What to do When You Don’t Know What to Do

I’m trying to get my feet back on the ground after a stretching season, so today, a re-post from 4 years ago. 

I ran into a 23-year-old friend the other day and asked how she was doing. “Being in your twenties is…awkward!” she answered.  “All these questions about what you’re going to do with your life…who you’ll be, where you’ll go…what to say ‘yes’ to.”

That same day I had coffee with a fifty-something friend who said her son is wrestling with some of the same unsettledness, and she herself is in a time of transition that has raised questions about God’s direction.  She said, “I thought by this age I’d have it figured out and be cruising along!”

24 hours earlier I had had dinner with a thirty-something friend who said, “My life looks a lot different now than I thought it would.”

Each person’s situation was different, but there was a common theme.  If I were God (a job that’s apparently already taken) I’d give detailed instructions like:

“Susan, I want you to move to 673 Elm St., Provo Utah,  join the Church-of-People-on-the-Right-Track, take the job with State Farm, (not General Mills), and order the tomato soup at Panera for lunch.”

And sometimes in the Bible God does that, like when God gives Ananias specific instructions (Acts 9:11) to go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight, (Love it!), but often it’s a bit fuzzier, like in Acts 15:28 where Paul writes, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…”

When I’m in seasons of discernment and transition, the three words that I feel like God often whispers to me are “Open your hands”

  • Open your hands…to release your plans in favor of God’s. Acknowledge your dreams, but don’t clutch them.  Release them to God to change, add, refine…
  • Open  your hands…to receive counsel from wise advisors who know you well, but don’t clutch it either.
  • Open your hands…to use what God has put in them, whether that seems like saying “yes” to dramatic invitations, or something that seems very small and quiet.  Respond to what God has put right in front of you.

That’s just me.  What has been helpful to you when making life decisions?  What have you sensed God whispering to you?

Just Wanted to Know if You Were Awake

This is not a blog meant to be about me, or my family. It contains a lot of personal stories, but my prayer is that by the end of each post you feel that it’s about all of us and God and His everyday grace. I’ve written a lot lately about my brother’s fight with cancer in the hopes that some will gain encouragement or insight from our experience. I won’t write much more about this, but thought I’d share with you what I said at David’s memorial service. We are so grateful for the love, support, and prayers from family and friends.

Until I was 11 years old and David was 9, Cris 7, we lived in a house on Highland in Glen Ellyn. I had my own room, but David and Cris shared a room next to mine. Every night we would all be put to bed at the same time and after the lights were out, I’d hear the voices of my brothers coming from David and Cris’ room.

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David would say: Hey Cris?

Cris would respond: Yeah?

David would say: Just wanted to know if you were awake.

Then silence for a minute and Cris would say: Hey David?

David would reply: Yeah?

Cris would say: Just wanted to know if you were awake.

This would go back and forth until one of them was too tired and fell asleep.

Today, in one sense David has been the one to fall asleep, but in another he is more awake and alive than he has ever been. 

And this is what he wanted us to know.

The chapter of his life with cancer was filled with pain and prayer and hope and questions, but mostly, the refrain, “God is the Author of my story and He is good. I trust Him no matter what.”

As wonderful as my brother was, he was far from perfect (after all, I told  you before that he pulled out my Mousey Moo’s tail when I was 8, and for that I think he should have to pay), but he was forgiven for that and everything else, and lived a vibrant life seeking to honor God.

He would want me to tell you, that if you don’t know it yet, this same Life can be yours if you just turn to Jesus and say “I’m sorry for the many ways I’ve messed up. Please forgive me and be the Author of my story. I just want to be a supporting character and let you be the Writer.”

You may think, Why would I want an Author who let such a great supporting character like David die?” and I’m with you.

During David’s last week, when he was often in pain and delirious, at one point he was flailing and trying to get me to do something I couldn’t understand. I kept repeating “It’s ok David, it’s ok David.” and finally he yelled at me in frustration “It’s NOT OK!”

It was the only time I heard this, but I agreed. Nothing about this death FEELS ok.

We live in a world that seems terrible with the consequences of sin and evil.

But we (and David) trust that God has overcome the world.

Jesus said in John 16:33, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

And in the end He will make all things new.

John, wrote God’s Revelation of the future in chapter 21: I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.

Until then…right now, David IS better than OK because he’s healed and whole, probably fly-fishing with Jesus, the lover of His soul.

And tonight, if my brother Cris were to say, “Hey David?” He doesn’t need to say “Just wanted to know if you’re awake.”

Because we’re sure he is.

The day before David’s memorial service, I went for a walk by our house on Highland. I stood on the sidewalk we roller skated and sledded down a thousand times. The hill seemed so much bigger in my memory.

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I lingered for a long time in front of the house, thinking about David being awake with Jesus.

I was reminiscing, praying, talking to DavId – telling him how much I missed him and telling God I wasn’t very happy with Him.

There had been a song that had been in the back of my mind since David died, but I couldn’t remember the lyrics. As I stood there praying I felt this strong prompting to find it. I searched the I-tunes on my phone and listened. I felt the powerful presence of God and my brother in those moments. I thought you’d want to hear it.

It reminded me that David isn’t sleeping and dreaming about heaven, because he is truly there and truly awake.

Here’s a link  to the song, Deep Enough To Dream, by Chris Rice.

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Road Trip – Peter

Adventure starts where plans end.-3

Several years ago, my cell phone rang while John and I were out on a Saturday night date. Maggie, driving home to MN from Colorado, was on the other end of the line.

“Mom, I think I took a detour and I’m in the wrong state. Can you talk me in?” 

Note, that was “wrong STATE”, not “wrong road” or “wrong town”. She had gotten WAY off track before asking for help and being willing to turn around.

This was before the days of the nice British woman with the soothing voice on your GPS saying “Recalculating…Make a U-turn at the next available intersection. Return to route.”

We all take wrong turns and get off-course. Sometimes those wrong turns have huge consequences that leave us wandering in the wilderness for a season. Other times, we do a course correction and get back on track quickly, thankful for grace and the company of other lost-and-found companions along the way.

Peter took a detour that he thought was fatal, but he was wrong.

Failure is never fatal in the economy of God.

When Jesus was in his darkest moments, when He most needed a friend, Peter bailed on Him. This disciple who was a close friend, acted like an enemy. He took a detour from faithfulness, and went the road of self-preservation.

In saving himself, he lost himself, as is always the case.

In shame, he ran and “hid” in his old self – fishing for fish. But…

There is no detour you can take where God can’t find and restore you.

Jesus meets Peter where he is (John 21) and He asks a simple question, “Do you love me?”

Jesus reaches out and says, “Recalculate your route. Come back with me. It’s ok. I’ll show you the way.”

My brother, David, who I’ve written about here, crossed the finish line of faith on Saturday and is now face to face with Jesus. He was a remarkable, godly man. He was also broken and he messed up like all of us (after all, he did pull off the tail to my stuffed mouse when we were kids!) But what he wanted more than anything was for everyone to know that through Jesus, God is the God of bazillionty chances. He desires to be the leader and forgiver of our life if we just turn to him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Where has a detour taken you today or in the past?

  • To numbing substance abuse?
  • To unhealthy relationships?
  • To spending too much money or eating too much food, or doing too much work?
  • Running from God instead of toward Him?IMG_8367

There’s always a way back. If you’ve taken a detour, what’s the first step you need to take to get back on track?

  • Telling the truth?
  • Asking forgiveness?
  • Seeking help from someone else who’s been where you are?
  • Putting in some “guardrails” to help you stay on course?

Read Luke 15. List all the things you note about God’s character regarding those who get lost.

What has your experience been with detours and getting back on track?

The Questions of Life and Death

My sister-in-law, Susan is a strong and courageous woman of faith. She read this and asked me to post it in the hopes that it might encourage, comfort, or inspire others. We know that many are walking hard roads with challenges we can’t imagine.

It’s a glorious summer morning as I sit on my brother’s front porch in a wicker rocker. Birds are chattering about new-day things. A bunny is nibbling breakfast in the front yard near the hydrangea and today’s paper waits in the driveway to be picked up. A jogger and a dog-walker pass by.

As a friend says, “This is the Lifiest time of year.”

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People open junk mail, play a set of tennis, watch a friend’s wedding video on Facebook, water gardens, laugh at jokes, cut the lawn.

Inside the house my brother dances back and forth with one foot in heaven and one still on earth.

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This feels surreal. It can’t be happening. Life and death, and life and Life.

Things beginning, things ending. Things growing, things dying.

I stare at the pictures rotating through my screen-saver. Photos of us in foreign countries – with kids thirsty for clean water in Africa, with survivors of a tsunami in Sri Lanka, with Palestinians in a refugee camp longing for home – the World outside our world.

Every day, people trying to choose Life.

This is a week when, in some ways life is on hold and we’re just waiting; day to day, minute to minute.

We’re simultaneously holding our breath and trying to breathe. 

But in other ways everything is so…normal. We do all the regular stuff and wonder, “How? How can we do life while David seems to be moving towards death?”

I wake up off and on throughout the nights and pray, “God help. Hold. Heal.”

We say “Prayer changes things”, but what we really hope is that prayer will just change “THINGS” and not change US.

This time God seems to want to change us – to make us “Lifier” people with an ear to heaven and an eye on eternity.

When I was in college in Texas in the late 70’s (yes, that long ago…Who’d believe it??), my people were the fun ones who volunteered with me in Young Life leadership. Think skits and raw egg swallowing contests and summer camp and hanging out with students in the high school cafeteria. Silly and ordinary, insecure and overly confident by turns, leaning into everyday grace.

We wore our overalls and said “NBD”, and “What the fat?” and a phrase I’ve been thinking about lately…

“But… HOW ETERNAL IS IT??!!!” we would often say loudly and with a grin.

What are we doing that will really matter forever? What soul work are we doing that will last?

What if we lived on earth as we plan to live in heaven?

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So we gather and continue to choose Life in hard and holy ways.

We do the sacred work of holding ice chips to parched lips, and massaging limbs, reading Scripture and praying.

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Friends gather around the bed, sharing stories of eternity.

One who was a troubled teen,

a Navajo in ministry to Native Americans,

a former prisoner,

6th and 7th grade boys …

All who know Jesus better because they knew David.

Sacred moments of laughter, tears, and stories of a fruitful life well-lived.

Yes, we have our ears to heaven and our eyes on eternity.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

A Letter to My Brother

Dear David,

I keep thinking of that time a few years ago when we all were gathered at the Lake House for Memorial Day weekend.

It was the same as every year – too many kids and dogs to count. Card games, and tubing, and Dad threading gooey worms on fishing hooks, and sitting at the long table on the porch in soggy swim suits for lunch.

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Memorial Day is notoriously a little early to be swimming in Wisconsin, but still, we launched the boat and plunged into the water as always. We’re a “Choose-life-no-matter-what” kind of family.

It was cool and cloudy and super windy that year, but you kept trying to convince me to go sailing with you on our little Sunfish. “Come on, Laura! It will be great! Me and you!” I can hear you as clear as if you were saying it to me today.

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Finally I relented and we took off, you at the rudder (because I don’t actually know how to sail) and me along for the ride. Aunts and Uncles, grandparents and kids and dogs watched from the shallows as the wind immediately whipped up and started speeding across the lake.

I’d say it was approximately 10 seconds before I watched helplessly as you fell off the back and I was on my own, speeding away.

I can picture you treading water and laughing so hard, like such a brother.

Everyone on shore was yelling instructions as I got further away from land, and some scrambled to jump in the ski boat and rescue me.

David, I keep thinking of this, because I feel like you’re slipping off the back of the boat again. And I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to sail on without you.

I hate it that cancer is eating away at your strong body. I hate it that you’re suffering. Maybe it’s time to let go of life, in order to embrace Life, but oh it’s so sad to watch you slip away.

We know that God can calm the wind and waves as He has before, but so far He’s chosen not to. So far.

And saying “this is hard” is like saying a heart surgery without anesthesia is hard.

We hurl confused, grieving, tearful words at God in our weakest moments these days, but we trust Him too. We don’t understand, but we choose to continue to believe He is good, because we have had a lifetime of sailing with Him.

You’ve held tight to the rudder, Baby David. You’ve fought the wind and waves courageously, but it’s ok. You can let go now if you want.

When you go I will miss you so much. Words can’t express…But even now I can picture Jesus and Grams and Gramps waiting for you on the other side. You and Gramps will talk trains and Mr. Punnymoon. And I know you’ll be waiting for me too, with that mischievous grin and twinkle in your eye, ready to go sailing with me again.

I love you,

Your head cheerleader

I’m sharing this publicly with Susan’s permission because I want readers to know what a difference faith in Jesus Christ makes. He is everything.

We are so, so blessed to have a family and heritage of believers to walk through this dark time together. We don’t have pat answers. We aren’t always happy-clappy. We’re impatient, and selfish and quirky just like all families. But we do not grieve as those without hope. (1 Thes. 4:13)

Tuesday night, David was moved home to hospice care. His wife Susan was on the phone with my mom telling her that the oncologist had said David was the most courageous patient he had ever had, with such a positive attitude. David was awake and overheard her. In a moment of semi-lucidity he said, “Oh, but did we remember to tell him it’s just because of Jesus, Susan?”

“Yes, Dave, we did. We did.” she said.

Breathe deep.Lean hard.God's love holds.

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Summer Reading and Resources in a Hard Season

 

IMG_0431As most of you know, this summer has been an emotional roller coaster for our family as my little brother battles cancer. Honestly, I’ve had all the crazy irrational thoughts like…

“If I don’t think about David in pain, it’s not really happening.”

“If I don’t go see him he’ll continue to live.”

I’ve had some precious time with David, and am so grateful for faith-filled family and friends who have leaned in with us. I’ve prayed and prayed til I think if God was lesser He’d tell me to get lost and stop bugging Him. But He doesn’t.

Tuesday David was moved to home hospice.

Bottom line is that I’ve craved a mixture of meaningful and soul-strengthening stuff to read, but most are escapist, with themes of redemption and happy endings.  As I mentioned before, I get a lot of book suggestions from my friend Joanne’s reading blog.

The first isn’t a book, but a great new app I found called Abide. It has guided prayer for many different situations. You’ll quickly find some voices you like better than others (somehow, the men bug me, but I love the women). It’s been a lovely, quiet guide.

Also, most nights John and I watch an episode of the West Wing. This is nothing new, but if someone in our family hasn’t gotten you hooked on this inspiring show, you haven’t talked to us in the past 8 years. Watch the episode, Shibboleth from Season 2 anytime you’ve had a rough day. Here’s a clip.

Then there are some lovely (and fun) books I’ve been reading also…

Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death

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Last year we walked alongside our friends, Steve and Sharol Hayner from a distance as Steve battled pancreatic cancer. In February he went from life to Life. Perhaps it was God preparing us for this season with my brother. We “walked” this with Steve and Sharol through their Caring Bridge posts. Because those posts ministered to so many, IVP has created a book from that content. I re-read it yesterday and it was a gift all over again.

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – Such a guilty pleasure! American twin, Rebecca Porter goes to study for a semester at Oxford and ends up falling in love with the future king. Although it depicts a debauched lifestyle, there aren’t lurid details and it’s a really engaging read.

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Water From My Heart – Classic Charles Martin, one of my favorite authors. This is the story of Charlie Finn, a former drug dealer whose devastating life choices lead him to Nicaragua where he finds redemption through a relationship with an old man, a young woman, and her daughter.

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The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain “He was about to commit a forbidden act. A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman’s handbag.”  This is the story of a bookseller in Paris who finds a woman’s abandoned purse. When he empties it, there is no phone or contact information, but there is a red notebook with some clues as to who the owner is, which he begins to follow. Meanwhile, the owner, who has been robbed of her bag, lies in a coma. This is a quick, clever, delightful read.

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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger. I loved this book! A beautifully written, compelling coming-of-age story of mystery, tragedy, love and redemption set in a rural Minnesota town in 1961. You can read Joanne’s full review here.

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Your turn! What are you reading that you’d recommend?

 

 

Real Community (Or: What Happens When People Stop Being Polite & Start Getting Authentic)

Our daughter Maggie, and her husband Austin are living in the Bay area in California. We are so over the moon proud of both of them! They are amazing communicators and followers of Jesus. I’m thrilled to have Maggie guest-posting today about their recent experience as leaders of a small group they affectionately call “tiny group.

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Our church calls ourselves “a church of people who ‘don’t belong together,’ gathering around Jesus, for the sake of people who don’t belong.”  Sounds really cool, right?  Sometimes I think it’s a little too accurate though.  I’ll get there, just hang with me while I give you some context.

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One of the things that attracted us to Oakland City Church (OCC) was its diversity.  Our church building is old and a little run-down – I haven’t heard any plans of removing the grungy orange floral carpet any time soon – and nestled in the hills of the Fruitvale neighborhood.  If “Fruitvale” sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because of the 2013 film, “Fruitvale Station,” which chronicled the murder of Oscar Grant, a young African American man who died at the hands of a white police officer who shot him while he was handcuffed.  Racial and socioeconomic tension runs rampant here in Oakland, as it sadly does in much of our country.  Co-pastored by a charismatic African American Oakland native (think: sweat towels for sermons and freestyle rap prayers) and an intellectual white Australian (think: dry jokes about greek mythology), OCC intentionally and authentically mirrors the diverse community of Oakland.

We love this.  We like that we are able to engage in a community of faith that is located in our city and with people who are wrestling with the same challenges we face each day.  It’s also really uncomfortable.  When I said our tagline is too accurate, I meant that we really are a bunch of people who don’t know what we are doing, who don’t belong together and who are trying to figure it out because we think that’s what Jesus wants.

A few months ago our pastors Larry and Josh made some very compelling points about entering into community.  Like, really entering into community, not just greeting one another in our pews on Sunday mornings.  My husband Austin and I felt convicted to join a small group.  We both have “small group baggage” so we weren’t thrilled about the idea, but we couldn’t come up with any legitimate excuses to get out of it.

We entered into the experiment with a bit of a martyr complex.  How great were we?!  Doing something we knew would be uncomfortable, getting involved in our cool, diverse urban church community…we were behaving like such great Christians.  We were ready, too.  We knew how tough small groups could be (which was perhaps why we’d been avoiding them for the past few years) and we knew we’d be shoved together with people who saw the world differently than we do (always a shocking reality for me).

We put our heads down and prepared for the worst because, well, small groups are difficult. They are the place where the hard work of learning to really love your neighbor happens and they often feel forced, insincere, and surface level. It would be nice if you could get a group of people together who look, act, and think like you so you don’t have to learn to love people in uncomfortable ways. It’s also difficult because everyone has their own expectations when it comes to small groups.  Some hope to participate in an in-depth study of the Bible while others hope to focus on building relationships centered around Christ without the debates so common in small groups. Striking the balance between spiritual formation and Christian community is hard, especially with folks you don’t know.

In our new group, we expressed our desire to get to know one another, speak into each other’s lives, and learn how each other was following Jesus in their everyday lives in Oakland.  We shared with the group that the Bible study approach wasn’t really our cup of tea, since it often devolves into theological scuffles or relies on the simplistic interpretations of armchair theologians. We were hopeful. The people in the group were diverse, sincere, and committed. Snacks were at each meeting. And our leaders worked hard to prepare for each week.

Despite our hopes, this group tended towards a tedious Bible study format.  There were weekly worksheets with guiding questions and line-by-line deciphering of the text. We seemed to be missing the forest for the trees, avoiding the arc of the scriptural narrative in favor of searching for little nuggets of truth set off by verse numbers.

Most members of the group seemed content with this approach, but for myself, it upset me that I couldn’t tell you anything personal about the other members of the group, that we weren’t talking about how the scripture impacted our lives at home or at work or in relationship.  It was exactly what we didn’t want.  I felt like Jesus had just table topped me and was laughing about it.  We were discouraged, and decided to not sign up for the next semester of the group.

Side note: here’s a glimpse of how this played out was when we studied Mark 5.  In this set of passages, Jesus and his disciples have just crossed the sea and meet a man called “Legion,” who was living in a graveyard, rejected by his community members and assumed to be possessed by many demons.  It may sound strange, but this is one of my favorite parts of the Bible.  I deeply identify with this man – wrestling with imperfection, isolated from his community, powerless to overcome his flaws.  To me, he is the perfect picture of all of us.  I wanted to discuss this with the group.  I asked our fellow small group members about the times when they feel isolated, rejected, powerless and alone.  One group member told me that he could not identify with Legion at all, instead focusing on a literal understanding of the demonic possession.  Our leader asked us to return to our line-by-line unpacking of the scripture – how many characters are in the story? What are they wearing? Etc.

To me this represents one of the deep flaws of our attempts to shove a beautiful and complex idea like “community” into a flawed cookie cutter of “small groups.”  We are so tied to the text and to our Sunday School manners and to a curriculum-driven interpretation of scripture that we overlook the opportunity to become vulnerable with one another.  Or perhaps we use the text, the manners and the prescriptive interpretation to hide from vulnerability. Either way, we seem to be so worried about “studying the Word” that we miss the opportunity for the Word to change our lives in real and practical ways.

After this Bible Study experience, martyr complex firmly in tact, we decided we would lead a group.  Surely there were other people in our community who wanted to share life in the same way that we did.  We were going to step up.  We were going to serve, to open our home, to offer our time and our leadership gifts. We were very sure of ourselves. :)

Our community life pastor seemed excited that we were thinking about small groups differently and he encouraged our little experiment.  We decided we wanted our group to look like a weekly dinner party – good food, wine and meaningful conversations.  We wanted to be informed by scripture but not tied up by it, instead focusing on living the way of Jesus more than we talked about it.

Suffice it to say our small group has not gone as planned. We had such a grand vision. We just knew that if we had the right approach and planning, the people would flock to our “enlightened” new group. Boy, were we wrong. It seems Jesus had a few more lessons to teach us about the difficulty of community.

Here’s what it’s looked like. For the past two months, our group has consisted of me, Austin, and one other person. That’s it. Our other “tiny group” member has been a committed participant, despite the lack of momentum in our group. But he’s very different from my husband and I. He’s 42-years old, and has struggled with both physical and mental challenges for much of this life. He doesn’t attend our church either.

Instead of the weekly philosophical hipster-Jesus dinner party we had planned, we’ve been learning to walk with our friend through the challenges and triumphs he faces – going to school, finding housing, looking for jobs, taking care of basic errands, and fighting for hope that God has a relationship in the works for him. We focus on the simple truths of scripture to guide us and mostly pray that God will meet us in our weaknesses.

It has been a lesson in humility. We’re learning that our needs and desires and vision for coolness are far less important that the basic needs of love and friendship that have come to define our tiny group.

We’re not giving up on small groups…but I think we’ll take the summer off.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  For now, I’ll just be licking my wounds, cursing Jesus under my breath and trying to learn the lesson that community isn’t “cool” and it’s certainly not about me and my needs.  So inconvenient.

Has there been a time when God had a different agenda in your life and humbled you? What has your experience in small groups been like?

 

Road Trip – When you need a Rest Stop

Adventure starts where plans end.-3

As I wrote in the first post of this series, our family vacations were totally homemade-find-a-roadside-rest-stop-no-McDonalds-for-us affairs. And yes, we did eat peanut butter with egg salad sandwiches (those are not two separate kinds of sandwich :) ).

In those pre-seatbelt safety days my dad was sometimes able to leave a narrow cubby hole in the back of our station wagon for one of us to stretch out in, but what’s imprinted on my memory is the three of us side by side in the back seat for hours on end, watching America out the window, playing the Alphabet game, Car Bingo,  and 20 Questions. I’ve tried to convince John that that enclosed, enforced family time without videos is the key to our conflict-solving skills. However it did mean that we were more than ready to stretch our legs and take a break from “He looked at me funny… She touched my foot…Are we there yet…”

Elijah is one of my favorite road trip stories, and it culminates in a rest stop – something we all need.

1 Kings 19:1-3 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. (Road trip!)

When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (Rest stop)

Elijah wears himself out.

After seeing God’s supernatural display of power in His showdown with the prophets of Baal, and after years of being protected and fed by God, he’s afraid of a middle-aged woman – Jezebel!  He runs, not for his life really, but from his life!  He’s running from circumstances, not to God.  He focuses on circumstances and takes his eyes off God.

But he can’t outrun God. God loves him (and you and me) too much.

Wherever we are on our journey God doesn’t leave us alone.

5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

Just like a cranky toddler, God knows that Elijah needs a snack and a nap so he provides a “Happy meal” and lets Elijah go back to sleep.  John Ortberg writes about how Americans are the most sleep deprived nation in the world and says “Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.”

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. 

The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Elijah focuses on the negative and it’s an exaggeration…distortion of the truth.  God says in verse 18 that there are still 7,000 in Israel who haven’t bowed to Baal.  What are the negative “tapes” that play in your head when you get down?

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

Sometimes when we’re lowest God speaks softest – we need to lean in close to hear Him.

13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I love it when we see God ask questions like this in Scripture!  He KNOWS the answer, but He wants a relationship with us and a relationship involves dialog…interaction…We are invited into a conversation with the Almighty God.

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Elijah repeats his “poor me” speech. He forgets God in his recounting.  He skips over the miraculous powerful way God has shown up time after time. When we get to overstretched isn’t this the same way we’re affected? We lose perspective.

Isn’t it incredible that God can take anything we dish out and is patient with us?  He lets Elijah vent and then calmly gives him new instructions.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

We lose our balance and our joy when our output exceeds our intake, our talk exceeds our walk, our worry exceeds our wonder.

Questions

Bill Hybels suggests an exercise that has been helpful to me. Consider three gauges on the “dashboard” of your life, like gas gauges in your car. Where would you draw the arrows on each of these tanks? Towards the F for Full or towards the E for Empty?

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  • Which tank do you need most to address?
  • Are there ways you can take mini rest stops – a pause to breathe in summer and thank God?
  • Are there things you need to say “no” to that are robbing you of the joy of a balanced life?
  • Can you share some ways that you take “rest stops”?

When You Don’t Like the Plot Line of Your Story

I snuggle into the overstuffed nest-like chair in my bedroom with knees pulled up, feet against the ottoman, Bible and books scattered around me.IMG_0516

It feels safe here.

Through my window I see there’s a tug ‘o war going on between the clouds and sun that mimics the push and pull of the thoughts in my head.

Outside the gray is winning.

Inside…

I’m reflecting on the plot line of the story God is writing with my brother, David’s life.

How many millions of times, with how many different words have I prayed for healing for my brother?

Please, please, please… Write the story THIS way Lord!

Now I’m out of words. Or when I have them, they end up feeling rote and empty of meaning or power. Like some mumbo jumbo incantation from an old tired magician. Now there are only groans and sighs left.

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It’s not my words, after all, that hold any power. It’s just You. You hold the pen.

Come Holy Spirit. Have mercy.  Pray in my place please, with all the right and mystical and holy words that I don’t have.

I breathe. I listen. And then I remind You of how well Your razzle-dazzle work with Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter played, in case You forgot. I suggest that showing off with a healing like that again wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Write another amazing blockbuster!

I fluctuate between wanting to distract myself with a happy clappy crowd of people, and craving silence, and just You, Jesus.

Like an overloaded African truck, I strain under the most recent tonnage of  words like “It’s spreading too fast to fight”.

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I share the weight of those words with both You and praying friends.

But once I’ve dumped them one last time, I end up sitting very still and breathing.

Not thinking. Not carrying. Not burdened, but just being. And breathing. Breathing in You.  Reassured that no matter what,  You are good and nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from Your love.

David is afraid of how this might affect his boys – seeing their vibrant, active dad, weak and helpless. But I tell him they are seeing a different kind of strength in him now; a strength of faith and character that far outweighs the importance of physical strength. It is a picture of Your strength that Kyle, Cris, and Cooper need so desperately. A strength that serves, and submits to a larger story.

1 Corinthians 12:9 My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

There are so many physical choices Dave can no longer make – the choice to hike, to fly-fish, to ski, to golf. But he is doing hard and holy things. Each day he makes the loving choices he can – calling each of the many doctors and nurses by name, thanking them, affirming what a great job they’re doing, even as he is in tremendous pain. This is Your strength.

My sweet brother knows You as the Lover of his soul, and looks forward to spending forever with You, but he’s worried that if he dies, his boys will blame You. There are a million reasons why he wants You to heal him, but this may be number one.

He knows that in spite of how we may read our chapter, You see all the characters, all the plot lines, the beginning and the end and you weave them together for Your purposes. You are good and perfect, but we live in a world bent by sin, and that can leave us angry and confused and wanting to shout very bad words in frustration when the story doesn’t go the way we think it should.

Throughout the past months Dave has said repeatedly that You are the Holy Ghost-Writer of his story and he’s just a supporting character. Each day, he has shown up and waited for what You want to write. He’s looked for the moments to cheer You as the Hero. He’s been honest about the plot twists and turns that seem confusing, the times the Villain seems to be winning, times when he’d like to grab the pen back from You.

You are writing an epic Love story, while we sometimes want to settle for pulp fiction.

But David continues to trust You as the Master-crafter who already wrote the end to our story when You went to the cross. . On Golgotha, we were afraid maybe You were writing a tragedy. Or maybe You weren’t the hero we thought You were. Maybe it was just a story of death. But it wasn’t. We waited and discovered three days later it is a story of Life. And it is a good story.

 

Road Trip – Promises

I’m sorry I didn’t get this posted on Monday. Trying to stay true to my commitment on this experimental “Road Trip” series, but we’ve had a lot going on. Thank you for your grace!

I don’t really think about taking road trips into “enemy territory”.

I don’t like thinking of anyone as an enemy, and a “battle” image is not one I’m usually drawn to. I want to be a lover not a fighter.

But as I was reading Joshua 1-4 about his road trip across the Jordan and eventually into the enemy territory of Jericho, it struck me that we are constantly on a highway where the Enemy is actively trying to thwart our progress and we often forget that.

In John 16: 33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble…”

And then there’s the whole lion thing in 1 Peter…

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C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…”

I probably fall into the first camp of thinking too little of the schemes of Satan in my everyday world. After all, Satan in “Mayberry”? What?? But, daily the giants of envy, pride, bitterness, impatience, and selfishness lurk on the road. So it’s important that I pay attention to what Scripture says about the spiritual warfare I may be ignoring. Continue reading

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