to throw dead flowers away after a too short blooming life in a vase. We're kind of tired of death, you know?

(3.) Have a her favorite photograph of her child printed on canvas. Or enlarged and framed really nicely.

(4.) Jewelry with all the kids names or initials - even the ones who passed - yes, please.

(5.) Find a picture of her child and have an artist rendering done of it. Pencil sketch, charcoal, oil paint - it doesn't matter really. It's knowing that someone spent their time and talent looking into the face of her angel. With each brush stroke her child was seen.

(6.) Find a picture that her child drew or colored and have that framed nicely.

(7.) Take the remaining kids for a professional photo and be sure to include a picture of her child who had passed. All her children made her a mama. Not just the ones still living on earth.

(8.) Do something special at her child's grave. Clean it up. Spruce it up. Leave a little mother-child figure or some flowers or a wind chime.

(9.) Give her a gift certificate for a massage. Grieving mamas tend to be a tad tight from trying to hold it all together for the remaining people in their lives.

(10.) Acknowledge. Say something. Write it in a card. Hold her hand and look in her eyes while saying it. Tell her that you know it's a hard day to walk through - but that you're there.

Mother's Day can be a hard day but doing something special to acknowledge her angel can also bring immense joy.