When Glory was displayed in the disgrace

Once upon a time, a young girl named Mary found favor in the eyes of God. And, on the brink of one of history’s greatest leaps of faith, this girl said simply: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary thus entered into the plan of God with a bowed head, willing to carry within her the presence of God in order to birth His glory into flesh. Yet, in Matthew’s gospel, we get a wider picture of the drama surrounding Mary – when she was found to be pregnant and unmarried. In these words, we start to understand the cost of Mary’s surrender. We begin to see the human heart exposed in the midst of divine work. “And her husband, Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) Shame. Disgrace. Maybe even a touch of scandal. An unmarried girl, suddenly pregnant. What did people think? Did they jump to conclusions, whisper about her, share their disapproval? And we’re left to wonder – why would a holy, perfectly pure God choose to use this scarlet thread of disgrace while weaving His eternal plan? “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 Prophecy declared it, yes, but certainly God Almighty could have engaged a staggering variety of means, outside of such a publicly disgraceful situation, to accomplish it. Truth is, I think we are all left a bit shaky at this unfolding – broken pieces of moral standards...

When Glory was birthed in a barn

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7 There, Salvation was nestled among animal food. And, we wonder over God, this God who stepped off His throne and into human skin, laying Himself into a mere animal trough. Glory Himself was birthed into baby cheeks and tiny hands by a young, scandal-surrounded girl. How is it that we find the King of all in such a place? How is it that the Almighty God, the great I Am, bends Himself into a world of labor pains and dirty animals? And, it’s at times like this that I find myself both awestruck and inexpressibly moved by the story of Jesus’ birth. Of course, it’s a familiar one, and most of us can see the story line from miles away. But what consistently moves my heart? It’s the common. Each year, I find myself analyzing the details, trying to imagine what it must have felt like to witness the great and awesome God stepping into the everydays of some simple folks. Because, it’s natural for us to attach the concepts of splendor and power and mind-blowing radiance to our God. We exalt Him. We praise Him for the attributes we can hardly understand – His sovereign ways, His unsearchable wisdom, His unfailing love. His stands far above us, and we marvel, speechless at His majesty. Therefore, it is not without near bewilderment that we...

Why “telling people about Jesus” may not be enough

One day, a couple kids in our neighborhood came in with a picture Bible and announced they were going to make a club. And, this would be no average club. It would be a club to “tell people about Jesus.” Something in me cringed as they innocently stomped into the volatile areas of ministry and missions, where few dare to tread. Oh, how would they navigate these rough waters of evangelism and church and “sharing Jesus?” I tried to tactfully respond. “Well, your friends may not want to listen. You may need to show them what it means to be a Christian— like, be nice to them. Tell them ‘good job’ when they dunk the ball on you instead of spazzing out on them. Use your words instead of punching someone when you’re ticked off. Ask before you ‘borrow’ each others’ bikes. Share your hot cheetos. Take care of the little kids instead of hiding from them. That would really be cool, right? See, just talking to them might not work so well if you don’t act differently.” The boys didn’t seem convinced. “So, what are you going to do if they don’t want to listen?” I asked. They perked up. Now this, they were ready for. Their excitement and confidence oozed out everywhere. “Oh, we’re going to do GAMES! So, they can come for games, and then we’ll just tell them about Jesus.” My husband joined in at this point. We tried a few more times to steer the conversation away from games and clubs, but the boys were resolute. They soon left, eager to set up their...

on rolling out welcome mats for divine work

She sat across the table from me, reminding me a lot of my younger self. Her pen was poised over a notebook, and I could see she’d already been making notes and plans. And so, this was it. After seven years of founding and developing The Bridge of Storm Lake ministry, I was handing over the position of Communications Director, a role embedded into my heart – and the role to which I knew she was called. Although the past months had been an awkward scene of passing the baton, it would be official now, I told her. Of course, it would sound nice to say “it’s always been God’s ministry” and “He can do with it as He pleases,” as if my feelings were exempt. But the reality for this mama was that it felt like my baby. I had dreamed of it and named it. I had labored over it, drawing up plans and tucking away dreams in drawers, like neatly folded onesies and receiving blankets. Eventually, the vision was birthed into reality. I cleaned it up and swaddled it with human words, making it presentable to onlookers who received and celebrated it. Together, Jay and I loved this vision-baby, amazed at what God had laid in our arms. We held on through disappointments and failures because we shared this passion to see it grow and develop and be all that God had intended. We cared for it, nurtured it, protected it, sacrificed for it, as any parents would do, through long days and sleepless nights. Sometimes Sacrifice calls us to hang on. But, other times it calls us to...

Why it Matters that Jesus Wept

I stopped on the story of Jesus and Lazarus the other day. Stopped right at the part about Jesus weeping. He wept. Fully. Compassion poured from His eyes and ran into His hands, hands which would soon enough be torn up on a bloody cross. Maybe He bent over in grief, pressing those hands to His mouth, without words. See, the God of the universe did not simply blink extra and ignore the well of emotion coming to His holy eyes. Didn’t choke it back and cough gruffly. Didn’t mumble out something about how everything happens for a reason after all, and what a beautiful life this one lived at least. I couldn’t get over that scene of Heaven’s Glory grieving long and hard over His friend, Lazarus. Why? Because certainly Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Certainly He knew that death would never keep this one: not this time. Certainly He knew it was within His perfect power and awesome sovereign ways to fix this situation. Yet, for the moment or maybe for many moments, He wept. He grieved. He entered into the loss with compassion. He stayed there silently and let His human heart break with the brokenness of sin and death, for which He alone had the capacity to redeem. Jesus wept – willing to feel what He knew He could fix. And that’s where I stopped because I’m not sure we know what to do with that. How often we’d rather fix something than feel anything. We’d rather give a hand than grieve. We’d rather move on than mourn. It feels better...

The art of unraveling

I told my daughter, Maggie, the other day that I need to sit down and unwind. After a few minutes, she came close and whispered, “Are you unraveled yet, Mom?” I didn’t correct her. She’s asked me it twice since, and each time I melt a bit. I don’t plan to tell her the word is “unwind” not “unravel” anytime soon. I suppose I’m still unraveling anyway. And, what have I been up to exactly? Summer. Another Bridge ministry summer – a marathon of days stuffed tight with knocks on my door, activities, late-night suppers, kids falling asleep on couches instead of their beds, and a front porch swarming with candy-coated, sidewalk-chalked kids. Each summer is like living and learning a year’s worth of ministry. Kids are engaged in the Cultivate Training Garden, we have weekly Neighborhood Nights, activities at the Neighborhood Centers and Sites regularly, a daily lunch bus route, special trips for different age groups and summer camps, and on and on. Ten weeks of all-hands-on-deck, all day, until late night hours. It’s like taking a fast-track college course or drinking from a fire hydrant – or doing them both simultaneously. And, for me, it includes balancing the proper care, feeding, and cleaning of 5 kids as well. But, summer is over now,  so the unraveling begins. And, unraveling is an art. It really is. Unraveling well prevents crashing and denial-powered momentum (which leads to more crashing). This I know, with my scraped up elbows and knees, exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and ministry burnout. Yes, over the years, I’ve crashed a good many times, and the pain is just fresh...

On rescheduling contractions & sorting out rice & kite-flying (why I write, part 1)

My husband, Jay, says it’s like a mid-life crisis. He’s usually right, so I’ll believe him. This is the point in which a geared, passionate young woman, well-marinated in busyness and purpose raises her head and wonders, “Why? Why am I doing this again?” This is about writing. It’s long been my companion, both feared and loved. Feared, because I don’t know what to make of it, what it will become, or what it will require of me. Loved, because it’s my way, my safe place, an undeniable and otherworldly process that guides me, grows me. And yet, why exactly am I doing this writing thing? The question is like a fly in my eyes and ears, as I tap out late-night words to satisfy a deadline. Fellow creative souls, risk-takers, and air-breathers can likely relate. After all, no one knocks on your door and passes you a note with your life’s purpose and detailed plans of which steps to take on the road toward becoming. Do you ever lift up your head, adjust your glasses, squint at your surroundings, and say, “Wait a sec. Am I seeing any of this clearly? I am in the right place… right?” Writing guides say I should write to share information, that I should determine which is my area of expertise and establish my platform based on credentials and experiences. And, I should meet a need for my audience, helping or informing or inspiring you all of something. And, that’s precisely why I let this blog sit for a couple months. I got stuck on the bit about having something profound to share...

when loving Jesus more means loving ministry less

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 Months ago, we sat around a board table, alongside faithful souls who have been in these trenches with us for over six years, and we faced a challenging reality. And, for the first time in years, I wasn’t anxious at the propositions. Truth is, I have come to care less and less about the actual work of this ministry.  But, not in a cynical, unhappy way. I’m just coming to a certain realization lately: The less I love the work, the more I love Jesus. The work of this ministry has broken us, inflicted us emotionally, inspired us, moved us, and fueled us. It’s been fulfilling as well as frustrating. It’s been beautiful and enough of a blankedty-blank mess that I’ve been mercifully forced to allow God to reframe my thinking. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you, too, have zeroed in on the serving while the Who went out of focus in the background – and have then felt the enormous, exhausting burden of it, so much so that you too have embraced an aha moment: there has to be a better way. Yes, there is a better way, and it’s always choosing devotion to Jesus over doing for Jesus. But working for Jesus can be a sanitized distraction, can’t it? It can be...

why you should just be you & I should be me (because who are we kidding anyway?)

I grabbed a shopping basket and headed to the produce. Note: I grabbed a basket. I have no idea why, other than I had a brief lapse of identity – which led to this post. I’m a mom of 5. I haven’t used a grocery basket since college. In fact, once upon a time, I had two 2 year-olds and a new baby, and I finagled two carts – pushing/pulling with one cart for the baby in the car seat and another for actual groceries, with one two year-old in the front of each cart. Those grocery trips inevitably ended in tears and meltdowns. My tears and meltdowns, that is. So anyway, there I was, with a cute little grocery basket on my arm. And, I was wearing a white coat, a lovely, tailored-looking thing with big buttons. I should mention it is a hand-me-down, as I’d never spend money on a red juice stain waiting to happen. And, suddenly, I feel quite put together and professional – and, well, not like a mom of 5. But. Then, I saw the kids’ favorite snacks on sale for 3 for $5.00. I just couldn’t help myself, shoving them all in the basket. Then, my heart warmed at the popcorn, after all, it was a cold day and we could have a family movie night. (Always more ideal and smiley in my mind’s eye.) And then, well, Maggie just loves bagels in the morning, which called for cream cheese as well. And, Samuel, yeah, he’s had  rough spell and strawberries always make his day. Not to mention, I’d need to feed the tribe...

As it turns out, parenting is tough (& why being foster parents is good for us)

One of our children hid under the table the other morning and threw her shoes and socks at us. No words, just grunts and whines. “I’m guessing you’re a little frustrated,” I said, as my husband, Jay, pulled her out, kicking and flailing. Connected parenting, connected parenting, connected parenting my mind shouted at me. I attempted. I asked for eye contact, cradled her like a baby, talked about the “big feelings” and how to handle them next time. But later on, I lamented to Jay that I had probably handled it all wrong. It’s hard work to change one’s parenting style from more traditional to this connected style necessary for kids from hard places. Maybe demanding eye contact wasn’t all that connected. Maybe I should’ve just gone to her, under the table even. “Hey, we are learning at least,” he said. “Yeah, I guess,” I muttered, “and at this rate, maybe we’ll at least be helpful grandparents.” Because, as it turns out, parenting is tough. See, I thought we were A-OK when we had one child. But, never trust a one-child parent. Don’t read books or blogs by them either – or their husbands. Our first-born is one of our biological children as well. And, we thought we understood a few things on parenting. Not so. Then we adopted internationally and dove into topics of attachment and bonding, semi-survived, and figured we then understood a fair amount about having both biological and adoptive children. Not so – for they grow and start talking (back). Then, we started to foster. We were blind-sided by trauma and its effects on children. Words like...