The Great Pumpkin Thief

Yesterday my daughter’s 1st Grade class took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch.  She had been looking forward to this for weeks, literally counting down the days.  Being 7 is great!  There are such simple pleasures, like getting a day away from the classroom to take a school bus across town with all her friends.

Just look at this girl!

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The experience was everything she had hoped for, she was SO PROUD of and SO PLEASED with the pumpkin she picked out (there was NO green on this one, mama!) and even prouder that she could carry it by herself and got to go on a hayride with it.

Of course her younger brother’s class didn’t get this same field trip so after school we ran to a local pop up style ‘pumpkin patch’ set up down the road where he could pick one, too.

This boy has me wrapped around his finger.  Big time.

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As I set the pumpkins next to each other on our fireplace hearth when we got home, it was clear that Zachary’s was perfectly smooth and blemish-free all around, however Evangeline’s pumpkin had some scratches, dents, and a noticeable gauge on one side.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who noticed this.

Aaaannnddd so began the tears.

In between sobs I managed to discern some words about how Zachary’s pumpkin was so much better and perfect and hers was…not.  I could practically see in her eyes the contempt she had for that poor scratched-up pumpkin.

This is nothing new in my world.  The kids always seem to be wanting what the other one has (the purple plate, the bigger Lego set, the better stick found outside, and on and on it goes) . Many fights and tears and conversations have taken place around this issue.  It honestly makes me want to tear my hair out.

But this time I was struck in a new way.  My girl had SO MUCH  joy in her pumpkin – and now it was all gone.  And I was not okay with that, I grieved for her and her heart.  Something had been stolen and I wanted to get it back.

So I sat down, pulled her in my lap and told her a story.  A story about how mommy LOVES leading bible studies and teaching God’s word.  It brings me joy, it brings me pleasure, it brings me purpose.  I love the men and women I have gotten to serve through this act and the ways God has ministered to them through it.  But one time (okay more than one time, but I didn’t tell Evie that…) I started noticing another woman – who also was a writer and teacher and leader -who seemed to do everything better than me.  More creatively, more powerfully, more impactfully and in cuter clothes than me.  When glancing down at my own work, all of a sudden what was in my hands appeared dull and hollow and small.  Like dents on a pumpkin.

I painted a picture for my daughter of how comparison, dressed all in black to be an extra sneaky burglar, broke into my heart and stole something from me.  He stole my joy and the love that I had for the work in front of me.   My work hadn’t changed.  I hadn’t changed.  The only thing that had changed was the presence of comparison.  And that changed everything.

Remember how much fun your field trip was, Evangeline?  Remember the hard work of traipsing through a field?  Remember how there were lots to choose from, but you picked just the right one?  Remember how you carried it around with your classmates? Remember how excited you were to show it to me when I picked you up from school?   Girl, that is YOUR pumpkin!

She remembered, I could see it in her eyes (I love when my parenting talks actually work!)

Zachary’s pumpkin doesn’t change ANY of that, don’t let comparison steal your joy.  

She sprang up from my lap and after heading over to the fireplace she knelt down and draped her arms dramatically around her pumpkin, looking as if she never wanted to be separated from that thing ever again.

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She remembered her first love.  Well, her first pumpkin, anyways.

Whether it is my work, my abilities, my kids, my appearances, my car, my home, my bank account – I am often times perfectly satisfied….that is until my eyes wander over and see an image presented of someone else’s work, ability, kids, appearance, car, home or bank account. I swear I have been tempted to trade in my own personality.   And I begin to feel contempt for what I have and what I have to offer.  So measly and meager my life becomes in just a moment!   I have to remind myself of the same things I reminded my girl.

And I know that for a long time whenever comparison is threatening to rob me blind, I will remember the innocent joy and pride on Evangeline’s face when I picked her up from school yesterday, holding her flawed but beautiful pumpkin.

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I also want to remember the way she repentantly embraced that precious pumpkin on the fireplace, remembering that while what I have may be different from what someone else has, it is mine.  It is what I chose, or what God has chosen on my behalf.  It is mine to use and to treasure and to enjoy.  I too want to hold these things close, draping my arms around them just as dramatically as my daughter, filled with thanksgiving.

A beautiful day for God

 But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The simple spiritual truth of the tearing of the temple curtain (which by the way I recently learned was 60 feet high and FOUR INCHES THICK) always recaptures my attention and awe.  Whereas I was once separated from The Most High God because of my filthy sin nature, at the atoning death of Jesus I can freely come to God.   God’s dwelling in The Most Holy Place is now available to little ole’ me.

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For the folks living in the first century at this time, that simple spiritual truth also impacted them in varying ways.

Whereas we see this as really good news, I’m not so sure the religious leaders would agree.  Although the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Chief Priests and the Elders differ in their beliefs and roles,  generally speaking these guys and their lives and livelihoods were built upon drawing lines, keeping lines, and just in general determining who was in and who was out, who was right, who was wrong.

So with every word and miracle it seemed like Jesus was pulling a little bit more of the rug of power out from under them. This was a driving force in how they felt about Jesus, which started off as curiosity and interest, but which quickly turned to annoyance and then anger… and so they crucified him.  They did not foresee what would happen next.

At the moment of tearing, that beloved authority and control was completely stripped from their hands.  If God is so available now, who can they keep out and keep down?

There were some other implications for people at the other end of the power spectrum, namely women and gentiles.   Both groups were designated to ‘special courts’ in the temple that were tiered below the priest, and below the court for Jewish males.  While a court just for ladies doesn’t sound too bad in theory, as I imagine cry rooms for babies, comfy nursing chairs and a special restroom with nice hand lotions, special treatment was simply not the motivation here.  The sole reason for a separate court was due to the fact that they were not allowed any closer to the alter or the Holy Place because of their status as gentiles and women.

It must have been hard to get over that inferiority complex and feel equal to the Jewish male population.  Was it hard for them to believe they could really be brothers and sisters ?  Was it hard to believe they were part of God’s family to the same degree?  Was it hard for them to freely participate, having always been forced to be so many steps away from the inner courts of the Temple?

 I think so. 

So Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church encourages the Gentile population,

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. 

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Now this is the kind of temple I want to belong to!

At the moment of tearing, God was available for them, too.  In the same amount of intimacy and frequency and quantity as everyone else.

For the Pharisees, authority was stripped and I can just imagine them LOSING THEIR MINDS over it all.

For non-Jewish people and for women, authority and permission were granted in a way that was not available before.

And for all, we have been invited to approach the Throne of Grace, with no need for a priest over us, a bloodied animal sacrifice before us, or walls of division between us.

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But there is someone else we are missing.  A Major Player in the story, and we haven’t talked about some of the implications for Him, yet.

God. 

More than what it meant for humanity, be it Jew or Gentile, Pharisee or Slave, Male or Female, it meant something for God. 

At the moment of tearing, our Creator’s original and best plan for humanity is reactivated.

And here my imagination runs wild.

Did God experience relief?  Freedom?  (Is it heretical to suggest these things??!!)

Did God experience great pleasure as his Plan and Purpose to dwell among us is finally redeemed?  Did He give a shout of triumph and shed tears of joy as the curtain was ripped victoriously from top to bottom?

I guess I’m not enough of a theologian to answer these, but I do know that the original vision at the creation of humankind did not involve a four inch thick curtain, because God’s heart was for intimacy and partnership with us.  We think it was a big day for us, but it was a beautiful day for God.

Shortly after the crucifixion and curtain tearing came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – so not only are we free to come to God, but he actually takes up residence in us.  My husband likened this to God moving into the slums.  The slums of course being us.

This feels like pretty risky business to me, to take the Most Holy Place from behind that beautiful purple and blue veil and put it in me and you, yet God wills it and ordains it and wants it. 

What kind of God is this!?!?  What kind of God is this, who creates us for such intimacy?  Who desires a dwelling place with us?  Who asks us to abide in Him?  Who suffers crucifixion and living in the slums so that this might happen?

Creation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Incarnation means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Forgiveness means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

Redemption means something to us, because it first meant something to Him.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.                                    Ephesians 1 (Message)

Happy New Year?

My goal every New Year’s Eve is to be in bed by 11:00pm.  That is like a WHOLE HOUR past my normal bed time.  I don’t get too jazzed up over most of the holidays, New Year being one of them.  Plus I am obsessed with sleep.

But reflection and vision, I could do that all day!

So, it is time to reflect on 2015 and pray for and receive vision for 2016.

Like any teacher I geek out over a good old fashioned T-Chart.  In my reflection over the last 365 days I am tempted to create such a chart.  “THE GOOD” in one column, “THE BAD” in the other, and then determine from there, depending on which column has more, whether 2015 sucked or not.

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But as I was thinking back over my year, try as I might, I couldn’t quite separate the events, emotions, struggles, and blessings in such a neat and visually pleasing manner.  And more surprisingly, I didn’t want to.  I felt God urging me to see a fuller picture, to take away a greater and far better remembrance from 2015 than simply what went well, and what didn’t.  And I was led to Philippians chapter 4.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 

I have received things I never imagined I would be given, and had things taken away that I thought were off limits.  I had beautiful answers, but am left with heart-wrenching questions.  I felt supported and I felt alone.  I succeeded and I failed.  I rejoiced over new seasons in life, and grieved over unforeseen challenges.  I made both good choices and bad.  I spent less time on the internet and also nearly threw my computer in rage over said internet a few times.  I was a good wife and a crappy wife.  I was a patient mom and a yelling mom.

I stumbled upon joy in a great struggle, and was hit with struggle in a great joy.  The good mixed with the bad in many layers and hues. 

Perhaps what happened, or what didn’t happen, in 2015 isn’t as much the point as I am tempted to believe. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Often when I read this verse, I focus on the words CAN or ALL THINGS or STRENGTHENS or ME, and my life ends up looking a bit like a T-Chart.

But in the center of this verse is Christ.  Jesus Christ.  All other words revolve around Him.  aa

All events, circumstances, emotions, obstacles, failures, successes, seasons, and even all doubts, fears and questions are just that.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I can divide them up into the GOOD and the BAD.  I can hope for more or less of them for the New Year.  I can slide my finger over to the delete key and forget the bad and give thanks for the good.  I can glare at the GOOD column, wishing it were bigger, resolving that 2016 will be better, greater, happier, healthier skinnier, and more organized!

But that would just be a two-dimensional chart on a page.  Words and events.  Circumstances and seasons.  ALL and I and THINGS and CAN.

What God gave me in 2015, and what I expect he will give me in 2016, is Christ.  Christ in the hard.  Christ in the good.  Irresistible Jesus.

In the darkest of the year, when I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life or my heart, when theology and people and words and ideas were not soothing to the soul, there was Jesus waiting, washing, crying, seeing.  Oh how I love himHe is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following. 

In the brightest of the year, when I was full and satisfied and confident there was Jesus, leading me on, clapping for me, empowering me and teaching me.  He is good and kind and gentle and worth-giving and worth following.

May what sticks with me be that yeah sure, I had GOOD and I had BAD, but in all these I had Christ.

May my 2016, and yours too, be yeah sure, there will be GOOD and there will be BAD, but in all these we will have Christ.

Eugene Peterson phrases Paul’s words nicely

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Happy New Year, let’s all go to bed early!

Dear Santa, I’m just not that into you

I don’t think it phases my children AT ALL when I tenderly tell them Santa Claus isn’t real.  I can’t imagine why they ignore me on this (sarcasm font in case you’re missing it).  Hmmm…perhaps it is because he is actually at the mall, sitting on an actual over sized green velvet armchair welcoming small children to come sit on his actual lap and feel his actual fluffy white beard.

So yeah it’s true, I’m the meanie, scroogey mom that encourages her wide-eyed sugar plum fairies NOT to “believe”.  #sorrynotsorry

Yet, somehow we found ourselves in the line at the mall yesterday waiting to see the jolly ole’ fellow so my children could tell him what they want for Christmas presents (A puppy, in case you are wondering.  My daughter wants a puppy.  And a crossbow for my son, thank you very much). It was all so very Miracle on 34th Street, what with their eager gift requests and me trying not to roll my eyes in front of the other kids. 

I don’t hate Santa.   I hate the mall.  I loathe the mall.  But I don’t hate Santa.  Promise!

I’m just not that into him.

I love Christmas and the holidays.

I love tradition.  I refuse to abandon my grandmother’s orange ice cream jello for family holidays, multicolored lights on the tree or watching my favorite Christmas movies every year.

I love wild imagination and wild wonder in children, especially my own.

I love the music (although admittedly I am more Vienna Boys Choir than Jingle Bells and Frosty)

So I admit drawing lines can be hard.  We all, whether for ourselves or for our children, have to make decisions about where to draw those lines in life.  Santa Claus, even with his jolly Ho Ho HO and giant sack of presents, doesn’t make it any easier.  But the stark contrast between Christ and Claus (at least how we celebrate Old Saint Nick today) are just too, too great.

The squishy, luxurious, velvet chair at the mall feels out of place and almost offensive next to a simple manger in a cold barn.

The flying reindeer and elves are lots of fun and flash, but cheap and shallow and false compared to the poor shepherds’ awe, the magnificent angels singing and the beauty and faith of Mary – all of whom are centered around the miracle of God himself putting on flesh in the most vulnerable and humble way.

I get that these aren’t huge dilemmas, I mean I have a Christmas Tree and bake gingerbread houses every year, things that obviously have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  But, like I said, everyone gets to draw their own lines.

Yesterday afternoon, when we had returned from our Santa encounter, the kids were out playing in the backyard, when I saw my son doing something he knew he was not supposed to do.  I went out back and barely even had to put on my stern mommy face for him to burst into tears.  I was glad he was showing remorse, but then through sobs he wailed out “Santa isn’t going to bring me any presents!”.

He obviously knew enough about the old man to have heard the whole naughty and nice shtick.  While I will admit I am not above bribing my children, there was an important teaching opportunity here I did not want to miss.

Mommy:   “So what is the consequence from Santa Claus when you are naughty?”

Zachary:  (through more tears) “No presents”

Mommy:  “That’s right.  No presents.  Now what is the consequence from God, when we are naughty?”

Zachary:  “He forgives us”

Mommy:  (by this point my preaching voice is in FULL effect…)  “That’s right babe.  I am so thankful Santa isn’t real, and that he isn’t the one deciding things because we would probably not get any presents!  But God is different.  God gives us presents even though we are naughty.  He gives us presents BECAUSE we are naughty.  He gave us Jesus on Christmas.  I am so thankful for that.  Mommy and daddy will give you presents because we love you, just as God loves us.”

They still love Santa.  They still want to watch The Polar Express and sing Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and that’s fine.

But I am hoping as they grow up in the world, their hearts will not be of this world.  I am hoping that while they are free to enjoy and be entertained by the fun things of the holidays, they will  be singing like the angels, pondering like Mary and bowing down like the Magi – entirely swept up with the gift of Emmanuel.  God with us.  

What it’s worth

These are my kids.

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I’m hoping you’ll be so very overcome by how cute they that you’ll completely overlook our less than stellar landscaping.

I’d like to draw your attention to the AT AT walker in our backyard (pretend your 4, and you’ll see it…maybe…)  In case you are not a Star Wars Geek, married to a Star Wars Geek, or the parent of a Star Wars Geek, here are what actual AT AT Walkers look like:

 

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The imagination of a child is an impressive force, oh so delightful when kids are at play; but down-right ridiculous and formidable when a fight breaks out.  My children have been known to fight over who gets to decorate THE IMAGINARY COOKIES they baked.  Try and tell them they can just bake more, because THEY ARE IMAGINARY and they look at you as if  you’re the one whose gone round the bend.

So when the two of them broke out in a fight over who gets to drive this AT AT Walker in the back yard, I had the NERVE to suggest that they simply build a second one.  It was communicated to me at that point, not so much in words but in glares, that my rational ideas were not welcome, and the fight continued.

As you can see from the picture, this was not some fancy-schmancy new toy , it was a Fisher Price basketball hoop, minus the backboard, and a cracked plastic chair.  That’s it!  However, Just like the imaginary cookies they fought over, it wasn’t really about what the object was.    Believe it or not, it wasn’t even about whether or not it was something real or pretend.

It was entirely about the power they had assigned to this object.   

As I stood at my kitchen sink, watching them through the window as they fought (and rolling my eyes at their inability to solve this problem rationally), I was so strongly convicted.

How many times have I been stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, or brokenhearted simply because I had given power and significance to something – imaginary or real – that did not warrant such authority?  How many times have I been the one irrationally outraged that I didn’t get to decorate the imaginary cookie?  How many times. Lord? 

Jesus summarizes this nicely for us,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When I, for whatever reason, decide that something has value, my heart sure does follow.  I see this penetrating at every level of my life and being.

In some superficial ways…

        My weight.

         My outfit.

         A Pinterest-perfect themed birthday party for the kids.

And some deeper ways…

        The number of people who show up to a bible study I lead

         The number on the bank statement.

…and deeper still..

Who needs me.

   Who loves me.

Ideologies.

Theologies.

Identity.

How I look, or what I wear, or what the scale says are really just some cheap plastic chairs and a child’s basketball hoop.  Unless I say otherwise.

And I have.

The numbers, the decorations, and even, ahem, the backyard landscaping are just that – numbers, decorations and landscaping  Unless I say otherwise. 

And I have. 

We are not given a life free of problems, sickness, death, unemployment or relational conflict.  But it’s entirely possible that a lot of the problems I have are ones that I have created for myself.

What others think of me hold power because I have given that power over. Where my treasure is, there my heart goes, too.  And sometimes my treasures look a little too much like pictures on the internet, or pictures in my mind, or arguments won or praise received or being everyone’s favorite or health and wealth or even my own well being…and not enough like Jesus and His Kingdom.

And the result of course is plain as day.  I see it in my kids.  Temper tantrums over imaginary cookies.  Stressed-out, discouraged, fearful, anxiety-ridden, and brokenhearted.  Simply because I proclaimed that   _______________________ was the most important and valuable thing.

 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This treasure, that the Father gives, is trustworthy, and worth everything.   As my heart follows, it finds those very things that it longs for most, things that make a downright MOCKERY of all that anxiety and fear and sadness and stress.

Today I’d like to remember to seek the best Treasure and let that treasure change my heart with the power to delight me, fulfill me, encourage me, empower me and save me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On not getting my own way

I haven’t published anything on here in the last six months, it’s a little bit me being lazy, and a little bit feeling like the world doesn’t need one more thing to read, one more voice, and a little bit feeling like I’m awful at writing.  But I gave myself a timeline of the end of October to either publish something or delete my blog, and so even though I don’t know the answer to those questions,  I am going to try and write!  

I have about 6 unfinished writings from the summer, this one I had only gotten so far as putting a passage of scripture at the top, but it’s as sharp to my soul today as it was in June.

He said to them, For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.   Matthew 17:20

is it just me or is Jesus setting the bar pretty low here?

Yep.  Yep He is.  I want to be offended and scoff a bit here,  because obviously my faith is HUGE!!!!    Much more like a whole, entire, watermelon, really.

BWAHAHAHHAA!   My faith isn’t even approaching mustard seed size on a lot of days.  So my response is actually more like HALLELUJAH!  Maybe I can pull actually pull this off!

You might think “wow! Can someone who has been following Christ for half her life struggle to produce even the smallest ounce of faith at this point in her journey?  That’s pretty bad!”

But it’s pretty easy actually.  It’s called not getting what I want.  

Jesus talks about seeds and trees and mountains an awful lot,  but I think faith, at least my real life experience of it, is more like a balloon.  A little less like a force to be reckoned with and a little more like something that pops under pressure.

The Lord God grants and arranges and speaks, and when I look behind me at His workings in my life I can see these huge sweeping movements of grace, movements made up of individual conversations and moments and thoughts and interventions – all forceful breaths into my balloon.   With each provision, each time he gives me the very desires of my heart, my balloon is fuller and fuller and floats higher and higher.  It’s quite impressive, really.

But then, something doesn’t go right.  I don’t get my way.  And that balloon POPS!  With the startling noise all the goodness and faithfulness and promises of my God are just absolutely lost on me.  Forgotten, as if they never existed.  How can I possibly think about moving mountains when this is what my life looks like!

And I question and panic and I doubt and I am so ashamed to say I shake my fist at God.

When there is still pain, still struggle, still a long. way. to. go. we forget the promise, forget the Giver, just like the Isrealites.

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

When the path takes a sharp turn, when what we have built our lives upon now looks vastly different, we forget the promises, we forget the Giver, just like Peter.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see youin the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

There have been a lot of POPS! happening, and each and every time I find myself startled, and subsequently wandering around my living room, looking for the invisible bits of God that have vanished into thin air, but all I can salvage to hang on to are bits of torn latex.

That, my friends, is why Jesus does not say faith is like a balloon.  Balloons POP! but the Holy Spirit does not.  The Word of God does not.  God himself does not.

HALLELUJAH!  Maybe I can pull actually pull this off!

The bubble may burst.  Alright, the bubble WILL burst.  The diagnosis may come and the healing may be withheld.  The path may wind and go on for far longer than I originally signed up for.  The seat may be at the very end of the table and it sometimes sucks down there.  The scenery and plot line are not what I wanted or planned on.  They just aren’t.  And they rock my world in the worst way possible.

But the LORD who led his people out of Egypt, led them also out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

And the Jesus who was best friends with Peter before the crucifixion, meets him again to cook him a nice fish breakfast on the other side of it all.

He approaches the girl who doubted and forgot, and in my empty hand places the seed, again.  It’s soooo tiny!  But it’s chock full of remembrance of good deeds, good promises and good hope and good power to go move that mountain.

Feasting and Fasting

I’ve never really been on a diet.

I am one of those people that other people hate because I was born with tall, skinny jeans genes. I have also been pretty active in running and athletics from a young age and for many years of my life I ate and ate and ate and ate like a horse and couldn’t gain a pound.

And that might deceive the general population into thinking that I have a healthy relationship with food and my body.  Just like how I think those women who look so put together and beautiful and wealthy must be the most wonderfully happy people ever with no problems or pain.

I once prayed with a girl who was in the dark depths of an eating disorder and we peered into the very first time that she gave food the power to save her. It was a time of trauma in her immediate family and just as one might turn to a drink, or a hit, or a shopping spree; her eyes fell upon a cake.

And she ate.

And she was comforted.

For most of my years I ate simply because I was hungry, always hungry actually.  I had a really high metabolism and like I said I was involved in sports so I was constantly growing and constantly burning calories.  However, like the young lady I prayed with, I too can identify a memory when I was upset and discovered what food was offering to do for me.

And so I ate.

And I was comforted.

So for the last 15 years, to varying degrees, my relationship with food has been tainted.   And it never seemed like a big deal because I would tell myself:

A It’s only food!  It’s not like I was doing drugs or drinking or anything like that!  Relax! 

B.  I didn’t have a weight problem (not that I don’t have image issues, I have both real and imaginary problems with my body).  My high metabolism, activity level and good old fashioned Scandinavian genes helped me out.  Obese people need to control their eating, not me.

C.  It was mostly benign. Meaning, I wouldn’t say that I have had an eating disorder for 15 years with extreme binging and subsequent purging, just harmless ’emotional eating’  So no big deal, right?

Last summer I attempted what is the closest thing to a diet I have ever been on.  Not because I was overweight, but because I was tired.  I had been eating for 33 years and I was starving.  Listen to these words from my sister Anne Lamott,

I was a spy in the world of happy eating, always hungry, or stuffed, but never full.

These words, from her splendid work of art Traveling Mercies (read it!) were given to me when I was a young college student and still stick with me today.  I recognized this unhealthy habit and as God had been unearthing and re-growing all kinds of things beneath the surface it seemed like the right time to change some behaviors.

My “diet” pretty much involved just trying to make healthy choices each day.  Genius, right?  I should write a book on it!!!

So a lot of days were full of whole grains and carrots and almonds.  And it felt great.  Each moment I would try and pick the healthy option.  Sometimes I failed, but mostly it was a good thing for me.

But I discovered that healthy choices aren’t just about caloric intake and fat content and grams of sugar.  On weekend mornings a healthy choice for me is a big stack of pancakes covered in butter and real maple syrup, next to a few slices of crispy bacon.  This is a time that we relax as a family, are silly and lazy and listen to John Denver and eat pancakes, not oatmeal!   During our trip to Florida I ate ice cream almost every day. Because, vacation.

I found a lot of freedom in my ability to make these choices and to be able to discern when an apple was the best thing for me, or when an extra helping of barbeque ribs was the best thing.

As King Solomon puts it, there is a time for everything under the sun.

A time for feasting, and a time for fasting.

I noticed my attitude towards food shaping up to look like this idea of seasons of feasting, fasting and ‘normal times’  when I read a book that put words to it for me so thought it warranted it’s own blog post.  Shauna Niequist puts it in her latest memoir (and cookbook!) Bread and Wine (read it!)

I love the feasting part of life.  I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne.  I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve.  But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully – physicall, spiritually and emotionally  – in a life that also includes fasting.

I loved this book because it showed how the physical elements of food and stomach are not so easily distinguished from the intangibles of heart and soul.  So I have been feasting since Thanksgiving and it has been DELISH!  My favorite cookies, lots of leftovers, sea salt and dark chocolate covered caramels, my favorite cheeses, hot cocoa and more wine then I probably can justify.  Let me tell you it has been rich and wonderful.  The best part is enjoying these things guilt-free (Even though I Haven’t been running in nearly 3 months.  This is killing me and fodder for another blog post…)

But I am going to force my family into a 6 week fast cutting out sugar and alcohol and processed foods and eating crunchy things before returning to my more normal ‘just make healthy choices’ diet.  Or, in other words, I will be like every other American who goes on a diet and signs up for a gym membership on January 1.

I’m not sure why it has taken me until I am 33 to deal with some of my food issues, or to go on my first diet.

I suppose it has something to do with how we take good things like work and relationships and food, and ruin them in our brokenness and sometimes it is hard to see that when we are in the midst of it.

I truly believe we should love and delight in food.  It is comforting and celebratory and sustaining and hot and spicy and and cold and creamy and healing and just plain yummy.

Separating this gift from the bits of sin intertwined in it can be messy business.  It forces me to face hurts, deny something easy for something real, and ask for help.    It requires that I fast and pray and abstain and use caution.  It sometimes requires that I feast, without a single thought to my hips.

Because although I am good at ruining good things, God is good at redeeming them.

Over and over and over again.

He invites me to a banquet, he prepares a table,

and I am full.

May 2015 be Full for you, too.

Happy New Year!

The Family Raincoat

My daughter and I share some really special things.  We share a penchant for singing Disney songs as loud as we can around the house.  We share giddiness over baby animal videos on Youtube and excitement over holidays and cuddles and humor and a never-dying love for Taylor Swift.

One of the true joys of having a child is seeing certain traits being passed on to the next generation and taking part in life’s special and ordinary moments together.

But there are other things we don’t want passed on, that I would rather not share.  For most of my life I have been shy and insecure and had a difficult time making friends, so I have watched with bated breath as my little girl has begun navigating the social scene of preschool.  Will she make friends?  Do other little girls like her?  Is she lonely?  The girl is going to be tall, will she be awkward like I was or embrace her height?

Most recently I have seen the most inevitable of human emotions emerging in her, one that I struggle with that I wouldn’t wish on anyone let alone my own child.

Shame.

I once heard shame described as a raincoat, in that as much as God’s love and forgiveness is poured on us, so long as we are wearing a raincoat it will not penetrate, it will roll right off our shoulders and form puddles on the ground around our feet.

My girl’s shame is that she is not perfect; she seeks perfection yet, since she is a mere human, will always fall short.

My shame is unworthiness; I seek love and approval, but believe the worst about myself and what others feel towards me.

What form does your shame take?

At the very moment when God wants to completely saturate us, I mean totally drench us through and through with his love and mercy and newness, we put our raincoats on and we deny him, and deny ourselves.

The other day Evangeline was feeling particularly down and so I reminded her of a conversation that we had had several times in the last 6 months.  In those conversations, when she is feeling like “the worst person in the world” we ask who is telling her that.

Are mommy and daddy telling you that?  No. 

Is this what God thinks of you, is he saying you are a bad person?  No.

Is this something The Enemy is telling you?  Yes.

This five year old knows the answers.  She actually soaks up theology like a sponge.

In the past these have been fruitful, encouraging conversations for her and for me.  But this latest time was different.  She knew the answers.  She distinguished the lie.  I had done my job and taught her well.  But I could not for the life of me force her to believe it.  I could not make her take that raincoat off.  It is not mine to remove for her.

We can know the truth.  We can have the answers.  But God help us, sometimes it is just easier to believe the lie.

That is what our shame does to us.  That is what the intense shame of being imperfect does to my daughter.  That is what the crippling shame of being without value does to me.

I acknowledge the grace of God but keep it at arms’ length.

In the moment of that conversation with my daughter I could see her thought process on her face.  I could see her weigh the truth with what she was willing to actually accept in that moment.

And I grieved for her, knowing that even as she grows and matures and hopefully the times she  wears this raincoat will grow few and far between, it will always be there.  Always easier to pull it out of the closet then receive the transformational love of God.

I wrestled within, knowing that I could walk her to the ledge – right up to the very tip even – but can’t make her take the leap.  I can teach her the right ways, but can’t make her believe.

So I grieved for her, and for me.  But, I also hoped.

I hoped because of the times others have come around me to help me take the raincoat off, one button at a time.  Because each time I am tempted to keep the good things of God away, the lie gets harder and harder to believe.

Because each time I allow myself to stand in the rain, unclothed, unprotected and unashamed, it is more beautiful and miraculous and healing than the last. 

I can hope those things for the ones I love, too.  For my husband and friends and students and for my son and for my daughter.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  1 John 4

I have hope because we don’t have to be perfect, because He is.

I don’t have to seek for others to find me worthy, because God has determined that I already am.  I know this.  And I believe this.

So we have come to know and to BELIEVE the love that God has for us.

Because I forget

I had barely begun my nine mile run, and I could already feel the arch of my foot becoming tender.  Every step on the pavement was singularly focused on this itty bitty part of my anatomy.  It became more painful around mile 3, at which point I cut my route short and headed back to my car.  Perhaps you saw the really tall lady in hot pink shorts kind of limp-running under the 1-10 and muttering curse words under her breath Saturday morning in downtown Tucson?  That was me. I was both frustrated with my body and disappointed over admitting defeat.

It is interesting how for me, running is not just running.  Physical pain or limitations are not just physical.  The emotional, mental, spiritual and, um, therapeutic elements intertwined in a nine mile run are never more obvious than when that running is threatened, or taken away.

Maybe it’s an idol.  Maybe it’s a gift from God.  But suffice it to say I spent a fair amount of time the rest of that Saturday pouting on the couch, awkwardly trying to hold an icepack to the bottom of my foot.

Then, it was time to head to church.  Frantic dinner, hyper kids, make-up thrown on in a rush, empty gas tank, uncooperative foot. Inhale.  Exhale.  Here we are.

The church is in a sermon series that is asking some questions about why The Church gathers.  Why bother?  Why do we need it?  Why does God desire it?

I got some answers.

Earlier that day I had posted something on Facebook about my Poor Unfortunate Foot and no less than four people at church came up and talked to me about it.  People who didn’t  bother to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on Facebook.  People who would rather approach me, in person.

I saw their faces.  They saw mine.   I heard their insight and questions, not via written text but instead through their unique and beautiful voices.  I shared my frustrations with my hyperbolic ramblings and  facial expressions and arm gestures. One of my pastors even took me aside and showed me some stretches I could try out.   I am knownFrom my COMPLICATED feelings all the way down to the tiniest tendon under my right foot.  I am known. 

Sometimes I forget that.  I forget I am known, and I forget how good it is.

This is why we gather.

Time to sit in our chairs now, the service is beginning.  The words “Desperate for Distraction” show on the screen up in front of the Sanctuary, flashing for only a moment in the midst of a short video clip, but it was enough for my soul to be pierced.   Desperate.  For.  Distraction.  This is how I live.

Let me tell you, it is a heavy burden and a tiring work.

I closed my eyes for the rest of the video and let God lift my face toward Him, and I chose – in that unique moment and yet also for the thousandth time – the living water of Jesus instead of the broken cisterns that somehow always seem just fine and satisfying during the week.

And it was good.

And easy.

And light.

I keep forgetting.

This is why we gather. 

It is interesting how in the Old Testament God is pretty darn particular about the Isrealites doing these 2 things; offering sacrifices and gathering to remember.  Remember the Passover.  Remember the Sabbath.

And then…Christ…our atonement once for all.  And God in the New Testament is now quite particular that our need for sacrifice is over with.  OVAH!  Forget about all those lambs and goats and blood.  Hallelujah.   But being together, remembering together, this is NOT over.  Why not?

Why can’t this be forsaken as well, it’s not like my fellow Gentile Christians and myself celebrate the Passover.  Why can’t I just stay home and listen to a podcast?

Because.  Because I need to hear your voice and see your empathetic face while I narrate my running problems and I need to watch that video clip and sit next to you while you sing and let you hear me sing (louder and louder..actually sorry about that!) and hear you say Amen from the back of the building and be touched by how your ministry is caring for special needs people and teach me from the bible and teach me from your life.

Because I can witness the joy in your eyes at having your daughter home for a few days, because you asked me to pray for you, because your baby just gets bigger and cuter every time I see her.

Because I needed that Christian stock video clip and your kindness and your touch and your words to help me worship, to love me, to pierce me, to remind me.

Because I keep forgetting. 

This is why we gather. 

And then these people who I love stand up there with guitars and its a song we sing a lot and on the radio a lot and blah blah blah.

But somehow through this song I am taken back to my morning run.  In all the attention I was giving my frustration and my foot, I missed celebrating how lovely and cool the morning was.  The calm and quiet of the university campus.  The brilliant southwest colors that paint Downtown.  The mountains and all the glory of el amanecer sobre el desierto.  I close my eyes and am given an opportunity, a second chance, to go back and see what you wanted to give me, that I wasn’t willing to receive at that time.

To give to you now what I couldn’t, at least not on my own, earlier that day.  Bless the Lord, oh my Soul!

Week by week by week by week.

I keep forgetting.

That is why we gather. 

The skeletons in my closet

We all have them right?

College is an especially ripe environment to accumulate some of these skeletons.  Let me tell you a little story from my university years.

It was 2002.  I was doing a group project, a final presentation for one of my classes during my undergraduate career.  For an independent introvert there is hardly anything more torturous than forced teamwork

Anyway, we collaborated and then presented on one of the last days of the semester, passed the class and never looked back.

That is until I realized that two of the books that I checked out from the library that I lent to another group member for his portion of the project were not returned to me, nor were they returned to the library.  I tried contacting him and even requested help from my professor to get these books back but to no avail.

So twelve years later I have some massive fines and two books still unreturned to my alma mater’s library.

Wait, what?  You expected something juicier when I titled this blog “Skeletons in my closet”?  Something perhaps more scandalous than overdue library books?

I am sure I have plenty of those kinds of skeletons, too.  But you know, this is a public blog soooo….

This might not be the sexiest, juiciest, most scandalous skeleton ever,  but nevertheless there it is  hanging in my closet.  Not a huge millstone tied around my neck, but a pesky one, a small blemish on my record and a nagging fear that the library gods would some day find me and fine me.

Well, this week they did.  I got an e-mail that went a little something like this…

Dear Kirsten.  You have two library books SEVERELY OVERDUE.  Send us our money and our books or we are sending this TO A COLLECTION AGENCY.  P.S. What is the matter with you?!?!

Oh my goodness they think I am some kind of a delinquent!!  Don’t they know I am a mom?  Who LEADS BIBLE STUDIES AT HER CHURCH??!!

I checked my old school library account online and sure enough there were $140 in fines.

Additionally I was notified that I would owe $150.00 per missing book if I couldn’t return them. (okay so $150 seemed pretty steep for a book on the Inca road system, right?  Surely I could find it cheaper.   Um, no.  I did a quick Amazon search and found that just one of them ranged between $150 and $270.  Seriously?  Are these books dipped in gold and organic peruvian quinoa?)

Now I am starting to feel sick as I imagine having to tell my husband that we need to take several hundred dollars out of our savings account for my past wayward ways.

It was time to face my shame.  Even though I knew I could place some of the blame on my slacker-of-a-group-member, these were books that I checked out, on my account and I couldn’t pretend this problem didn’t exist anymore, although I had successfully avoided it for 12 years.

I sent a brief e-mail in reply that went a little something like this..

Oh most benevolent library gods, I don’t have the books.   Group projects suck.  I am at your mercy. Love, Kirsten

Although I could hardly stand the thought of paying all this money, it actually felt good to fess up and know I could put it behind me.

Less then a day passed before I heard back and I was so anxious as I opened the e-mail, cringing at the possible monetary amount surely to be mentioned, and also feeling a bit like a naughty elementary school student waiting for another scolding from the teacher.

The e-mail went a little something like this,

Dear Kirsten,  You’re right, group projects DO suck.  No worries, it’s all good.  Your account is cleared of all charges.

Say whaaaaaaattt?

I immediately checked my library account and discovered that both books had been removed, along with the $140 in fines.

Benevolent library gods indeed!

I have checked back several times since, still in awe that my criminal university record was wiped clean so easily.  Each time I checked, I would feel that sense of relief again.  In fact it felt so good I think I’ll go check again right now…

…okay, still clear!

And , I started to think.

What if not just the small (or in my case, large) library book variety of skeletons were taken out of my my closet, but also the more scandalous and shameful ones as well?

What if I could look back, every day if I really wanted to, and be reminded that “really?  wow!  My account is still wiped clean!” 

What if I could experience that sense of relief for everything in my life?

And hey, what if there was an actual God, not just those library guys, the kind that can’t just see my overdue books but the kind that can somehow see into my past and into my heart (there are some skeletons lurking in there, too)

What if this God wanted to give me freedom, too?

What if no matter how much I owed, how scandalous my skeleton, or how many years I had been avoiding and running and pretending, this God was waiting to reply?

Dear Kirsten,

As far as sunrise is from sunset, I have separated you from your sins (psalm 103)

Please approach My throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4)

It’s all good!

Love, God