when you really thought you knew how to do this thing

My oldest daughter saved up money for months. She read countless articles online, visited the library for how-to books on raising puppies, and made notes in her special notebook. She deliberated over the perfect doggie name and analyzed hundreds of breeders to find the perfect fit. And, we let her handle it. She had begged us for her own puppy, so we let her take on this responsibility, armed with months of learning and notes. Her puppy turned out to be in every way, a real, live puppy – unlike the still pictures online or the excerpts in the books. Each day became a growing tension between what she expected and what was actually happening – the nights, the walks, the potty training, the obedience training. And then, one day, her confidence tumbled. Her sweet little friend had barked at her through a string of nights, had worms, and was not potty-training according to schedule. Broken, with mop in hand and puddle on the floor, she cried. “You know the worst part, Mom?” she asked. “It’s that I thought I knew how to do this. I really did.” All I could do was open my arms, let her rest her tired head on my shoulder, and welcome her into the world of grown-ups – where we prepare ourselves, take lots of notes, and plan hard, only to face days of total vulnerability and lack of control. If only this thing called Life were conquered by reading a few books, making some notes, and doing some research. But, what happens when it doesn’t happen? How do we cope when our...

Why I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions

There is Restlessness inside the heart of every visionary-type. At least there is in me. Restlessness wakes up and stretches long arms, like one who overslept. She hastily tries to make sense of the day, the future plan, the next course of action. Her day is shadowed with a sense of having missed something while sleeping and of having wasted precious time. Life becomes a race to make up lost ground. Restlessness is the opposite of contentment but it’s also the cousin of competition, and it looks a whole lot like a craving most days. More, more, more. I’ve pushed and I’ve pulled for most of my life, breaking through glass ceilings and stomping out completed goals with the best of them. And yet. And yet, at the end of the day when she should be at rest, Restlessness pops open her eyes. Her feet hit the ground, and she starts making lists and making plans for more. So, Friends, today I mull over the question – maybe with you, if you too are one who strives and plans: Will it ever be enough? Will we ever be enough? Because, in the aftermath of a few heavy, stressful years, I faced reality this past week: at least in part, I stress myself out. I routinely and compulsively set unachievable, stressful goals, don’t reach them, and then feel ashamed of it. Productivity born of Restlessness never produces peace. Because deeper still, often behind the sanitized words like “driven” and “goal-oriented” is an inclination toward shame. We tirelessly set lofty goals, fail to meet them, and then enter the shame cycle...

when kids are pushing your buttons (like, all of them)

I was about to flip out, and that’s the ugly truth of it. I was in front of a little dude who was pushing all my buttons, simultaneously, and we were dancing on the edge of a power-struggle, the kind that renders everyone a loser. For those of you who work with children and students “from hard places” (as Dr. Karyn Purvis describes), you get this scenario. Or, maybe I should just stop at “who work with children and students.” Period. Anyway, as flashes of angry words exploded in my mind, (ones I’d have momentarily enjoyed expressing, to be honest) I felt a strong sense of clarity. I’d like to think it was divine intervention. Two calming and gentle words doused my frustration: “Not today.” This child, broken up by early rejection and thus defensive beyond belief, was not going to trigger me – not today. Yes, I wanted respect and eye-contact and verbal responses and a host of other things that would satisfy me – the Self that commands rather than connects and that is authoritative rather than his advocate. But, I was making loving him about his behaviors, and it’s just not about that. It’s about relying daily on a Source for love that is beyond our feelings. It’s about getting ourselves, our tendencies, and our triggers under control so that healing, hope-filled, life-changing Love can get from the Father to His child, through us. It’s about not giving up or giving in – not today – and then claiming the same two words tomorrow and every day after. Yeah, maybe that sounds simplistic – but living...

describing words on the Word, indescribable | a poem

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-3; 14 “In the beginning…” And, already deity submits to the limits of human semantics. For there is no beginning to that which was always living But, it says, “in the beginning was the Word…” Jesus of perfect paradoxes – for the Word was already heard when the beginning began when the light lit and the rivers ran. “and the Word was with God…” He was by God, but not just beside not along for the ride no “the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” He is they both with and was, and there’s no way our minds can lengthen far enough to wrap around Him. And again – “He was in the beginning with God.” He is they both with and was. The always. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” He came from always having been in order to be among the destined. Subjected to what would happen. Limited by what is human. He came from always having been in order to be presented in the flesh of infant, dependent. Among us. He was with God then with us. “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from...

From the steeples to the streets

We started life at Seneca Center with hearts full of passion and the best of intentions. Life here is one of the most beautiful things that has happened to Jay and me and to our kids. It’s the most right thing in our messed up world, I suppose. Yet, I guess it doesn’t look that way – not from the outside. Because we get pity-looks. We get comments centered around how “difficult it must be” – this type of living. But, no friends, it’s not this that is difficult. We are most at home, most comfortable, here – drinking sugary tea, eating now-familiar dishes, being part of a village-like life dropped into small-town Iowa. In fact, sometimes I sit on my porch swing and I watch the kids running barefoot, with spices lingering heavy in the air, and I am the most at peace, here. But the real challenge? The tension that pulls us thin? It’s what happens when we must leave our street and navigate our other world – the North American church world. And we must, because we live here, and it’s inevitable. I must leave my house, the one that doubles as a youth center, and try to wrap my mind around how the kids whose bare feet were just parked under my table will ever be welcomed in the local churches’ youth groups. But, please, not just to be tolerated – but to belong. I must leave my kitchen, the one that receives those okra and lamb and rice and such dishes, and try to wrap my mind around how these ladies would ever experience...

Do you hear the whisper of Grace?

The relationships of life can get messy. They involve all sorts of emotions, reactions, ups and downs, outbursts, and stormy insides. And, just when it would seem right to spin around, shout something over the shoulder, and stomp away… well, that’s when Grace walks in. But Grace doesn’t fight for the spotlight; no, it whispers from off-stage. Grace treads softly in, knocks gently, and offers to be shared. Grace initiates. Grace smiles. Grace speaks words full of life and thinks on the lovely. Grace gives space for prayer rather than raw reactions. Grace empathizes rather than criticizes. It acknowledges the depths of hurt and fear that can plague a fellow human and, especially, Grace confesses the depths of inadequacy and error allowed in our own hearts. Grace urges us to stop and to look a bit deeper inside – for when we are really ready, we’ll recognize in ourselves the very same weakness that we’ve highlighted and condemned in another. Grace reaches out, really stretches out long, instead of expecting a compromise. Grace looks at the journey – the whole thing – and decides this one bit of upheaval can be overlooked, can be covered with forgiveness, can just be forgotten. Because Grace is the unbreakable thread that sews me to her, to him, to her, to him, to her, on and on, and always ultimately to Jesus. It keeps us bonded, loved, accepted in fellowship with others and with God. And, Grace holds on. That’s what it does. It holds on when it would be easier to walk away. It holds on when logic, reason, and everything sane...

When you sign up to give your heart away

So, my world started spinning at a different speed last Wednesday around 3:20 in the afternoon. We got this phone call, and then there was talk of this little one – and would we provide her a home for now? Love walked up my front porch that same evening, a brave little one with a bag of clothes and nice ladies on either side. A few days later, a stranger asked me if “they told us how long it would be?” And, my own ears were stunned to hear my lips reply: “Naw, there’s no time frame. We just sign up to give our hearts away.” (Is that what I did, Lord? Signed up to give my heart away?) Because only a week or so ago I was writing about being willing to invest deeply in relationships and not just watch from my window. At the time, I was sure that post was a reflection of countless heart-batterings – not a prediction of more. But, here I am. My home open. My heart exposed. I will love. I will hurt. I will laugh. I will cry. There is nothing but uncertainty and unknown on the horizon. Of that, only that, I am certain. Real love wiggles its way into our comfort zones, into our quiet routines, into our “me-time” and turns it all upside down, doesn’t it? Love changes us until we hardly recognize ourselves. Because, it’s not our love – not our human affection or good intentions that cause us to labor on another’s behalf, or open our hearts, or stay in the mess with a fellow pit-dweller....

In defense of Hope {or What to remember when Apathy wages war}

Lately, the more I lose myself in the lives of those around me, the less I can say for certain. The more I pour out, the more I realize how little I have to offer, like graciously bestowing cartoon band-aids on an amputee. I’ve run out of answers and the heavy questions keep coming, taunting me to give up hope and join the ranks of the despairing – ranks led by Apathy. His target is my passion and his plan is destruction. He is most deadly when questions are rising and when fears are feeding. Why? Because he is too passive and too scrawny to look the uncertainties and realities dead on and admit: yes, this is a tough one, but there is still hope. He refuses to trust when facing the hard stuff. Instead, apathy throws in a grenade of negativity and then slinks away, hoping it all just goes away or at least that it’s unrecognizable after the dust settles. And when this apathy becomes a bigger force than passion, it causes people to sit around tables and in pews and refuse to acknowledge a need for change or introspection. Apathy just goes AWOL. Let me be honest with you – I want to get as far away from that mentality as I can. It makes me want to jump further into action, deeper into trying, longer into difference-making. Because somehow, someday, I long to prove something I guess. I must prove to myself that Hope wins and that even in the face of dark reality, Light conquers hate and Love redeems us all. Maybe I’m most...

when Purpose is tucked into the mundane

Some days, when it’s raining, I pretend I’m in Oregon. The rain is gentle and constant and little yellow flowers are poking through the dewy grass. I carry a red umbrella and smell the clean drizzle, breathing in deep to free my soul. But I’m not in Oregon. I’m here – here where life is complex. Where appointments are made and some problems aren’t fixable. It’s where hearts get beat up like punching bags and knees get tired from praying. Here, it’s corn and flat lands. It’s ordinary, and it’s not especially photo-worthy. It’s one day at a time, making plans and praying harder and eating our fruits and vegetables. It’s cleaning up supper dishes. It’s vacuuming up dog hair again. It’s a flat tire and homework with the kids after school and a reliance on morning coffee. It’s Iowa here. No red umbrellas, no waves in the distance, no mountain tops. Maybe in Oregon, the challenges wouldn’t be as resilient as the yellow flowers and red umbrellas. Or maybe in California, problems would be carried away by the waves or maybe they’d just evaporate in the sunshine. Or maybe in Colorado the mountains would welcome me, carrying me to a higher place than the memories could ever reach. But then again, I suppose it could just be Iowa anywhere. For the mundane can sneak up and make a lifetime out of hours and days in whatever place. Everything in me wants to rage against that – against the steady pull of routine that puts one foot into front of the other time after time against a gray backdrop...

When You are Wringing your Hands in the Waiting

Outside my kitchen window a thick blanket of land has been stretched out. Last week, students and volunteers joined together to tuck potential just below the surface, planting hundreds of seeds on the 4 acres. We are calling it The Bridge Garden Training Project. It just so happens to be in my backyard. So, every morning, I pour my coffee, and I look at the dirt. I squint my eyes and tell myself I see the green breaking through, ready to catch its first breath of sunlight that day. But, as of today, only a few sprouts have actually stood up high enough for me to see from my window. Mostly, I’m just waiting. I drink my coffee and go through my day and there is this frustratingly quiet voice that keeps pressing into my ears: “Wait. Just wait.” Because it’s not about the garden after all. It’s about the unknowns of the summer ministry plans, and parenting, and the emails I’m waiting on that determine some other decisions. It’s about the phone calls that haven’t come through, and the event that just needs to get behind me, and the meetings that need to happen. It’s about my restless hands that want to make something just happen already. Truth is, I’d love to paw away some of the dirt and confusion and just see for myself how those seeds are doing – the seeds of relationships, decisions, prayers prayed, plans pending. So, I sip my coffee today and I ask God to keep my hands still and my heart quiet. To pry my fingers open and release the seeds...