Orthodoxy of Service

I fell down a flight of stairs on Labor Day. Tiptoeing on our airbnb’s long shag carpet, trying not to wake the other people in the house (who didn’t have three offspring reminding them of the 6am hour) my plans … Continue reading

Speaking of Brave Women: A Guest Post

We have all watched, read, and maybe even felt within ourselves today courage. It is not only a scary time of reckoning in our country, in our Church, and in our families; it is also a time where immense bravery … Continue reading

A Grieving Woman Preacher

A woman, at sunrise, at first misunderstood, but was the first witness. She went for help. She was taking care and grieving at the same time. Bravely, she returned to the scene of the confusion, and the pain. And exactly there, she found Hope. She became the first New Testament preacher–announcer, commissioned by Christ Himself: Go, eye witness of the Gospel, carrier of the Good News! Go tell the brothers. 

She was the first sunrise service; her actions set in motion the breaking of Saturday into Sunday. This is the pivot. Of waiting and death and eerie stillness and denial to the rush of the new story, the unfathomable, the prophesied and the Way.

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Today, women are worried about their dresses, shoe color, matching outfits for their children, and healthy/organic/fair-trade/wonder-filled Easter baskets for the kids. The stress of the ham, the potatoes, the schedule, and the photos find prominent place in most every Church but no home in the Easter story. And yet somehow, we have been saddled and distracted, pulled and reduced, to style and stress.

We are living in the Saturday space of the Not Yet. We believe, but it takes faith. We have seen, but there’s still confusion and grief. We are called, commissioned, confirmed by the Love of God, but we women are also scorned in many ways still–scorned like the one who washed His feet with tears, crashing the men’s party…but remembered and honored by Jesus. He told the men at the last supper, wash each other’s feet, as I have done yours; I speculate the women already knew that was part of this world, this worship. It is part of the Saturday waiting, and punctuates our insistence on Sunday coming.

Ladies, you are beautiful in your sweats and your yoga pants, god forbid, and your old dresses and your new dresses, your medical equipment and your nursing bras and your jeans and your self. You are enough if the food is reheated, non-festive, burnt, bought or otherwise lacking. You are worthy in your grief and your mundane; you are seen, called by name, by a Resurrected Lord, in the moment you’ve felt the worst. Oh, to remember when it was just you and Hope, to hear your name called by One who esteems and created you, who included you in the first moment of Sunday.

In so many servant-hearted, resilient ways, women fashion the resurrection after people have gone through a crucifixion. In so many godly, loving ways, women prepare a feast before people who need a taste of the nourishment of Sunday in the midst of their upset Saturday, still aching from Friday. So many women have done these things for me as I try to live Saturday faithful, hand in hand with both yesterday and tomorrow. Heart and mind, weighted and lifted. Here.

May the courage of a woman at the grave, crying, and the confirmation of a Savior at dawn, calling, settle and sustain you this weekend.

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A God Who Picks Up Legos

Church on Sunday was about the treasure. It seems like such a juvenile metaphor when I think about finding a treasure in a field, or the pearl. The whimsy, the luck, the certainty…all seem somewhat mythical. But our pastor encouraged … Continue reading

Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

Origins

This week’s theme from the devotional I’m using for Lent is Origins. One day led me to Psalm 139.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

As a kid, I was uncomfortable with these verses. As an adoptee, I didn’t want to think too long and hard about being formed in a stranger’s womb, and whatever else it took for me to get to my parents on the other side of the world, as a 6 month old. I have always lacked curiosity and was very content with knowing basics about my biological, pre-adoption story. I was (and am) very satisfied with my family, and even after visiting the orphanage and South Korea at 11-years-old, I did not wrestle with many questions.

Now, as an adult and a mother, I have questions. I’m looking at documents as though for the first time. And now, I am getting better at appreciating the incredible weight of the psalmist’s words in my story, as well as all the stories of my 4 adopted siblings.

Being known and recognized, planned for, and remembered, are about the most wonderful gifts to ever receive. Psalm 139 is all those things. The triune Parent has given all of those things to each of us. 

I do not know how much I will know in this life about my origins. But with every question, and every piece of an answer, I remain thankful. I am very thankful for the blessing and assurance that I knew as a very young child. For while I didn’t know what to do with phrases in these verses then, I knew I was watched out for. I knew I was cherished, by heaven and earth. For me, it feels like the inmost parts, the intricate weaving, the secret creating, was extended far beyond birth, because there is much we do not know. I find these verses and the creative story of scripture comforting even as I consider what I wish I knew. Even as I discuss new questions with my parents and the Lord.

Many have unconventional journeys to their families. They have gaps of life that are unaccounted for, either because of trauma, illness, depression, abandonment, displacement…so many things. Jesus also was convoluted. His birth was plain scandal. His attachment to his parents, complicated. He suffered lonesomeness. We know very little about some very formative years. I like that. I like that his identity, character, mission, and impact not only did not require these things to be explained completely…They in fact are stronger for them.

As people of the cross, we bear witness to the lonely places people find themselves in; we are compelled to be a friend for a time. I’m hungry to know and recognize the outskirts when they have not been planned for, or remembered, and they may honestly not even know themselves anymore. Part of this yearning for tethers, for being bound and close to someone else, is what motivated our baby book for our temporary daughter. I wanted to show her that yes, though strangers, we were there and her first tooth, her first crawl, and her cries are remembered. I hope that someday she finds her story in the psalms too.

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He sets the lonely in families (68:6). He searches out our paths (139:3). From our mother’s womb, he has been our God (22:10).

 

Prone

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

What complicated, restless hearts we have. In the heat of the moment when I face difficult relationship problems, I always hedge my bets and blame the other person first. They weren’t thinking about me. They are avoiding this. Their insecurities have shaped that. I’m very innocent in the court of my mind, as luck would have it. But, of course, upon further examination, nothing is so one-dimensional, and it further extends the hurt and separation.

There’s a theme I don’t like that the Spirit has been raising a little antenna to in my heart. Abandonment. It’s a tough one. Not a pleasant word or idea, so harsh, so final. I haven’t learned too much about this theme in my life so far so will spare you the rambling, but I know it’s there.  And it has less to do with what actually happens to bring up my strong emotions currently than scars of my past and outstanding spiritual needs.

Today my guide for Lent directed me to the story of Hosea and Gomer. What a mess. I mean, really Lord? Here we see a painful marriage used to exemplify Israel’s abandonment of God, and God’s relentless pursuit and loyalty. Marriage, unsurprisingly, is great fuel for developing this abandonment theme in my life (sorry, Ryan…), and whatever the heck God wants to show me through it. I’ve said before, that to stay married is to stay a beginner. So this story of Hosea and Gomer, and his call to start over, and over, again, is compelling.

To Start All Over Again
v14-15 MSG “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.”

v23″I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’”

Hosea was an imperfect husband, no matter how many times he went after Gomer. But, he is a great archetype for a perfect, loving God who powerfully speaks belonging and identity, hope and resilience, to the wandering. Even as I slowly start to wrestle with this word ‘abandonment,’ I sense His mercy. I sense that this is not a journey I have to go alone, and that He wants to show me that I was never alone, even when the seeds of these fears and trials were planted.

Fellow Wanderer, this is the Savior for us. This Jesus, this Good News, is the antithesis of abandonment. You’re the dear Somebody! The Gospel is for the Gomers. You’re the cause to start it all over again, which, really, is what Christ endured in a nutshell. A new suffering, a new courtship, an endless pursuit. Even as we prepare our hearts for the cross, no matter our sadness and suffering, we have the comfort of this loyalty and care. No relationship on earth comes close; this is not that which hurt us in the past, or repels us now. Likely, our experiences will only heighten our hunger for this, the original love.

I am praying for reminders for us of this perfect love. I’m asking to see glimpses of this extravagant faithfulness we so desire.

 

Your Crying is Safe With Me

There is so much shame in sadness.

I was told by an unhealthy friend this past month that I have no reason to ever feel depressed. I’m married to a guy whose enneagram motto is “I want to have fun.” I have young children watching me, gauging my emotions, desiring my attention and steadiness and happiness. And then there are the comparisons. I see the people seemingly perfect. And I shrink in the shadow of the real struggles my other loved ones face. Potential loss of a spouse. Incarceration. Refusing to be served by a restaurant because of their race or language. Fear of deportation. Cancer. Struggles of poverty and addiction.

It’s easy to try and muscle through (unsuccessfully) sadness and grief when it seems so petty or unmerited, situational, and privileged. When it seems so un-Christian, and unwelcome, and inappropriate. History would show me that I don’t have many good solutions for moving on when I start by denying the truthfulness of my experience. Nevertheless, the cognitive gymnastics continue.

Today the devotional guide I’m using for Lent asked me what am I sad about. We also read John 16:16-24, in which Jesus is preparing his followers for suffering and deep sadness.

Both of these things, in and of themselves, whisper to me that my sadness is okay. In this personal time of donning Christ’s suffering and offering repentance, restarting spiritual rhythms, and opening to the holy, my sadness is okay. These things suggest that my sadness’ companion, shame, is not from God, and that the two must be divorced.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (v 20a, ESV).

Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness (v 20, MSG). 

Jesus does not ask his followers to not be sad. He tells them they will see Him again. And in the meantime, be incredibly bold and blunt with their requests to God. It sounds like sadness is not incongruous with faith. It sounds like even though they know that God is God and that things will overall, ultimately, in that transcendent way be okay, there’s space for lament. For mourning, and missing Jesus (“What does he mean by a  little while??”). For sadness and depression. And that out of that pain, they may be brazenly full of requests, pounding on God’s door, until they’ll “…no longer be so full of questions.

Whew, that sounds good. ‘Cause I’m bringing a stack of questions and a well of tears this Lenten season–tears for me, and tears for you. And tonight, I’m feeling less bad about it. Sadness is a part of this preparation for the cross, and the tomb. Sadness is a part of living as foreigners in this land. Sadness is appropriate.

Lent welcomes our sadness and questions the shame. Calvary promises one, and denies the other. Hosanna.

Hope as Resistance

It feels more radical rather than religious to hope these days. So perhaps we’re on to something.

 

fullsizeoutput_30faThe first week of Advent is themed hope. The beckoning yonder that has no interest in denying the bleeding wounds. Hope shines under tears. It is at its best paired with sorrow.

The subversiveness of hope was lost on me as a child, and in different parts of my adult life. It’s a common word in the surface use. I hope I can find a parking spot. I hope they have my size. I hope…

Hope was veiled to me before finding greater solidarity and firsthand experience with suffering. Much of the Good News was neutralized. Much of this season was rhetoric. Hope was pretty and nice, like me, and easily packable like a wooden Christmas ornament.

Hope does not have its roots in well wishes and merriment. Nor is its head in the sand. Hope is defiant though the night is deafening. 

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This Christmas, we are practicing and whispering hope with fists clenched and arms linked. We are fully feeling the brokenness. Our feet are wet with mud and blood of chaos, pain, fear, and disappointment. Suddenly, this innocuous word HOPE, has become a battle cry for the warriors. The shroud of comfort and convenience has been shed and the power of the chant, of the mere suggestion of hope, is blowing us over.

Here people are bullied with threats of eviction and deportation, shame and disdain… and we read about that unwed teen finds herself home to Hope, pregnant, highly favored and honored.

Here the guilty are acquitted, and the innocent shot in the back, unmourned… and we read the father is visited, assured of his integrity, protected and seen.

Here the immigrated and enslaved, the stolen and the shuffled, are hurting with new rejection… and we read the nation is gathered, counted, and answered by God on High, starting with the lowest.

Here the corrupt and evil are taking positions with less care and fewer caveats than ever before… and we read the heavenlies led the mystic and the mother to safety, denying the powers that be for the Power that was, is and is to come.

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So we hope with our time. We pray and listen, though the lists grow long and the invitations scatter. We create things and say no to things because hope causes us to do differently. And is anything but automatic. We call on behalf of the voiceless. We sign on behalf of the unnamed.

We hope with our dollars. We give more than we have ever before. We invest and save in places that abide by hope in humanity and not exploitation. We buy less and we buy smart.

We hope with our hearts. We confess the ugliness beginning in us. We force quiet to hear the quiet forces. We share and hold each other when despair is choking. We open to people we don’t understand and we are watchful for those vulnerable.

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Yes, we hope with wide eyes open and tears pouring out. It is our resistance, to the numbing injustice and the end of the story; it is our protest to the closed doors, plugged ears, and empire.

We hope hard though it is hard to hope.

 

This is advent–this is hearts preparing Him room. Though there seems to be no space, no possibility, we hope through the pain. We strain to see the empty stable’s potential. It is the labor before the birth.  We hope hard because we are suffering and angry and upright. We hope hard because He came and He is coming.

 

Homosexuality, the Hatmakers, and Hell-raising

There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.

Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?

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There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.

A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.

Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.

I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?

Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ. 

But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however,  are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.

I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.

Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.

 

I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”

But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible. 

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God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?

 

Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.