To the woman who came to our church, but left feeling even more empty

To the woman who came to our church, but left feeling even more empty.  I never really saw you.  Sure, you were there, but our differences made you invisible to me.  Of course, I wouldn’t say that out loud.  Invisible sounds harsh.  But, I am pretty sure that was how you had to feel.  You didn’t look like me.  We didn’t share the same taste in clothing. You voted differently. You spoke differently.  And your background wasn’t one in which I could relate. I have always seen myself as an open-minded person, but being open-minded and open-hearted are entirely different.  Open-minded says I won’t hate you for being different. Open-hearted says I will love you in spite of our differences.  Any civil person can be open-minded, but it takes God’s love to be open-hearted.

 

We introduced ourselves to one another, but I forgot your name soon after. Later, I asked about your children, and we talked about the usual things like ages, and how boys will be boys, but I never asked you to meet us for a play date or lunch at chick-fil-a. We didn’t invite your family over for dinner or ever make any plans to know you better. Week-after-week, you came. I said hello, most of the time, but never took the time to really know you. You began volunteering in children’s church. You worked quietly. Faithfully. You were greeted with a smile, but never known as a friend. We had no idea how lonely you were, and how you couldn’t quite seem to fit in or find a simple friend.  Why couldn’t the church have been that place your searching heart could finally call home?  We didn’t know that you and your husband were fighting keep your marriage together or that you all were struggling to make ends meet. We didn’t know your family was at it’s breaking point. How could we?

 

You see, an empty smile isn’t enough. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we kept you at arms length, because you were, well different. You didn’t quite fit our mold, so invisible walls stood tall.  It wasn’t anything that you did wrong, it was just that you were too foreign for us to call you friend –to make this your home. We have created this inclusive culture in the church.  Our social club is full of others who are just like us.  As much as we want to say the lost, lonely, and losing are welcome, they are still outsiders.  We feel good when we make them our projects, but making them a part of our lives would be too much.  Too uncomfortable.  How can the church be a light to the world when we can’t even love the people within our very walls?

 

While it is human nature to gravitate towards those who are like ourselves.  May Christ be our common ground so that our circle of friends is not simply based on our dying outer appearances and status, but the rich eternal inward likenesses.  Our relationships will be all the richer if they are based upon the eternal instead of the fleeting.  After all, what does the love of Christ mean if it doesn’t mean loving the lonely woman who, in all reality, looks more like Christ than we do?  I wonder if Christ walked through the doors of our church, if I would glance past him and disregard him based upon his outward appearance alone.  God, forgive me.  Help us do better than this.  Jesus.  Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak.  May our circle of friends not be the ‘who’s who’, but let it be richer than that. May it not be a circle at all.  But an ever-growing tapestry full of the broken, battered, bullied and boring.  It’s messy and beautiful.  It’s called The Gospel.  We come together through Christ’s love to make this beautiful tapestry that brings comfort and friendship and makes this fleeting passing world feel like home a glimpse into our eternal home for the lost and losing, for all of us.  Jesus.

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Day of rest, day of wonder, day of peace

God has given us a gift.  And, like many of His gifts, it is left unopened.  A day.  An entire day to rest.  A gift wrapped up in a commandment.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy .” Exodus 20:8-11

But, like so many of God’s laws, I only embraced parts of it.  It wasn’t until recently that God began to nudge my heart to more fully observe the Sabbath.

First, He asked me to remove all of the social media from this particular day.  In the chaos of that virtual world, I can’t see Him.  So often, as a stress reliever, I will reach for my phone and mindlessly scroll through the lives of other people. The mindless pseudo-connection of scrolling is a farce, really. Because I’m pretty sure my soul is crying out for connection with my creator. But, I settle.  I trade His fulfillment for a moment of satisfaction.

And then God nudged my heart once more. A lot of Sundays, I will do some online shopping.  We buy a lot of stuff online. I would typically use the extra time I had on Sunday to browse and buy things we were needing or wanting. But, God said let that go. Not on this day.  The constant consumerism breeds a discontentment in my heart.  This day is too sacred for that.  I am reminded of when he turned the tables over in the temple and said no more.  Reverence me on this day.  The consumerism, let it be replaced by contentment in me.  Spend time in grateful reflections.

Instead of reaching for my phone, I make myself reach for His word.  My heart knows this is where I am truly fulfilled.  Yet, my flesh fights it.  I put my headphones on to more fully focus and listen to the Word while reading along.  My tired, starving soul is renewed.  restored.  And after a long week, my heart is fulfilled, not just momentarily satisfied.  Man does not live on bread alone.

My flesh wants constant busyness, but what my soul really needs is blank space.  It is God’s design.  A day of rest.  So, I resist the temptation to busy myself with meaningless motion and I allow myself to rest. I burn that candle, use those essential oils, relax in a bath.  Lay in bed a little longer wrapped in my robe.  I take God up on His offer to take a break from it all.  He soothes the dry places of my heart and heals the broken pieces from a long week of struggle and exhaustion.  He restores a very tired soul.

I am not lost on the fact that there are still things to be done on a Sunday.  I’ve got three little people to take care of, clothe, feed, bathe, all of the stuff.  Most mornings, just making it to church on time is a miraculous effort.  But, inbetween the feeding and taking care of, there are ceratinly windows where I can take a deep breath and reflect, rest, restore.  We eat left-overs, breakfst for dinner or maybe even popcorn.  We eat on paper plates.  The kids may not get a bath that day, and some chores may be left undone.

We take a walk as a family, go fishing or go look at the cows.  I bring my camera, an art I don’t always take time to enjoy.  I zoom in on this joy God has given us.  We stop and smell the flowers, walk a little slower, and  I breathe in thankfulness.  Content, restored and fulfilled.2017-04-23 18.49.362017-04-02 19.50.37God’s design for my life doesn’t always make sense in the moment.  But, when I am obedient to His ways, my heart is full.

A Shabbat Reading

There are days when we seek things for ourselves

and measure failure by what we do not gain.

On the Sabbath we seek not to acquire but to share.

There are days when we exploit nature

as if it were a horn of plenty that can never be exhausted.

On the Sabbath we stand  in wonder before the mystery of creation.

There are days when we actas if we cared nothing

for the rights of others.

On the Sabbath we are reminded that justice is our duty

and a better world our goal.

Therefore we welcome Shabbat.

Day of rest, day of wonder, day of peace.

Heart Furled

Heart furled.

creases of mistrust

divided

hidden hurts

tucked neatly into the dark folds

heart clenched like a fist

choking out the praise I was made to bring

worship gasps and strains

white knuckles

recesses of animosity

won’t let go

heart of hearts

like a child

just let go

open, clenched heart,

surrender, heart

vulnerable

offenses laid down

truth displace the deception

encounter

God’s love

encountered!

HIS LOVE!

His love filling this once furled heart

God’s love flows freely from my heart to the world around me.

He is made known.

 

 

 

Submerged

I was staring at a sink full of dirty dishes with a long to-do list at the forefront of my mind. There was too much to be done and not enough of me to do it. Three kids were miraculously napping at the same time. And, I felt that still, small voice calling me to spend time in God’s presence. I resisted. Truthfully, I resented the request. How could you want me to slow down? Don’t you see all that there is to be done? I only had a short window of time before the silence would be interrupted with wants, needs and asking more of me than I had to give. There was too much to be done. And sitting quietly in God’s presence didn’t seem to be relevant in that moment. Irony. God’s ways are full of ironies. Grace. Abundance. More. It is all found in the quiet. My efforts. The ones that are riddled with inadequacy are given a God speed that I can’t accomplish in my own strength. I am submerged, and I can accomplish exponentially more with God’s covering. His fruit effortlessly manifests in my life. I have more patience. More love. Kindness. More of the fruit that I can’t will myself to manifest. I am never enough in my own strength. I fall short. Every. Single. Time. I am only enough when I am in the deep places suspended within God’s presence.

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God’s grace is found in the deep places. Submerged. The weight of this world is lifted. And silenced. I am free. I am suspended within His depths. I move beyond my natural abilities, limitations, inadequacies and weaknesses. I move into God’s divine work with little effort on my own. Less of me. More of Him. His anointing rises to the top when I am submerged in His presence.

Shouts of Grace

I was in a hurry.  I tossed my coffee pot into the dishwasher, and a large piece broke off.  It was a clean break.  A perfect circle of glass came out of the pot.  Even though it was a clean break, it was broken, and now useless.  It made me think about myself as a vessel.  It’s inevitable that as we walk through life, we are bound to be broken.  Whether life breaks a perfectly shaped piece from us or breaks us into a million pieces, we are still broken.  Without the grace of God, our vessel is useless just like my coffee pot.

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Broken, shattered, pieces lying useless.  They all tell a story. On their own, they sleep.

But, you shout GRACE with each jagged edge that you smooth into place.  You awaken. The stained shards sewn together through your love create the tapestry of a story you called me to tell.  It contains all the fragments that make me who I am.  The ugly pieces and the beautiful ones all tell the story–your story. My talents, my trials, my shortcomings and my strengths all equal strongholds without your grace.  You bring the ugly and beautiful together and illuminate your story through this broken vessel. Your grace is the capstone for this living temple that transcends your beautiful light to a dark world.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain?  Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone With shouts of “Grace, grace to it”‘”  Zechariah 4:6-7

 

home…

I am sitting in a camouflage La-Z-Boy recliner with 10 dead deer eyes staring directly at me. There is plaid and Mallard duck printed wallpaper surrounding me. Hunting paraphernalia is proudly displayed about the house.

I. Am. Not. Home.

Actually, I am on week ELEVEN, that’s right. eleven. of not being home.  Our belongings are in suitcases, tupperware bins, and a storage unit.  We are in a new town where Ashley has started his new job. The picture above is of our soon to be house, but we have not been able to move there yet.  We have been staying in temporary places until it is ready.  We have stayed everywhere from hotels, a lodge in the middle of no man’s land, and now we are in someone’s weekend getaway place.  While, we are grateful to have a roof over our heads, the unsettled feelings of being homesick are growing each day.

We are also waiting for our baby boy to arrive in just five short weeks.  I sit here 8 months pregnant with two very unsettled children wanting nothing more than to nest. To settle.  To call something my own.  Filled with hope for what is to come in the next month, yet unsettled and discontent in the current circumstance.

I guess there are lessons to be learned in all situations.  I can’t help, but see the parallel between my current living situation and how I should feel as a Christian.  I should feel just as out-of-place in our culture as I do in this circa 1980’s, hunter’s paradise. I should also be filled with more hope and anticipation for eternity than I do waiting on the birth of a new child and a new home.   After all, this world is not my home. I will never be satisfied in what this world has to offer. God has given us great joys and blessings while we are here, but our truest sense of peace is in Him.  I will only feel at home when I dwell in HIs presence.  He is my home.  My destiny.  My purpose.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

When I allow myself to settle into the ways of our culture, I am further from Christ.  The two cannot co-exist. It is one or the other.   My soul is unsettled.  Lost.  Yet I so often trade time in His presence with the counterfeit and fleeting things of this world.  Empty.   My discontented heart longs to serve an eternal God who said ‘I am in this world, but not of it.’  He has called us to eternal purpose. To love God.  To love others.  To make disciples. Yet, we have been discipled by this world instead.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your.” 1 Peter 2:11

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego did not turn an entire nation’s eyes to the Living God by bowing down to the golden statue that the King commanded. Our golden statues are present every day in our modern lifestyles.  We bow down to money, self, comfort, success, even family, the list could go on and on. None of these things are bad on their own.  But, when we center our lives around them and use God to achieve them, we have essentially bowed down to a golden statue. We have made our homes in the things of this world.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t. we want to make it clear to you, You Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.  Daniel 3:17-18

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego didn’t make their home in a nation that was not their own.  They lived as foreigners.  Set apart.  They didn’t decide to compromise or be quiet.  They stood for what they believed.  King Nebuchadnezzar saw God and praised him because of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego’s uncompromising faith.  

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him.  They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  Daniel 3:23

Eternal significance is lost in a compromising existence.   We settle into the ways of this world instead of abiding in the ways of the Almighty God who called us to be set apart and live as foreigners.  There is an emptiness when we co-exist in this culture for which we were never created. I grow weary.  I am frustrated.  I am not home.  We were not called to be Americanized.  We were called to live bold, courageous lives full of Christ.

I am looking to the near future where we will move into our home with our own belongings and finally return to a sense of normalcy. I am looking forward to bringing our new baby home.  I am excited about what is to come.  Yet, I reminded not to get too wrapped up in all of this.  This isn’t easy for me.  This will be our first home that is actually ours.  I have looked forward to this for a long time.  But, if my only hope is in a home and earthly family, my heart will be homesick.  I will long for more.  My truest home is right in God’s presence–a presence that gives my homesick heart respite until I see Him face-to-face.

Maybe it takes the shot-gun shell garland, animal skulls, turkey feathers and overall discomfort of living in someone else’s home to remind me that I. Am. Not. Home.   

The Unseen

So, this summer has been a whirlwind of a summer.  It really began late spring when we made one of the most difficult decisions of our lives.  It was a decision that brought us to another town, another church (yet to be discovered), another job for Ashley, another community of friends (yet to be made) and well just another everything.

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Moving day… Everything was boxed and ready to go. We went to church that morning to say goodbye to our church family and then we were on our way for the next chapter.

The decision.  A decision to turn down what we thought we had been working towards for the past six years.  The most difficult part.  A dream that goes back as far as a five year old little boy working cows with his grandfather.

A dream that quickly became my own when I fell in love with that grown up little boy.  The dream put on a shelf for now.  We prayed, we sought counsel, we stressed, we made the decision, then went back on the decision and went back again.  But finally, we settled. Although uneasily.  We decided that path was not right for us.  Things still seem unclear to us.  In God’s hands.  We do know that much.  He sent the warnings and red flags, and instead of walking through an open door, we had to close that door on our own.  Faith, grace, and provision helped us.  Door closed.  Now what?  Purpose? Not quite so clear any more. Grateful for Ashley’s new position.  He is still working in the industry that seems to run through his veins.

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Yet, purpose left unfound.  Something more.  More than a paycheck.  More than a comfortable living.  Physical needs beyond met, yet our hearts are still seeking.

I am brought back to my question of purpose.  We thought our purpose was to own a dairy.  That was our goal.  Our focus.  We of course said that we would make it a ministry, a mission field.  I know though that the ministry, that eternal part was secondary to the goal.  The goal was carnal.  Not wrong, but carnal and when the carnal is placed before the eternal, it becomes an idol.  That is wrong.

The things we own, accomplish, those are all going to pass away.  Souls and making disciples should be our purpose.  At the end of our lives, we may have done some great things, but the eternal is what will live on.  I just finished reading the book, “You and Me Forever” by Francis Chan and I was so challenged by the entire book, but one statement stood out to me in particular.

If we believe that billions are dying and heading for God’s judgement, does it really make sense to center our lives around anything other than the missions to reach them?  If every believer shared the gospel as often as you, how many would be reached?  If everyone gave the percentage of their income you did, how much would we have to give to the poor?

In this moment, of discontented chaos, I seek God’s purpose.  His peace comes in His purpose.  Eternal purpose. My prayer is that it is our sole desire is to bring The Good News to lost souls, to disciple, to love and to pursue eternal purposes.

Once the eternal becomes our heartbeat, God will provide the ‘vehicle’ in which we minister.  We had it backwards.  We pursued the vehicle before we were truly passionate about His purposes.  

I don’t believe our passions are accidental or random.  God delights in them. Our passions are there for a greater purpose.  I have faith that we will look back on this decision, though it feels a little unclear now, and be grateful for how God navigated us through this. He is, after all, able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we hope or ask for!  I believe God will use what He put in Ashley’s heart as a little boy in His time and in His way.

We were made for more than the fleeting meaningless things of this world.  A daily battle.  We grasp for the seen.  Those things that we can touch, that give immediate gratification.  Yet our souls are starving for the very purpose for which they were created.  The unseen.

“as we look not to the things that are seen. but the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

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