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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Time to Smell the Shit

img_1699It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting!  In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch.  She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys.  It’s been a pretty smooth transition.  That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.

Case in point: dogs sniffing poop.  Now, really….WHY?  It’s gross!  I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts.  Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it.  Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?

Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them.  Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”

Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs!  (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me.  With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out.  I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.

How does ANY of this relate to theology?  So glad you asked!

Suffering Sucks 

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The BEST chocolate croissants

Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend.  We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.

It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come.  In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more.   Our suffering matters….it is not easy.  But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.

David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does.  He wrote:

When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too.  This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church.  I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves.  The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.

img_1775For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable.  I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees.  Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering.  This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL.  As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams.  It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.”  That’s the call.

Too Political??

fullsizerender-29Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids?  ME, ME, ME!!!!!

Hands down!  Those were the days!  Right!?!?   fullsizerender-30I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands.  We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.

But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads.  Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  IT IS.  In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:

I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

fullsizerender-28Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance.  And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil.  The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us.  Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”  Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’.  Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit.  It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!

Forget Franklin and Focus

fullsizerender-31I joined twitter a few days ago.  That’s been interesting.  One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”  Say, WHAAAAT????

Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No.  It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”  Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.

Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women.  Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country.  As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.”  Ummm….NOT OKAY.

THIS IS A TIPPING POINT.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about theology.  It’s about unapologetically loving the least.  This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words.  This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.  

Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette.  Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account.  We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice?  The short answer: NO.  We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th.  It is time to get down in the trenches.  To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  #WhyIResist.”  It is time for the church to resist.  We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at! 

So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s.  Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family.  #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD  Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers.  The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest.  The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’.  And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY.  This is our template.  This is how we can love the least.  To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.

So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?

fullsizerender-27In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy.  When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’.  When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.

 

When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.  Jesus got into the whole with us.  But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further.  He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’  Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’.  Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’  He took our place.

Want to know what Jesus would do?  At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place.  I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date.  And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.

Shit Happens

Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world.  And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing.  All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid.  We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.

fullsizerender-32As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.”  Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering.  So, wake up, church.  Shit happens.  Suffering happens.  Our avoidance won’t make it go away.  But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed.  If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven?  (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  #StillShePersisted.

 

This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today.  We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them.  But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME.  And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

In this, we persist.

 

I’m STILL With Her: a letter to my tween daughter

dayna_044Dear Ana,

In a few days, our nation will hold a historic election.  Either, we will elect the first woman ever to hold the highest position in the land.  Or, we will elect someone who comes to the stage via an unconventional path, offering with it, a promise to bring change.  No matter who is elected, we can be sure that change is coming.  Here’s what I want you to know and remember about this, the eve of the 2016 Presidential Election.

I’M WITH HER

First and foremost, I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Even with all the ups and downs, at the endflat800x800075t-u1 of the day, I am 110% certain she is better prepared and more qualified than her opponent – just look at the incredibly long list of business leaders, academics, religious leaders and even members of both parties who have endorsed her.  Her platform aligns with my beliefs regarding important issues, like making investments in education so that we can compete with countries like Singapore (where your dad is from!), helping the poor and middle class, reforming our criminal justice system and fighting gun violence, tackling immigration and terrorism in thoughtful and measured ways that do not see those of a different faith or race (like you!) as our enemies, taking care of our planet, etc.  She isn’t perfect, but she has the right then-us-democratic-presidential-candidates-barack-obama-and-hillary-clinton-pose-for-photographers-prior-to-the-cnnlos-angeles-times-democratic-presidential-debate-in-hollywood-california-january-31-2experience and temperament for the job.  In addition, she is the first woman to represent a major party in a Presidential election.  When you’re older, I hope this is commonplace.  But, for now, this is historic!  In your lifetime, you’ve gotten to see an African American and now a woman at the top of the ticket; I am so glad you will grow up, witnessing women and minorities break ceilings in all kinds of industries and roles.

When I voted, I thought of you and the world you would grow-up in…..as much as I john-f-kennedy-inauguration-1961-1considered my own preferences or interests.  You deserve as much, and I hope that when you grow up, you will have a similar mind towards democracy, embracing both the rights as well as the responsibilities of citizenship.  As John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Thousands have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom; we must not discard the sacred honor, that is the right to vote and participate in a democratic process.  In seven years, when you are old enough to vote, do your homework.  Listen to and read sources from varied perspectives.  Then, go vote.  Never again could a man like Trump think of holding such a high office if someone like you shows up to the polls….a young, female, mixed-race voter.  Your voice matters.  Young people, matter.  Minorities, matter.  Women, matter.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

Second, while my blood pressure, along with the hysteria of this moment in history will eventually die down, it will take a long time to fully recover from this election cycle.  Pundits, researchers and writers will spend years dissecting this moment in history – mark my words, there will be an entire chapter on this election in your high school American History text book!  In this instance, 5c801018f3dacaa014c2652d4e0598eethe hyperbole is actually closer to truth than not – there has never been an American election in our nation’s history, quite like this one.  This is why I have been so public in my own thoughts, because it matters that much.

Many of your peers are getting ready for a theater production of Anne Frank, playing this weekend at your middle school.  I have thought of that era often during this election, reflecting upon the lessons learned and how they might apply to today.  It is easy to criticize bygone eras through the 20/20 lenses of history.  But, we are dangerously close to electing a man who talks like many strongmen before him.  We cannot turn a blind eye, as our democracy is more fragile than we think.  The best way to keep it strong is to stay informed, speak up and get involved.  Perhaps, I should have done all three a lot sooner.

BE STILL AND KNOW……

Third, though I suspect emotions will run high for a while, your Dad and I were reminded at church last Sunday, that God is still in control and He’s not worried.  I remember when you were a tiny baby.  There were nights when you’d cry for no reason.  I’d check your diaper.  I’d make sure you were fed.  Yet, you continued to fret.  So, I’d just

img_0109
After much rocking and swaying…

rock and rock and rock.  Sometimes, I’d walk and sway…and, sway….and, sway….  One night, around 3 am, while doing lots of rocking and swaying, I felt God telling me that in the same way I wished so desperately that you, my baby, could know that everything was going to be okay and there was no reason to cry….similarly, He wished I knew just how much He loved us, cared for us and held us in the palm of His Hands.  We are God’s children.  No matter how big or how small this is in the course of American history, it cannot alter God’s plans.  We should be interested to the point that it gets us informed and involved.  But, we should always keep these events in perspective – God’s got this!  Therefore, I do not worry about the Kingdom above; I do, however, wonder about the church below.

YOUR FAITH CHOICES

I worry that your generation is being offered a choice between a version of belief that raises its fists in condemnation and judgement verses a faith that is wishy washy at best.  You don’t become a better Christian by getting good at pointing out the flaws and sins of others.  (Newsflash, we’ve all sinned….including me, your amazing mother…shocking, I know.)  Adults like to use funny sayings, like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”  In this case, young people can get disillusioned by churches or Christians that seem hypocritical and irrelevant.  I get it.  But, don’t throw away your faith because of others.  You focus on what you believe.  In my case, I’ve learned that you can be madly in love with Jesus and have a progressive view of the world; it does not have to be an ‘either or’ decision.  My advice, in discerning the essence of faith: start with God’s Word.  It is precisely because of the Bible, that I am teaching you to prioritize love, justice and mercy above all else.  Read it!  Study it!  Learn the scriptures, looking for how they all point in the direction of the great commandment Jesus Christ gives us in the New Testament.  In Matthew, when Jesus was asked pointblank what mattered most, he said:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.   

img_9250Our family follows this commandment as best we can, not because it is our ‘nice to have’ insurance policy for entrance into heaven.  Rather, we surrender all because the story we read from Genesis to Revelation is of a God that loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love (to use the words from your Jesus Storybook Bible).

Take the path of love, justice and mercy, and as you do, stick close to Jesus.  In your faith journey, religion and the church may disappoint, but Jesus never will, as no human has advocated for or personified to a greater extent, these ideals.  There does not exist, any greater sacrifice for these virtues, than the Son of God’s death on the cross.  No matter who wins on November 8th, God’s already won the greatest contest.

DIVERSITY AND GRACE IN FAITH

So, a moment ago I encouraged you to find a faith built of love, grace and mercy.  And, while we believe strongly in that, we need to watch that our own assurance doesn’t breed arrogance.  The church can often reflect the brokenness that is in all of us.

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At the church we take you each Sunday, we try to be open and honest about that, in saying that nobody is perfect and everybody is welcome.  Liberal ideals of inclusion and diversity must apply universally, and be true within our own faith.  We must be civil and gracious towards those who practice our faith differently, while at the same time committing ourselves to a better way.

 

A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM…

You can be that better way…in the church and beyond.  In fact, I want you kids to learn that the best way to practice your faith is OUT there.  I believe your generation will be advocates for helping the poor or bringing justice to the persecuted.  We get to be the hands and feet.  We get to be Jesus by loving others.  And, you are never too young or the wrong gender or race or whatever the label or reason…..there is nothing you cannot do, if you do life with Jesus.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon this earth, to do His will….to bring heaven to earth, in our homes, classrooms and workplace.  You can make a difference, from volleyball games to math class, summer camps to play dates.   Now, and in the years to come, know this: you matter, you have a voice and God’s given you gifts so that you might make an impact in this world.  

FAITH AND DOUBT

Some might question the wisdom in sharing my own doubts with you, but I believe there’s value in authenticity, especially in matters as significant as my walk with God and relationship with the church.  I would not want to pass you a faith built upon Christian cliches and etsy wall-hangings (displaying our favorite220px-madeleine_lengle Bible verses, of course).  Like much else in life, faith is a journey and it can be a rocky path, at times. Madeleine L’Engle, an American writer, who authored stories like A Wrinkle In Time, wrote:

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.

So, while it can be heartbreaking and even maddening, stay on the path.  Ask good questions.  Let your doubts lead you to deeper understanding.  You probably learned about Susan B. Anthony in school; she was a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement.  She once said, “I distrust those people who knew so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”  To go back to Madeleine’s idea….it is the idea of God (namely, their idea), more so than God Himself, that entraps so many.  Be more afraid of ignorance than doubt.

YOU ARE A WARRIOR

Whether it’s the latest trend in fashion or faith….don’t feel like you always have to follow the masses.  BE YOU.  Be the person that God made you to be.  Stake out your own faith.  And, don’t be afraid to go against the flow.  The characters in the Bible look so familiar and tame to us, we often forget how radical they were at the time.  Did you know that the name God gives to women, ezer kenegdo, in the very beginning of the Bible, means Warrior?  You, my sweet girl, are a Warrior.  

cxll4jrk_400x400GO CUBBIES!!!!!!

So, last night, we saw a different kind of warrior.  You, your brothers, father and I all watched the Chicago Cubs battle their way to victory, in a seven game, extra-innings nail-biter of a World Series finale – ending their 108 year losing streak.

FLY THE W!!!!

Next Tuesday, is going to be another nail-biter, as we watch the election returns come in, on what promises to be another historic night!  It seems that good things come from Chicago, these days.  Eight years ago, we had Barack Obama, who was from the South Side of Chicago, and became the first African American elected President.  Today, we have Hillary Clinton.  I don’t know if you knew this, but Hillary Clinton grew up in Park Ridge, which is just outside Chicago.  As you are well aware, I, your own mother, am from Chicago….so, just sayin’….  But, seriously, I do hope and pray we can fly the W once more – only this time, for her.  If ct-hillary-clinton-high-school-park-ridge-20161017Trump wins, it will disappointing, but we cannot despair.  I am reminded of a famous line from Anne Frank’s diary, one which we all must remember during tumultuous times:

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

For now….I’m STILL with her.  I’m holding to my faith in God and hope in the democratic process.  Know always, that from the breakfast I cook for you each morning, to the vote I cast in the afternoon, to the prayers I say before bed….in everything, I will do all I can to provide the best possible future for you, believing always that God holds the two of us in His Hands.

Love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

Where Women Belong

fullsizerender531I went!  I drank the Kool Aid!  It was a super fun weekend, attending the Belong Tour with friends.  Once the conference was over, I dashed to Santa Cruz to spend 24 hours with my family.  Last night, we drove back, returning just in time to watch the 2nd Presidential debate (talk about a brutal return to reality after 48 hours of bliss).  I promised a handful of friends that I’d pass my notes from the conference to them.  So, I’m going to start there.  As I sit here now, on the heels of last night’s political spectacle, I can’t help but end with a few political observations – in addition to my Christian conference notes.

Quick intro, for those not familiar: the Belong Tour is a conference for Christian women to spend time reflecting and connecting, to ultimately move closer to discovering who we are and whatfullsizerender537 we’re called to in this world.  It kinda takes the place of the Women of Faith conference, which ran for many years.  The main speakers are Patsy Clairmont, Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist.  Nichole Nordeman, Sharon Irving and JohnnySwim were the musical guests.

SPEAKER HIGHLIGHTS – MY NOTES 

Jen Hatmaker

  • Our struggles flourish in the dark.
    • Things don’t just disappear because they can’t be seen – they merely hide them from someone else’s eyes.
    • The light is the only thing that reveals truth.  And, the truth is the only thing fullsizerender533that will set us free.
    • When we pull something into the light, we take away its power.  
    • Whatever it is, whatever we keep in the dark, God is big enough to overcome.
  • Personal adoption story + lessons
    • Most of the world’s orphans are POVERTY orphans.
    • It’s that nobody wants them or loves them – it’s that their families can’t afford them.
    • We should want EVERY mom to raise her kid in safety and security.
    • POVERTY = PAIN
  • He built us with things in mind.
    • Not one of us wasn’t built deliberately.  God has a plan for all of us.
  • Clues for finding your purpose
    • What are you good at?
      • Your playing small does not save the world.
      • Claim the gift you have – not the gift you want.
    • Pay your dues.
      • Do your thing.  Run your race.  Do not get derailed if it is small.
      • He did not ask us to be famous – He asked us to be faithful.
      • You are in charge of obedience – not outcomes. (God’s got outcomes)
  • Put your 1st yes on the table – DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.
    • If He has set it in front of you – nothing is impossible.
    • Throw Aspirin at people running their race.
    • Failure won’t kill any of us – it will teach us.
    • “I used everything you gave me.” – Erma Bombeck

Shauna Niequist 

  • 2016-08-15-1471272657-4725875-shauna_niequist_present_over_perfectOften pain and clarity go together.
    • Lost track of what was important, prioritized projects over people.
    • Sacrificed the best part of herself on the alter of productivity.
  • God doesn’t forget us.  Sometimes, there’s wreckage along the way.
  • Pain is isolating – Joy is connective.
  • The story of God is ALWAYS a love story.
    • Sometimes you have to ‘fire’ your version of God…the version that has started to sounds like the meanest voices in your head.
  • Two new spiritual practices (and tattoos!)
    • Heart
      • There is nothing we can do to earn more love.  Nothing.
      • There is nothing we can do to ruin His love.
    • Yes
      • The things you say yes/no to define your life.
      • Now, she says no to proving, pushing, competing, hustling.
      • God’s unconditional love was there all along.

Nichole Nordeman 

  • She describes herself as, a “wrestling poet,” this singer/songwriter doesn’t shy away from life’s messier realities.  Her Opening the Garage story will stick with all of us.
  • Friend’s story
    • She started with the story of a friend who had avoided clearing out his mother’s open-garage-door-in-suburban-1garage (she’d recently moved into a home).  The friend had a very strained relationship with his mom, and was avoiding going thru the boxes, unpacking the memories and possibly confronting some painful reminders from the past.
    • His wife finally got him to go, saying that they’d just drive there, open the door, close it, and go.  And, they’d keep doing that, till he felt ready to actually go in.
    • Once he was there, he went ahead and began the task.  And, it wasn’t as bad as he’d thought.
    • Since then, for this couple and for Nichole and her family – this has become a mantra: Just Open the Garage.
  • Nichole’s Story 
    • She had her own pain and brokenness, namely in the form of a marriage that fell apart.
    • She hid this news from her grandma, who was the person who loved her most in the world.  For a long time, she kept the garage door shut. She was too embarrassed and ashamed.
  • Grandma’s Story 
    • Grandma loved her family – she was a fierce defender of her grandkids!
    • Late in Grandma’s life, when her father was checking into a hotel, the front desk clerk remarked how strange it was that there was a guest staying at the hotel with the same last name.  Long story short, it was a son that grandma had had years before this other family.  Turns out, Grandma had her own secrets, her own pain.
  • Missed Opportunity 
    • You could have heard a pin drop, as Nichole shared the sadness of realizing they’d each carried their own painful stories, yet neither had been brave enough to just open the door.
    • On the flip side, she shared how in recent weeks, as grandma passed over to the other side, her daughter was baptized on the same day.
  • Favorite song 

Sharon Irving (yes, from America’s Got Talent)

  • Do it afraid.maxresdefault
  • Love people with the same love we have been loved with.
  • Trust God to meet us in the rubble.  There is beauty in the breaking.

 

 

 

Patsy Clairmont 

  • Born with the ‘gift of correction’ (later realized that’s not listed with the other gifts in the Bible).
  • Learned the hard way that we have to ‘lean toward mercy’.
    • What you give comes back to visit with you.
  • Growth takes risk.
  • Former agoraphobic (fear of open spaces) – long journey of recovery.
    • Prayed: “I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.”  She wanted to change the world,
      patsy-clairmont-0140-1
      Enter a caption

      but kinda hard to do that from bed.  So, God said to get out of bed.

    • When you are faithful in little things, God will give you more.
    • A course on listening to the voice of God thru creation was life-changing.
    • Open your heart.  Be kind to other people.
      • Husband: “You’re not angry.  You’re jealous.”

BEST ONE-LINERS 

  • Shut-up in Jesus Name
  • Do it afraid
  • Beauty in the breaking
  • Lean toward mercy
  • Normal is just a setting on the dryer.
  • Your playing small does not serve the world.
  • He didn’t ask us to be famous – He asked us to be faithful.
  • The story of God is always a love story.

Ra Ra Versus Crosses 

I’m still processing what this conference meant to me, and how I can use it as a catalyst for diving even deeper into the places God is calling me.  It was such a treat to see these teachers and musicians in person.  And, I had a great time hanging out with my BFF’s.  If I were going to make any tweaks (and, Lord knows, I’m a rare bird, so that might not be a great idea), I’d love to see the following:

  • No jazzercise.  Sorry!  I know many, including some in my own group, loved Angela Davis.  It was just hard for me to go from jumping up and down to techno music while she shouted *encouraging words*…..to a quiet reflection, as I consider my purpose in life, a little while later.  A little too ‘Ra Ra’ for me….
  • Tell me more.  I loved the moments when they briefly touched on poverty or racism or the issues that symbolize a world that’s broken and hurting.  But, I think that while the church has a few brave leaders speaking out against these things, you could have attended this conference and not felt convicted that we should do more.  As I told one friend, ‘We can not *World Vision* our way out of poverty’.  We should do World Vision – but, we need to do much, much more.  Like, oh, let’s say pay for better schools, invest in early childhood education (esp for lower income families), support fair wages, fight injustice in the criminal justice system, and the list goes on and on.  To be fair, I know these ladies have advocated for these things on social media – but I think that we need to step even further out of our comfort zones when we have these big platforms, and encourage the evangelical community to fill the holes in our gospel.  
  • Show me more.  Again, I am 110% behind these ladies.  I love their vulnerability and desire to make faith relevant for Christian women seeking their purpose.  But, here’s the rub.  Historically, the church has put the stay-at-home mom with her home-cooked meals and well-decorated, clean house on a pedestal.  This 33856bfhas made it hard for women, who have to work in order to put food on the table, or who want to work because they feel called into certain careers/callings.  One reason I personally hesitated to enter the blogging world, is that it seemed there were already SO MANY moms who had found their *calling* in writing.  And, let’s be honest – this is a bit of a fad.  But, here’s the thing: we need Christian women in medicine, technology, law, the classroom, the boardroom, non-profits, police/fire departments and more.  And, those of us raising daughters and even trying to find our own path, need the stories of women taking Jesus into the laboratory, courtroom, classroom, jail, food bank, start-up, etc.  WOMEN BELONG EVERYWHERE.  I would love to hear from women who have followed God into spaces, other than just being a Christian author/speaker.  We need to broaden the spectrum of examples out there for women of faith, young and old.  There are a lot of brave women, already coming alongside those carrying very heavy crosses – I’d love to hear their stories and maybe inspire others to do the same.

Dear Donald.

OMG.  Where do I even start?  I’ve made it pretty clear that I’ve never

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Nate Silver: What the electoral college would look like if women refused to vote for Trump.

considered voting for this man, even for a single second.  In every way, from his policies to his character, I’ve found him not only wanting, but repulsive.  But, last night….I was physically ill, watching him threaten to throw Hillary Clinton in prison.   Going nuclear against his opponent felt like a punch in the gut for so many women – LIKE ME.  Afterward, Republicans and Democrats quickly came out, saying that it was ‘dangerously authoritarian‘ to even make such an assertion.  Still, he reeks of complete disregard for women – including the one who could be our first female President.  One reason his threats and vulgarity hurt so deeply, is because much of the pain felt across the globe is sexist...whether we’re talking poverty, access to education, sex-trafficking/abuse, time, equal pay, etc.  Our world needs leaders who will actively take up the cross and work on behalf of women (and other groups!) who suffer from bigotry or bias.  Nate Silver posted this map of what the electoral map would look like if women refused to vote for Trump.  Translation: evangelical women could have a major impact in this election.  

I WANT TO BE BRAVE 

I don’t know if others connect these dots, but I do.  When I hear someone tell me that the story of the Bible is a love story….when I am told that God created me with a purpose and His love is unconditional, I am driven to hope, to love, to mercy and redemption – away from fear, anger, aggression, revenge and greed.  The contrast could not be any clearer.

bravenicholeI am a feminist, in large part because of my faith.  As Laura Ortberg Turner explains, feminism is simply the belief that women are equally as human as men—equal in the eyes of God, equal in image-bearing, equal in ability.  From the very beginning, God called us out as warriors.  Sarah Bessey writes in her book, Jesus Feminist, “Neither one of us – woman or man – is secondary or backup; we are all key parts of Kingdom building, intrinsic to the story of God, right now.”

Right now, we need to be brave.  Right now, we need to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed.  Right now, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room – and, it’s not Donald Trump.  It’s all of us.  It took decades to sow the seeds that he is now harvesting, seeds that have been watered intentionally or not by evangelicals.   Here’s the thing…  You can’t talk justice and advocate for stop and frisk.  You can’t act like you care for the poor and yet reject policies that lift them up, like fair wages.  You can’t say you’re not a racist and yet fail to acknowledge systemic injustice, implicit bias or white privilege.  You can’t declare yourselves the defenders of the family and yet offer late-in-coming tepid support (and sometimes opposition) to pro-family policies, like Paid Family Leave.  You can’t say women are to be loved and cherished and then turn a blind eye to mindsets and policies that subjugate and hurt them.  (Btw, kudos to Beth Moore for her brave and public words to both Trump and evangelical leaders.)  You can’t scream ‘the unborn!’ as your rationale for irrational candidates, especially when their policies actually do less to prevent pregnancy.  (Check out this article in the Christian Post outlining why Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for voters against abortion or this thoughtful post by Rachel Held Evans.)  You can’t say ‘character counts’ and then vote for someone like Trump.  You can’t just quote scriptures about suffering the little children and then ignore actual statistics on spending for children vs the elderly (FYI, it’s about 1:6.5) or turn a blind eye to child molestation by clergy.  You can’t say that the main message of the Bible is a love story, and then remain silent in the face of violence, hate and greed.  Right now, we need turn slogans of love, justice and mercy into both personal mantras and public policies.

I’ve already got a ticket to attend the Belong Tour next year.  When I go, I’m praying there’s not only a woman in the White House, but a broad-based willingness to keep constructive conversations going.  We will not stay silent so that others can be comfortable, for the battle does not end on election day.  As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’  So, we will meet God in brokenness and rubble, and we must sow new seeds.  I am reminded of a conversation Nichole Nordeman talked about, which happens to be the longest conversation Christ had with anyone – it’s the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well.  This was a radical conversation for many reasons.

  • Jews weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritans.
  • Men couldn’t talk to women without their husbands present.
  • Religious leaders/rabbis were forbidden from talking to a woman, such as this.

Jesus didn’t just offer her the Kool Aid.  He wasn’t looking for a convert; instead, He offered living water, inviting her to open the garage, and find freedom in truth spoken with sincere love.  John Ortberg expands on this encounter in a sermon at Menlo Church:

“In John 4, the first sermon in the movement of Jesus, was given by a woman. A five times married/divorced/Samaritan woman. Jesus thought it was a good idea for the first sermon to be given by a woman. As it turned out, the entire town came out to listen and believed!”

He goes on to say, “maybe it’s women that ought to argue about whether men should be ordained to preach!”  We belong in a conversation with other women, and with our world, that that leads with love.   Till then, I am taking to heart the words of the Belong Tour speakers: I am raising the garage door for evangelical women.  Let us all bring truth into the light, and believe that it will set us free.