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.    

 

 

Take Time to Smell the Shit

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.