Fingerprints of God

img_3331I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me.  His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life.  One way He’s done this, is with dates.  Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me!  But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him.  And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.  

Dates

img_3334The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula.  Reason?  We wanted to be closer to our church.  It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week.  I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc.  We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.

That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia.  This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times.  My husband was from Singapore.  I was from Chicago.  We had no family in California.  We’d have to build a community of friends.  And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.

A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go.  It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan.  Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo.  I sobbed through most of that sermon.  I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts.  But, I just knew.

You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’.  Good question!  We tried visiting several churches closer to our home.  They were fine, but we could not shake an  inner unrest.  So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take.  In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer  – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house.  For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market.  Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something.  But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted.  December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday.  A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday.  A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday.  A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly.  In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing  the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate.  In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.  

I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks.  Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended.  But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go.  I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God.  And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him.  He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path.  John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go.  And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”

Something Magnificent

We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people.  And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church.  It was great!  I made friends, used my gifts, served.  (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives.  Many remain dear friends.)  But, after a couple of years,  I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move.  This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation.  As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless.  (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter).  The rest, as they say, is history.

In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me.  But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest.  (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!)  God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission.  And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’  

Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.  

Cars

Minivan Madness

In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent.  Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto.  There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible.  Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy.  Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender.  Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.

Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer.  Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping.  Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date.  Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived.  We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried.  What the hell was going on!?!?  FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up.  So, last weekend, we did.

On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day.  It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.

Donation Day

In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.   And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.

Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient.  I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient.  But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.

When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults.  I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed.  As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted.  It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me.  And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me.  More fingerprints.  Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.

img_3295-1When she saw the car, she started crying.  All I could do was hug her.  After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way.  A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home!  She took a few pictures, which was good.  It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments.  On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments.  Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it.  On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.

On earth….as it is in heaven

When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth.  Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life.  But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life.  As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith.  If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats.  Don’t be a goat.  Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least.  It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.

Lighting For Literacy

I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV.  I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.

When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.

Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy.  In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy img_3330and education around the globe.  It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!).  But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule.  Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.  

The ‘Actual’ Divine Go

img_3333So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world.  Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary.  We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision.  And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’.  The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restorationwholeness and and prosperity.   The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy.  But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.

I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing.  Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).  We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived.  Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they,were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  God’s temple is now in us.  And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us.  As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  

Don’t be a goat or a cymbal.  Do Go.  These are the things God is teaching me.  His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least.  And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls.  God shows up.  Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance.  This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my savior, all the day long.  The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes.  So, we GO.    

 

 

Surrender

So, Lent happened.

It wasn’t perfect.  But, it was good.  By perfect, I mean, I didn’t succeed in sticking with the 40 Acts.  However, those 40 Acts….the daily emails and Instgram reminders of folks around the globe making Lent personal and real in their lives, inspired a journey in my own.

I Fired Donald Trump

FullSizeRender 2In my last blog post, I shared my commitment to ‘give up Donald Trump’ for Lent.  I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass, who wrote in the Washington Post on Ash Wednesday, about how her mind had been ‘politically colonized’ by Trump.  She vowed to reclaim her mental geography during the 40 days leading up to Easter.  I took the pledge with her…..and, it worked.

Trump had become my gateway drug to a daily overdose of worry and stress.  During Lent, I permitted myself to still read the news.  But, guided by my new abstention, I steered clear of anything that was solely about Trump.  It wasn’t easy!  Yet, as the days passed, I could feel my anxiety level going down.  Mind you, I was absolutely not falling into a mindset of ‘God’s in control, therefore, I don’t need to do anything’.  Rather, to go back to the mental geography analogy – I had to create ‘real estate’ for God to come in and show me where and how He wanted me to respond to the world around.  It was a little hard to do that, when my mind perpetually horrified over Trump’s latest executive order or offensive tweet.  It didn’t take me long to find answers to the HOW and WHERE.  God definitely had a few nobler alternatives to Trump.

Cars

More often than a booming voice from heaven, the voice of God typically comes as a gentle prompting or ‘still small voice’, as 1 Kings describes it (when God spoke to Elijah).  I could fire Trump but I couldn’t fire myself from the job of being a mom.  Even as I created space for God, during the 40 days of Lent, I was still doing mundane mommy stuff, like shuttling my kids to their countless activists, playdates, doctor appointments, birthday parties, etc.  In the midst of shuttling little people, I began to get frustrated with my car – more than I ever had in times prior.  Something had to change.

We purchased our Volvo XC90 in 2007, WHEN THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHILD.  Now, there are THREE cherubs riding along.  And, not just three tinies….there are kids who steal and actually fit into MY clothes (not saying which one, but there’s only one girl…..).  When we bought the Volvo, I was convinced those three rows would suffice for as long as the car ran.  But, talk to my poor mother, who endured a few road trips with us, and she will tell you that rows two and three are as bad or worse as an economy seat on United.  Even quick trips around town seem long enough for WWIII to break out in the rows behind me.  Still, while I have long suspected that we’d one day need to trade our medium-sized SUV for a mini-van, 2017 was NOT the year our spreadsheet said we should make a change.

Why is any of this rambling relevant?  I had a perfectly good, low-mileage vehicle – it worked, even if we were all about to kill each other.  Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car?  The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.

Here’s the long answer…..

Willow

God bless Bill Hybels.  Truly.  I remember vividly, being an adolescent Chicago-girl going into Willow Creek for the first time.  I’d grown up in the Pentecostal church, where faith manifested itself as a list of rules and standards blended with charismatic worship.  This place was almost other-wordly to me; it was a complete 180 degree shift in what I’d known.

Exhibit A: we left the Pentecostal church because we were no longer welcome.  My mom was getting a divorce, and that was a sin.  I always tell the story, with the emphasis on my mom.  But, a friend recently pointed out to me that the injury was also to my brother and me…we were part of the collateral damage, stemming from this kind of dogma.  On the flip side, here was Willow Creek.  Not only was there a support community for folks going through divorce, but instead of showing you the door, they’d give you a car.  Literally.  They had a cars ministry, where donated cars would get fixed up and distributed to single moms from the community in need.  WOW!

My mom didn’t need a car.  But, we DID need compassion and a safe space to sort out our ‘next-steps’, after losing our church, house and father/husband.  Willow Creek gave us that.  And, many years later, my mom was able to donate her car.

Since then, I’ve dreamed of donating a car.  Maybe it is because of this personal history.  Maybe it is because of the shrieks of joy when an Oprah audience hears those fabled words, “YOU get a car and YOU get a car….”.  Maybe it is because of my growing heartache for those who’d been dealt a really rough hand.  To give someone a car….it seems so tangible.  It’s a vehicle.  IT TAKES YOU PLACES.  Literally, and figuratively.

Able Works

The last few months, I’ve been connecting with an organization in East Palo Alto, called Able Works.  They equip individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty.  On a whim, I asked they whether they ever took vehicle donations.  It’s not on their website, so I suspected they probably did not.  But, that ‘still, small voice’ was unrelenting.  ASK.  So, I did.  And, they DO.  And, better yet – they don’t just sell them at auction via a 3rd party – they actually allocate them to people from our community in need.  In fact, they had a woman in their LiveAble program, who desperately needed and had been praying for a car.  It’s hard to win an argument with the Holy Spirit.  This pretty much sealed the deal, in my heart, at least.

I still had to persuade my husband.  But, here’s the crazy part.  Even though we’re both Type-A Control Freaks…..even though ‘The Plan’ had not included a new car anytime soon (let alone the donation of our old car), my husband and I both felt an odd (for us!) peace, as we quickly switched course.  In the span of just a few days (which is faster than we ever make major decisions!)  we signed on the dotted line for a new minivan and committed to the gifting of our old car.  Looking back, it makes complete sense (especially, with the multiple road trips we plan to take this summer with our 3 kids + 1 dog!).  But, before Lent, we had no such plans.  And, I’m not sure my constant fretting over Trump would have ever facilitated such a decision process…..actually, scratch that – I am sure, it wouldn’t.

Messes

Lent was messy.  On Day 1, I confidently created a spreadsheet for tracking my #40Acts…..I only got to day 5 or 6.  Pathetic.  Right?  By my old standards, yes.  Lent is about confession.  So, here is my mine: the ‘Over Achiever’ me was already planning on day 2, the Easter blog post where I’d share my beautiful #40Acts spreadsheet.  No wonder, God derailed my grand plans after just a couple days!  They were my plans – not His.  But, in those early days, God  planted seeds for my ‘No Trump’ rule, which opened the door for our car donation.

Still, it didn’t happen overnight.  As the days and weeks passed, the blogger in me struggled….  I had nothing to say, nothing to write.  Everything was a jumble in my head.  There were so many moving parts and lingering question marks.  It didn’t fit into a neat, pretty package that I could easily translate into a coherent blog post.  That’s my ugly truth.  Even as I wholeheartedly build my life around justice, mercy and humility – I perpetually trip over myself.  No wonder, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we must die DAILY to our sins.  God wasn’t looking for 40 entries on my little spreadsheet.

In the midst of my mess, Jen Hatmaker posted a quote from her upcoming book, Of Mess and Moxie,

You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art.  It isn’t valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact.  It can be simply for the love of it.  That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest.  If the only person it saves is you, that’s enough. 

Whoa.  That quote was like a life-preserver, thrown into a sea of doubt and confusion.  I remembered that I started blogging, as a way to have public accountability for my personal spiritual journey.  Period.  It wasn’t about how often I posted or how many hits I got or even whether my writing opened doors down the road.  It was about making faith real, for my family and for me.  God put me in this world for a reason, to go OUT to the least, and live a Micah 6:8 life.  But….I must look UP….often.  Soon after this quote, Jen published a brutally honest blog post – her first in many months.  She wrote,

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.

The Old Me put the cart before the horse.  I wanted the blog post script that I could reverse engineer from a list or some sort superficial spiritual practice.  But, here’s the thing: I don’t think my blog is very high up on God’s priority list – especially, if it becomes a vehicle of the Christian Machine.  My soul, however, is.  God had called me to lean into Lent, which meant embracing some soul-level messiness.   CS Lewis taught that, if you want to live  in God’s image, then you have to live a truthful existence.  It turns out, the only way to truly experience God’s love is to bring my own story and brokenness into the light.  

FullSizeRenderSo, here’s where things stand now.  We are STILL WAITING for the new minivan.  I haven’t yet donated my car – it still sits in my garage.  (Hopefully, that will change in the next couple weeks!). But….  The Me that felt I should say nothing till the whole thing was a done deal, and I could present my complete journey as a pretty package….that ME lost.  The Me that felt anxious over the weeks going by with nothing to write about, opted to ‘be still’ in the silence.  God had graciously entered my mess, and answered my HOW (create space for God) & WHERE (give a car to Able Works) Lent Prayer.  God reminded me that the death and brokenness of Good Friday always precedes beauty and provision of Resurrection Sunday.

Redemption

FullSizeRender 4Easter.

Remember that?  Easter Bunny.  Cross.  Lilies.  Peeps.  Ring any bells?

Funny, how fast we move on.  I’m sure a professional ‘blog consultant’ would say that there’s no sense writing about Easter, a whopping week after the holiday has come and gone.  But, see, that’s the problem.  Easter isn’t a holiday.  It’s everything.

Easter is not only the cornerstone of Christian faith, it’s also the day, over 60 years ago, that my grandmother was murdered.  Every year, when I celebrate a Risen Savior, I remember a lost mother and grandmother, a women I never knew, yet desperately miss.  If ever there were a motivation to find beauty in the broken, this has been it.  I’ve wanted my life to somehow bring meaning, inspiration and purpose out of her death.  Parts of my life look neat and tidy.  But, many parts are a big mess.  Sometimes, you lose someone you love, waaaaay too soon.  Sometimes, marriages end and dads disappear.  Sometimes, the doctor confirms your worst fear, and you join the cancer club.  Sometimes, ‘religion and politics’ clash in ways that are messy and painful to untangle or understand.  Sometimes, life reminds us, ‘why Easter’.

This post wasn’t intended to be an ‘Ode to Jen Hatmaker’.  But, the words from her last blog cut to my core, on so many levels.

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

Every. Single. Time.

FullSizeRender 5Every time I read that paragraph, I cry.  That’s why I had to share the whole freakin’ thing.  God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death.  He did it once, so that we can claim it over and over and over again…..like, when your Grandma is taken on Easter Sunday.  God still wins.

Redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.  Only God can do that.  But, now He has extra help.  I believe that my Grandma watches over me….that her spirit is no longer where her tombstone sits, but that she is in heaven, with Jesus.  Now, she is one of the angels.  And, over sixty years later, her story propels me to nobler heights.

Surrender

FullSizeRender 6Daily, we die.  That’s surrender.  Some days, it’s Donald Trump.  Other days (if you’re crazy planners with detailed financial spreadsheets, like my husband and me), it’s a car.   Sometimes, the Trumps and the cars remind you of that verse in Romans:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

Indeed, when we pause long enough to stop tripping over ourselves, God shows up in the most unexpected ways.  That’s the most concrete thing I can say.  This story isn’t finished, but I’m trying to let it be God’s story – not mine.  I’m trying to let the lessons of Lent and significance of Easter seep into the deepest parts of me.  It’s the only way to write the next chapter in my Micah 6:8 life.