The With-God Life

I recorded this conversation in 2002 when Maggie, like Alexander, had had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

Me, trying to comfort Maggie: Remember sweetie, the Bible says, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those crushed in spirit.”

Maggie: Mom, I’ve just had a bad week, I haven’t been trampled by a horse!

Me: Ok, got it.  Ratchet back the hyper-spiritualizing.

Recently I’ve circled back to Psalm 34 where that verse is found.  It’s a “praise-the-Lord-even-if-I’m-dying” Psalm, because God is present.  It’s a good reminder Psalm.  God has used it in my life in some of the lowest times (can you tell from all the scribbling and times I’ve dated it?)photo-149

But on other days I love it that we also have the “crap-life-sucks-and-never-will-get-better-so-let’s-kick-ass” Psalms.

Psalm 35, for example

1-3 Harass these hecklers, God,
    punch these bullies in the nose.
Grab a weapon, anything at hand;
    stand up for me!
Get ready to throw the spear, aim the javelin,
    at the people who are out to get me.
Reassure me; let me hear you say,
    “I’ll save you.”

4-8 When those thugs try to knife me in the back,
    make them look foolish.
Frustrate all those
    who are plotting my downfall.”

Now that’s what I’m talking about!  How “spiritual” does that sound?  I love it that that kind of honest journalling rant with God is “legal”!

Here’s what I think.  There’s no such thing as your “spiritual life”.  We can’t compartmentalize God like food on our Chinette plate at a picnic – “spiritual” in this section, “real life” in that section.  There is only our scrambled up holy and profane real life, lived with Him.

I got an email a few weeks ago from one of my best friends that included both swearing and Scripture.  I LOVED it!  I rejoiced that she felt safe enough with me to send it, and I think God may have smiled as He read over my shoulder.

This is the “with God” life I desire.  One of authenticity, and messy dependence on His grace, inviting Him into every how, why, ouch, and hallelujah.

I believe there are always too many gifts to count, and authentic praise is a needed discipline.  But maybe you are tired and fed up and need permission to vent too.  I think the key is doing it with God.  We may need to say “THIS is how I’m feeling!  So what do you think about THAT, Oh Holy one!?”  Ruth Haley Barton talks about the capacity to “be with what is” in God’s presence.

The Holy – absorbs, transforms, redeems the profane as we allow Him.

So what Psalm do you need to write today?  What honest, lonely, happy, angry, confused, quiet, loud, bruised, scared mess do you want to show up with in God’s presence?

 

 

5 Questions About…Singleness

Ok, many of you reading this may not be single.  Or a woman.  But who doesn’t have single friends we want to love well?  I think this is post in our series “5 Questions About…” will be helpful for all of us.  Claire Wyatt is one of my many incredibly-talented-beautiful-inside-and-out-full-of-life single friends.  She writes a witty blog called Single Christian Girls.  You should totally check it out!

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1.  What lies are you tempted to believe during this season of singleness?  What is God reveling to you about his character?

One of the main lies I go to is wondering if I’m single because I’m being punished, or if God is trying to teach me a lesson but in a very vindictive sense.  I have to CONSISTENTLY remind myself that God is good and that all of my sins have been taken care of on the cross.  While I might be disappointed that I’m not married, God’s plans are better than my plans.  Not only because he’s God, but because He knows me even better then I know myself.  He also loves me even more then I love myself.  If I rest in that, being single feels manageable.

2.  What has been your worst experience as a single woman?

Well I have several, because honestly, as much as I preach a glass half full attitude, sometimes it does suck. 

  • Dating.  Dating is TERRIBLE.  I have more awful dating stories then I think one person should have, but they just keep happening.  I’m like Neville in Harry Potter, walking around, muttering, “why is it always me?”
  • Going to the Emergency Room alone.  This sucks.  Worst moment ever as a single person?  That time that I drove myself to the ER. Let me tell you how depressing that is.  And, also, doctors, could they be a little more sensitive?  Have they not heard of bedside manner?  I don’t want to have to tell you 12 times that I’m not in a relationship and no, I have no one to pick me up.  Let me suffer alone. 
  • Getting stuck at the singles table at a wedding.  There is honestly nothing more degrading. It’s like the adult version of the kids table.

3.  What do you find most encouraging or helpful from others in this season?

Vulnerability.  From both my married friends and my single friends.  Having a great group of single girl friends that will rejoice with me over a date that wasn’t a total disaster, or will listen to me when being single just feels really rough.  In those special conversations, wither they are serious or silly, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in my feelings and experiences.  I even think of my married friends who are really honest about their marriages. They share the good stuff, and we celebrate it together, but they also tell me about the things that aren’t so great. It reminds me that every life stage has its hardships.  I shouldn’t be so quick to want to give up mine.

4.  What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over the past 5 years?

I think I used to wonder either:

  • What is wrong with me, or
  • Why are guys so stupid?

For the first, I still sometimes wonder if there is anything wrong with me.  Then I think, “yeah, maybe” but as Doctor Seuss said:dr.seuss quote

So that doesn’t really bother me anymore.  I might be a little weird, but I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I don’t need a relationship to tell me that.  

For the second (guys being stupid), I’m sorry to all men.  I was emotional, and I don’t know what I was thinking.  You aren’t stupid.  You’re great.  And you’re right; we wouldn’t have worked together anyway.

5.  How do you balance your desires to be married with living present to God in the moment? 

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about calling lately, and how God has called us to be at the exact stage of life that we’re at, job, housing situation, relationship status, etc.  So with all that in mind, I think of what I’m called for today, not ten years from now, but literally, what is God calling me to do in the next 24 hours.  So far, none of those things have been marriage.  It’s been to work hard at my job, to study well for my CFA exam, to listen to a friend when she calls, to spend time with my brother, to write a blog that’s going to make a single girl laugh.  Focusing on those callings puts thoughts of marriage on the back burner.  The desire is still there, but it’s not all consuming. 

Additional Resources Clare Recommends:

Post: You are Significant with or Without the Significant Other by Shauna Niequist.

Finding Your Own Walk

In the summertime I feel like a thirsty person at the end of a long run, standing in front of a gushing fire hydrant, mouth open wide to receive big gulps of sparkling, cold water as fast as I can.  In Minnesota summer is short, so we have to drink quickly!  It’s the DELIGHTFUL season of barefoot and bike rides, corn-on-the-cob and birdsong, pink sunrises and living large outdoors. All of the time.

A friend went strawberry picking and made shortcake for our small group.  Another divided his Hosta to share with me (my yard bunny thanks him :( ).  I got fresh vegetables at the Farmer’s Market Saturday.  Today I’ll celebrate a friend’s birthday lunch outside on the lake.  A baby robin, Roberto, rescued from our window well, has become like a member of our family.

Summer, you are so good.

This past week I had the added gift of getting away to a retreat home in Virginia – tucked in between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Alleghany mountains.  It is a place that has been built with love and prayer and attention to every detail.IMG_7524

I wanted to share some excerpts from a poem, written by our host, Anne Grizzle, in hopes that you might find your own walk with God this summer and “join in the applause”.

In the Cool of the Morning

No matter what else is happening in your world,

and even when summer afternoons are scorchers,

you can still, like Adam and Eve, sneak out

in the cool of the morning and walk with God.

Find any woods, lake, meadow, or garden spot

and wander down whatever hillside, pounded path or

thicket that calls your name that day until something

makes you cry uncle and stop to wonder –                                                                  IMG_7608

IMG_7603 IMG_7555 IMG_7562At each stop, declare Habakkuk’s words,

“The Lord is in his holy temple.

Let all the earth keep silence before him.”

In that silence, you might hear

a titmouse twittering, a fly

circling until it lands, or the wind,

like parents with a baby at the circus,

clapping the tree’s hands in delight.

You may join in the applause.

Where are you stopping to “cry uncle” and wonder at the work of God?

If you like this, you may also like the post What do you do When It’s April in Minnesota?

 

 

Three Ways to Fight

My husband John has been in the leadership boxing ring with a maddening challenge for the past couple years.

I’m on the sidelines, literally jumping up and down, shadow-boxing in our kitchen and yelling “Go to the mattresses!” when he reports the latest crazy atrocities at the end of a day.Unknown

I’m a DO-er!!  I want to take out an Uzzi and FIX this now!  Ok, as a Jesus-follower that might not be the best plan, but for the love of justice!!!

Trying to ratchet back the passion and put on the mantel of patience John seems to wear so easily, I’ve been reflecting on the different responses to THE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES I see in Scripture.  Here are three I’ve come up with:

1.  Stand still. Do not fret.  The Lord will fight for you. We see this in Moses’ life and leadership.  He says, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” (Ex. 14:13).  Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and with patiently for Him”  Pray and wait.  (definitely not my strong suit!)

2.  Step cautiously.  Be patient and wise and measured in response.  Go slow. The Lord is at work in ways we can’t see.  I see this in the account of Nehemiah, who had a deliberate rhythm of prayer and then action as he led the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

And in Esther, who, with Mordecai, created a wise strategic plan to advocate for her people who were in trouble.

3.  Set aside all the “rules”.  (my favorite :)) Seek a new way. Innovate.  Fight, in the strength of the Lord.  I see this in David‘s battle with Goliath.  The armor of conventional warfare didn’t fit (1 Samuel 17:32-50).  Something radical and innovative was called for.  Sometimes we even call this “the third way”.

Of course it isn’t always (or even usually) a clear cut #1, 2, or 3, but it’s been helpful to me to think about these.

Do you have a challenging situation you’ve been praying about?  Which of these approaches do you naturally gravitate towards?  Which is the most unnatural? Can you think of others?

If you sit with open hands, imagining your ROCK AND A HARD PLACE THING, still before God, how might He lead you?  Maybe it’s different today than how He will lead you tomorrow, but just for today what’s your “fight” strategy?

 

5 Questions About…Disappointment with God

Conrad family-40Emily and her husband Steve are dear friends of ours. I had the delight of working with Steve in ministry and traveling with him in Congo before he knew Emily.  Then, John and I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony together!  This remarkable young couple inspire me with their faith and authenticity.  It’s an honor to walk alongside them on their journey!  I asked Emily 5 Questionsbecause I knew she’d be honest and reflect from a heart seeking God.

1.  Over the past year and a half you’ve had an experience that has been deeply painful and disappointing.  Can you describe what happened?

In early 2013, my husband and I got the green light to travel to Congo to meet and pick up the little girl and little boy that we were in the process of adopting. We had spent 13 months previously preparing our home and our family for the addition of 2 more little ones, a little girl 18 months old and a boy 2 ½ years old. Although we knew it would be crazy to have 4 little kids in our home, we felt that adoption was always supposed to be a part of our family’s story and felt that it was a desire that God had placed in our hearts.

We had been prepared for the fact that the little boy we were adopting might be a little older than what we had originally been told, perhaps 6-9 months, however, when we met him in Congo he was clearly at least 6 ½ and was a very angry, emotionally fraught child, quite prone to physically aggressive outbursts.

Over the next month and a half, it became very apparent that we were not the right family for him, nor him for us and thus we began the disruption of his adoption. My other children were traumatized by him, including a lot of physical aggression towards the little girl we adopted from Congo.  My other 2 children became quite withdrawn from us. The boy was placed, via our adoption agency, with another family in another state.

Not only was this experience disappointing – our family did not turn out the way that we had pictured it - it completely turned my faith and view of God upside down, and inside out.

2.  What were your expectations going into adoption?

My expectations going into adoption were that they were almost foolproof – how could anything go awry when we clearly felt God lead us into adoption? If God was leading us to take on this big, only-by-faith adventure, then how could it fail? Why did it fail?

Another expectation is that my husband and I are really good parents – quite grounded, loving, supportive and felt like we could handle anything prior to this unraveling. I thought we could do anything; after all, “if God is for us who can be against us”, right?

3.  What adjectives would you have used to describe your experience of God’s character before this, and what adjectives would you use to describe Him now?

Before – secure, protective, for us, with me, got Him all figured out.

Now – unknown, mysterious, complicated, not one to be boxed in, evasive.

4.  What have you done to try to process this experience?  What has been most healing?

I don’t think I realized the gravity of the situation I was sitting in. This experience took me from a grounded, confident, happy person and turned me into someone who battles doubts, fears, depression, and at times I’m joyless and rather unsure-of-myself. I have tried to process this experience with close girlfriends, some who have been through similar hellish experiences. My mentor has been rock solid for me, especially when I didn’t think there would ever be light in my life again. About a year after it all happened, my husband convinced me to start seeing a therapist, which has been good and hard work all at the same time. I have also been on medications to help me move through this dark valley.

I think what has been most healing for me has been reckless honesty, with myself and with those I trust most in my life. I am trying to be more transparent and more authentic, even when the real me I bring to the table isn’t my favorite me these days. I think it has also been quite healing to move through the stages of grief – all of them – anger, sadness, depression, letting go and to realize that grief is circular, not linear.

5.  What do you feel like you’re learning?

I am learning my limits and my bandwidth for pain. I am learning that…

  • Everyone will hit a hard place in life and there’s no way to predict or prepare for it
  • You can’t go around the pain, but you have to go through it.
  • You can’t speed up the healing process, no matter how hard you might try. :)
  • I am also learning the beauty of community; my husband and I have said over and over that we could have never made it through this season if it weren’t for our incredible community of friends and family and church.

Resources that have been helpful to Emily: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning

 If you liked this post, you may also like Mind the Gap.

Why Underwear is Important

Did you know that the average American woman owns approximately 21 pairs of underwear? About 10% of women own over 35 pairs.

Did you know underwear can mean the difference between a girl who’s educated with a chance for a bright future, and one who’s not?

Sometimes it just blows my mind how much I don’t know.  Recently I learned some not-fun facts about the challenges facing women in Uganda, including the challenge of underwear.  But I also learned something I can do about it.  And boy that feels good.

I’ve written before that our daughter Maggie is working in Northern Uganda this summer at Pader Girls’ Academy.  They teach and give vocational training to girls, many who have escaped the Lords’ Resistance Army, but can’t return to their communities.  They have become outcasts because of the stigma of being raped by soldiers or having babies out of wedlock.

But even after they have a tiny glimpse of hope for the future through education, there are still hurdles.  For example, I learned that girls often miss about 5 days of school a month when they have their period because they don’t have sanitary pads.  Or underwear.

Are you freaking kidding me?

So here’s what Maggie has been doing.  She is teaching the girls to write letters to different companies to empower them to advocate for themselves.  They’re writing letters to personal hygiene companies asking for donations.  How cool is that?

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“I am a total orphan girl who have lose both parents and up to now am alone and am struggling for my school fee and requirements and am always working in people’s garden to get some resources. But not only me but also other student are also working for the resources like pads, knickers, soap and towels.  And we are missing class because of menstruation period…if these things are provided, it will make learning to be easy for us girls.  And I would like to be a nurse in future.”

Maggie’s hope is to have a closet at the academy, stocked with supplies that could be accessed by any student in need.

But she thinks the most sustainable thing for the long-run is teaching the girls to make reusable pads.  10347568_10100451551774059_4621921397259177387_nHer hope is to raise money to buy materials for them to continue sewing (and selling) their own pads and soap.
Meanwhile, we’ve done a drive to collect underwear and pads to send over with Maggie’s husband, Austin, when he goes the beginning of August. This “operation underwear” is important because underwear and sanitary pads make consistent education possible, and education can change the trajectory of the life.
What can you do? Glad you asked!
1.  Learn more about how to help without hurting. One of the things we’ve learned when we encounter problems around the world, is to resist swooping in with our super hero cape on.
Sometimes in trying to help, we actually hurt the folks we care about.  We create dependence, or show lack of respect, or cultural insensitivity, and it becomes more about us feeling good about ourselves and our generosity than making a sustainable difference.  If you want a great book to read on this, check out Toxic Charity.photo-143
2.  Ask yourself, “What do I know that I can do something about?  Investigate, pray about a plan, then do it.  Like I wrote Monday, start small.  Like mobilizing people to donate underwear to change the trajectory of the future of girls in Uganda.
Want to learn more about Pader Girls Academy and the challenges women there face?

How do You Carry a Tree?

Fourteen years ago we took our daughters to Africa for the first time.  We spent a month there on a sabbatical.  One day we saw a woman walking down the road with a tree balanced on her head.

Yep, you read that right.  A whole tree.

You see people balancing a lot of unusual things on their heads (or on their bikes) in Africa, but this was the first and last time we saw a tree. (apparently it’s not THAT rare cuz I was able to Google this picture!)

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That night, our daughter, Maggie, walked into our room, carefully balancing a book on her head.

“I’m working up to a tree.” she said.

Since then, Maggie’s “tree” has been a dream of helping underprivileged girls and women around the world to be healthy and happy and to carry their own dreams.

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Working up to a tree included subsequent trips back to Africa in different capacities to listen and learn more about the challenges there.  Then a degree in International Affairs and now she’s working on a Masters degree in Public Health.

This summer she is working at Pader Girls Academy in Northern Uganda.  More on that Wednesday, but til then, I’ve been thinking about how we all can “work up to a tree”, whether that’s in development or something else that’s just, well…big.  And difficult.

Here are two questions:

1.  What’s your “tree”?  What’s the one holy burden (or discontent) that maybe God has put on your heart?  For my friend Lynne, it is a “tree” of peace in the Middle East.  For my friend Gary it is justice for the oppressed.  For Sarah it’s a desire to close the education gap for inner city kids.

2.  What’s the “book” you can start with?  The small thing?  For Lynne it was inviting Israelis and Palestinian visitors into her home for conversation.  For Gary it meant learning about the specific injustices in different parts of the world. For Sarah it was tutoring one kid at a time before running a whole tutoring program.  For all, it started with prayer.

In the comments, might you tell us about your “book” or the “tree” you’d like to work up to?

 

5 Questions About…Risk

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Sharon is a dear friend who both inspires and intimidates me with her amazingness.  She has guest-posted here before.  I’m so thankful that in the midst of a busy, stressful time, she was willing to share some more of what she’s learning.  Here’s the next in our 5 Questions About…series.

1. Recently you took what must have felt like a huge risk. Can you tell us about it?

Eight months ago, I resigned from a job I had loved and made the leap to running my own business. This happened after an extended season of prayer and discernment, so by the time I made the change, I felt certain it was the right thing to do.

Yes, there were practical risks involved: leaving a certain income, benefits, 401K; losing the familiarity of my office and team. And as a single person, I didn’t have a safety net of a second income, back-up insurance, or a support person to pick up slack in other areas of life. But I was also very clear about why I was making the change: 1) to be faithful to what I understood God was putting in my hands; 2) to learn and grow through a new challenge.

So when I framed it that way, I realized that even if my business failed (and I had to move into my parents’ basement), I would experience God in deeper ways and learn things I wouldn’t otherwise. Continue reading

When We Can’t See the Angel Armies

I know this is a long post, and it’s still just a tiny bit on a hard topic. I’m posting it because I know many people are facing really hard battles. If you want to listen to the whole message, it’s here.

This past weekend I got to preach at our church.  It is a privilege and a blast for me, but it is also very humbling when you’re preaching the weekend after the 4th of July to a handful of the faithful, and the old guy in the front row is asleep before you even start speaking. Too much celebrating with root beer floats?

Anyway, I got to preach on a passage I love – 2 Kings 6:8-23. The Israelites are being attacked by the enemy Arameans.  Map-Aram attacking

Elisha’s servant is afraid and here’s what happens:

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyesLord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.elisha-army

It’s a story about Elisha, his servant, and trying to see God in hard circumstances.  I love this passage because it highlights the challenge of the with-God life: to pay attention and recognize His presence and power with us in the everyday situations and the dramatic moments. Continue reading

Birthdays, Feeling the Awesomeness, and a Spiritual Practice

A little re-post from a couple years ago…Have a happy Monday and remember you’re awesome! (even without a hat)

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Here’s an email one of our daughters sent to friends recently, asking them to save October 15th.  Why that day?   Here’s what she wrote:

“Because it’s magical.  Because it’s the day of my birth!  And I demand that you all celebrate with me.  I don’t have an exact plan yet, but you can assume that it will involve you all, celebratory beverages, and you all telling me how glad you are that I was born.

I love it!  Now of course she was writing that tongue in cheek.  She’s not at all arrogant, but unlike most of us, she does have a pretty healthy self-image. 

I, on the other hand, am more like the rest of the world, and deal with insecurity in varying degrees depending on how many cookies I’ve eaten, a song I heard on the radio, and the barometric pressure that day.

I love Mark Batterson’s thought: “Our focus determines our reality.”

Am I focusing on ME and how I stack up compared to everyone else?  Or am I focusing on GOD and the truth that I am a beloved child of His and He delights in me? Continue reading