Thursday, September 29, 2011

Learning in Community

One of my favorite things about community is seeing God through other people's eyes. I can read the Bible alone but my understanding is tainted by my experiences of life and of God. It is in community, in sharing what touches each of us, that I learn beyond myself.

I was sitting this Monday in a room full of women. We all came together be with Him and to be with one another. Our leader, Jennifer read to us Mother Teresa's words in the book "Bread and Wine." Every few lines, Jennifer would stop and ask us to ponder what we had read, the words on the page and the tugging on our hearts. She wrote about what touched her on her blog. Read her words.

I love to see what she wrote. We read the same chapter but the words that struck her, the words she chose to quote on her blog were different than mine. And that is what I love about community, about coming together to grow and learn and live in God's love.

Here are the lines of Mother Teresa, writing Jesus's words, that touched me.
"Nothing in your life is unimportant to me." 
"I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity my Father gave you by creating you in his image."  
"You don't need to change to believe in my love, for it will be your belief in my love that will change you." 
The words I underlined show my incredible need to feel important to God, to feel valuable and worthy just as I am. To see myself as wonderfully made, just as I am.

Jennifer and I share a love for God. We share in the gift of redeeming grace. But our stories are different. The words we need to hear from God are different. But I learn so much from reading and listening to Jennifer's story. I learn about God's infinite ability to meet us individually, in our present circumstances. And I learn about the beautiful children He created.

I love the unity of faith and I love the differences of experience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life is like a... Roller Coaster?

I keep hearing this phrase "Jesus is not safe" or something similar. At first it just rubbed me the wrong way but today when I read the phrase it really bugged me. So much so that I felt the need to address it.

I understand the point, I think people are trying to make. The point that Jesus does not want us to play it safe, that he wants us to engage our world even when it is scary. But there is a huge difference between being safe and playing it safe.

In playing it safe, we avoid taking any risks because we want to feel safe at all times.

In being safe, WE ARE SAFE.

When you add Jesus to these ideas, playing it safe means we try to create our lives, to control our circumstances, so we feel safe, not because of who Jesus is but because of what we are doing. Playing it safe does not mean we are safe.

When you add Jesus to being safe, you are. His mere presence in your life makes you safe. Your circumstances will change, your emotions will soar up and down, scary things will happen and catastrophe might strike. But in all of it, JESUS IS SAFE!

I was with a small group of women the other day talking about fear from Angie Smith's book "What Women Fear."  In the book Smith writes about the analogy of walking a tight rope and how often we hear that God is our net. Smith writes that she thinks God is the balance bar in our hands. If we hold onto him we stay on the rope. He doesn't need to catch us because we don't fall if we hold the bar and let him counter balance our moments of imbalance. I like this.

As I was driving later, I thought about life as a roller coaster. My boys love roller coasters. They love the going fast in the tight turns and the terrifying, scream inducing, stomach lurching big drops. They love every minute of it and as soon as we get off they are ready to run back in line for another turn. They love the roller coasters because they know they are safe. They are locked in to a car on a track that has been time tested. They know if they stay seated with their hands and arms inside the car they will be safe. And because they know they are safe, they are able to enjoy the speed, the drops, the long climbs, and going upside down. They are safe even though it feels incredibly unsafe to this mom who is not a fan of stomach turning and being out of control.

I think life with God is a lot like riding a roller coaster. Just stay inside the car. Stay inside God's care. Follow the tracks he has set before you, no matter where they go. Don't try to get out even when you are about to go down the very long, long, long drop on Splash Mountain. Even though all you want to do is climb out and get off the ride. Because getting out at the wrong time gets you hurt. Getting off the track is dangerous. But staying in the log, staying in God's care, keeps you safe even when the world feels scary and painful.

Life's circumstances will happen but I know that I am safe.

I am safe because of Jesus.

Because Jesus is safe. Absolutely safe.

And because Jesus is safe, because he will take care of me (not necessarily that life will go well and I will never get hurt) I don't have to play it safe. I can step out. I can engage the dark places of this world. I can take risks. I can act justly. I can love mercy. And I can walk humbly with my God.

So please stop saying Jesus is not safe.


Monday, September 19, 2011

To Blog or Not to Blog

For the last few years, blogging has been how I have engaged in writing. I love having a place to write, whether it is a cute story about one of my boys, me processing growing up in my family, or how God is showing up in my life. I love having a place to write, to process, to hit publish and share it with whoever wants to read.

I love reading blogs too, especially the blogs of friends who no longer live nearby. Reading their posts and hearing what is going on in their lives feels almost like we got to have a cup of coffee and chat face to face, almost. I learn so much from reading blogs.

But what I have been figuring out these last few months is that I am not a blogger. I am not very good about being consistent with my writing. Most posts feel inspired in some way, not great but inspired by God or life somehow. But as I have tried to be more disciplined about writing, I have also sat with a blank screen trying to figure out what to write because writing takes discipline sometimes. I have learned from some great writers that inspiration often does not show up until you are actually sitting down to write. So I have also practiced some discipline with writing.

I think this blog has been a great place for me to find my voice, to find my writing style and place. And now that I am trying my hand at a novel, I am finding that all my writing sparks are about my book. I often discover great writing prompts in church. Yesterday that was so true. So many ideas flooded my mind but they were all about the characters and plot lines in my novel. Nothing really great to blog.

I will keep writing here as I find something swirling in my mind that won't sit still until it is tied to words on the screen but I am not going to tie myself to a schedule any longer. Because if I do, I will spend my hour on Monday morning writing a blog post instead of working on my novel which right now is the priority.

So now my blog should only be the good stuff, the less is more style of blogging.

I am sure that once my novel is complete, I will be back to blogging regularly because I still want to finish My Story and have a place to share my thoughts with my long distance friends over a cup of coffee.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Belongs to Them

I remember where I was. I remember the fear and the chaos. I remember the hours and days spent trying to figure it all out. This world turned upside down.

I was teaching at the time, high school history. My students looked at me for answers. I could explain the history of the conflict but I had no answers to give. There were no answers on that day.

My husband traveled for work a lot. He flew to Boston and New York. He flew home to San Francisco. He could have been on one of those flights.

It felt so personal.

We were attacked.

But what I have learned these last ten years is that while we, the world outside, claim 9/11, feel it deeply, it is not ours. For most of us it is images, it is memories, it is stories.

But there are thousand of people for whom 9/11 is not a remembrance, but a part of their daily lives. People who had their husbands, wives, parents or children were taken from them. People who were there that day that survived but face the very painful recovery both physically and psychologically. 

I did not know anyone who died on that day. Not personally or even peripherally. It was not until recently that I became friends with someone who did lose their father on one of the flights. A friend who today remembers her father as she looks into the eyes of her children. 

As I watch the memorial coverage, as I hear the names and watch the many, many stories on television today, I am aware for the first time that 9/11 belongs to them. It belongs to the people who have spent the last 10 years recovering, moving forward and remembering their loved ones. 

Our world was forever changed but their lives were altered in ways we cannot imagine. 

9/11 is not mine. It belongs to them. 

I can mourn with them. 

I can honor their loss. 

I can remember. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


I am loving the boys being in school. I love the quiet mornings, once it gets quiet. The first hour of the day is full of me reminding the boys to brush their teeth and get their shoes on and them getting distracted by games of hide and seek and high jumping contests. But then we pile in the van, spend a few minutes on the playground and then the bell rings. Kids scurry off to class. And the world becomes quiet.

The routine has been good for all of us. Except the homework part. That part is killing me.

Our school has very reasonable homework guidelines. The work assigned is very manageable. Pretty sure though that the time spent whining, crying or procrastinating does not count against the time limits. That's just a bonus for those that choose it. I am in awe by the amount of drama that can come from a four sentence paragraph or how long it can take to do one page of cursive letter practice. So homework takes a lot longer than it needs.

This week, Middle Man had a math worksheet all about him. "What are the numbers in your street address?" "How tall are you?" "What is your library card number?" All sorts of questions that had number answers. I went to check his homework.  He had answered all the ones he could by himself but for the rest he wrote "unknown". One question he answered "N/A" and he used it correctly because he did not know most the answers but for this one he doesn't have a favorite number so it really is not applicable. He cracks me up.

He was not happy when I erased all the unknowns and showed him the part of the directions at the top of the page that said to ask an adult if you don't know the answers. Because while he might not know how much he weighed when he was born, I remember very clearly that he was 9 pounds and that was without an epidural. It took him a while but we eventually figured out all the answers including his favorite number 999,999,999,999,999,999, 999. (I'm not sure if he would have kept going if he had not run out of room.)

That was just one assignment. For one day. I am exhausted by the end of the day. The one saving grace is that both boys are avid readers so getting their reading minutes/pages done is easy.

The other saving grace is that there is no homework assigned on the weekends. I love Fridays. I get to pick up my kids, hear all about their day and then enjoy a free afternoon with them.

Thank Goodness It's No Homework Friday.

TGINHF to you all!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Story - My Little Brother

As always My Story is from my point of view. You can read my disclaimer here.


My little brother has a long story. I hope one with a happy ending for him. But I know it has been a long and bumpy road for him. 

As I wrote, my parents began taking in foster kids before my first memories come into focus. It was just one kid or two at first. My parents were committed to caring for these “orphans” these kids in need. 

But they also wanted to add one more kid to our family, to our nuclear, core family of 4. My parents had always planned on adopting one more child. It was not in reaction to the needs of our foster kids but part of their desire to help with the world crowding problem that was popular to discuss in the 70s while having a family of three. At one point my parents were talking about adopting one of the older foster boys who lived with us but that did not work out. Then when I was 4 we found out there was a baby needing a family and my parents jumped at the chance to add this little boy to our clan. 

They adopted my little brother when he was 10 months old. He was given up at birth and had been living with a foster family that loved him until I was almost 5 when he came home to our family. Knowing what I know now about his mother and his prenatal care, it is not a surprise that he had some serious challenges. He had problems with his ears as a child. Suffered a few seizures from high fevers as a toddler. But it was not until he was a preschooler that his ADD, his lack of impulse control and inability to stay on task for any length of time became a challenge for him. 

None of this mattered to us, to our family. He was one of us. He was my brother. It made complete sense to me that we were a family, my parents, my older brother and my new little brother, that we were permanent and that the foster kids were temporary. It turns out my little brother being adopted was confusing to some of the foster kids later on, especially when my parents did not adopt any other kids but that is another story. It is his story to tell. 

I wish things had turned out better in the end. I wish my parents had learned from what happened and never allowed him to be put in that situation again. I wish my parents had protected him better. I wish they had focused on his needs and not fallen back into the comfort of being foster parents, a job they felt confident in and a job that gave them a sense of doing good and serving God. I wonder what would have happened if they had chosen my brother over their job? 

I wish things had not gone so sour as he turned into a teenager and then an adult. I wish he had seen us as his family and not as he called us, his “adoptive family”. I wish he had been able to find his way younger and not gone into his 20s with so much baggage and poor decision making. I wish things had been better for him, for us, for our whole family. 

But choices were made. Pain built up. Life kept going. And now we are no longer a family of five. We are now five separate families, trying to figure out what our history means for each of us. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Feeling God's Absence

I recently heard an amazing sermon by Kevin Kim on Lament from Psalms 88. You can watch the whole sermon here and if you are struggling in the darkness, if you are angry and hurt by what God is or is not doing in your life, I highly recommend it. It is also available in iTunes for free by looking up MPPC Lament. 

I am in a good place in my life right now. So what I got out of the sermon was probably not the main point. But as I was sitting there, I wrote down two words that the pastor defined for us. 

Consolation and Desolation 

The pastor defined consolation "as the felt presence of God." These are those mountaintop moments where God is ever present in your life, in your circumstances, in your moments. 

The pastor then defined desolation as "the felt absence of God." These are not the valleys of circumstance, the times when life is hard and the events of life are weighing you down. No. Desolation is the desert, desolation is the silence, when you don't feel God anywhere. 

In America ,we believe in cause and effect, we believe in results based on works. 

We believe that feeling close to God is a result of our Bible reading, prayer time and service. And conversely, when we don't feel God, when we don't hear God it is because we are pulling away, we are separating ourselves from him. 

But what if God does not work from a results based paradigm. What if God's actions are beyond our understanding but for His purpose? 
The ancients said, "What if consolation and desolation isn't so much about what you do and what you're doing, but it's more about what God is doing? What if consolation and desolation are both intentional moves of God in your life?" (Sermon Transcript)
If we learn nothing from Job, we learn this. There is a world at play beyond the world we know. Things happened in Job's life that had nothing to do with his actions. There was no cause and effect for Job and this really threw he and his friends for a loop. They spent chapter after chapter debating what Job must have done to cause these disasters in his life while Job continued to defend himself. 

I find a lot of comfort in this idea of consolation and desolation not being necessarily a direct result of my actions. God loves me not as a result of what I do or who I am but because He loves me. My consolation is not based on my actions but on God's grace. 

Sometimes my desolation, my feeling distance from God is because of actions or a lack of connection on my part. But I also have known a desert time in my life, a time of desolation and separation that was not a result, not a reaction to my deeds. I have felt the hand of God pull away even as I cried out for Him to hold me close. Even as I dove into His word more and more. Even as I sang songs of praise and worship and mercy at church each Sunday. My whole heart seeking, my whole mind knowing, my whole being serving who God is. And yet, God's felt presence was missing. 

Why does God do that to those that love Him? I know it is not that He has left me because I know that nothing separates us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38 - 39) But I think sometimes the feelings drift away, sometimes the felt presence is removed so that we can grow, so that we can affirm our conviction apart from how we feel. 

Just as at some point in every marriage, each person has to say yes, I am staying committed, yes I am choosing to love you. Even though I don't feel it today, even though you are not near. I am choosing you, even though...

I think the same is true in our relationship with God. At some point, we have to step up and say yes, I choose you God, even though I don't feel it today, even though I don't see you today. Today I will say blessed be your name

I experienced this desert a few years ago, actually the last time we lived in the Bay Area. It was a dark time for me spiritually, even though I was doing all the right things. I was crying out to God to be in our lives, in my life. At some point I had to make a decision. Was I going to still follow God, even if I could not feel it, even if I did not feel the warmth and reassurance of God's love? Or was this God thing really just an opiate for the masses as Karl Marx had believed, something to make us humans feel better and give us something to hold onto and to follow instead of figuring life out on our own?

When faced with what I believed about God, what I knew about the Bible, I decided that God is God and that is enough for me. My circumstances, my feelings, did not change that truth. My experience of God did not change God. He was enough. 

The darkness did not lift right away. It was not cause and effect, not a life lesson that once learned meant God would pour his presence back into my life. 

But slowly, I did start feeling more and more of God's hand on my heart and my mind. And more than feeling God's presence, I had come out of the desert with a deeper understanding of who God is and who I am in Him. My life is not determined by my circumstances. God is not at the mercy of my actions or inaction. God is bigger than me, infinitely bigger, and yet I am His and that makes me bigger too. The more I enter His world, the more I enter Him, the less my world, the events of my days, sway me. 

My conviction is so much stronger because I now know my commitment is based not on what God does for me but because of who God is. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Choose Today...

I am trying to be disciplined about writing. I don't want my few precious hours to really think, to write without interruption to get eaten up by errands and Facebook. But then there are mornings like today when I don't feel good, mornings when I wake up feeling hungover even though I had nothing to drink.

It is these mornings that I think will determine if this writing thing is a passing hobby or something real. Not because it is a reflection of my talent or lack there of, but because as Albus Dumbledore says, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (J.K. Rowling)

I know my identity in Christ. I know I am a child of God. I am endowed with talents and gifts, interests and passions, that make me unique with something to offer the world. My work has meaning but only if I actually do the work. All the talents, all the ideas, all the education, all the grace in the world means nothing if I choose to do nothing with it.

I have work to do. I was made with a purpose, we all were. It is easy as a woman living in my part of the world, my part of the country, to find work. It is easy to find things to keep busy. And while I believe that Christians share a purpose, to love God and to love our neighbors, how we do that will look quite different. Our work, how we spend our time, will be different.

Does my day, does my work, does my love please God?

That is the question I am asking now.

And so I choose to sit and write. Not because I have nothing else to do. Not because my work is necessary. God does not need my words. I choose to sit and write because the process, the writing, is the work I feel called to in this season of my life.

God is pleased when I show up.

When I show up the real work can begin.

He can work in me.