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...

For the one who needs strength for the everyday

The other morning as I was running, I listened to a broadcast by apologist Ravi Zacharias, in which he quotes G.K. Chesterton: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again;’ and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Isn’t it a wonder to imagine a God who whispers to the sun morning after morning, “Do it again?” And to my pots and pans at the start of yet another meal, “Do it again.” And to my stack of papers to be graded, “Do it again.” And to my child’s homework needing assistance, “Do it again.” It’s a wonder that God’s character and purpose are not reduced or simplified by the eroding nature of everyday living. In fact, He exults in it and, I believe, even more wondrous is that He invites us to do so as well. But Chesterton’s words unsettle me, as they ring true in my heart: “…grown-up...

the truth about the darkness and how to join a holy rebellion for Light

“…When I read those words and saw the pictures of Diwali, my heart nodded in agreement. I wanted to slip into the pictures, stand beside the people, reach my hands out, and start lighting up the night. Maybe partly for my little girl – an act of a mama bear defending her cub who needs to see the truth about darkness: light always wins.

I wanted to join the beautiful uprising, as it seemed, against the powers of darkness that bully her and all of us…”

When we need to make sense of suffering

Sometimes the winds of Heaven reach us. They blow strong on our faces, carried on by accidents, disease, tragedy. And, it takes our breath away. We stand disoriented, wondering at the feel of the breeze, the smell in the air, the sudden change in temperature. Our souls gasp – is it homesickness, maybe something familiar we recognize in the air? Because, in the midst of life, sometimes the reality of eternity sweeps in like that, and we cannot look away. We, a society of distractions. We, a culture of intellectualism. We, a community with an independence running thick in our veins. Yet, when faced with our own humanity, we look up, panting for hope, for understanding, for the assurance that we are not, after all, alone in this. Because, in times like this, our souls cry out for a Father who loves us, a Jesus who accepts us. Not One who tests us with hard times, or simply observes our daily lives with disinterest, or fails to control the random acts of fate. Desperate, we need assurance that our bodies are not just made for this world, and that the Designer of our days has our best in mind. It’s not all over in an accident or a diagnosis, right? Our loved ones are not just flung into blackness, gone forever, right? There is more than all this, right? “Oh yes, there is more,” He whispers over us, the voice of our Maker, our Emmanuel – One who dwells with us and understands. People of God, may we believe that no lives have been cut off prematurely by cruel...

a letter to Miracle Mom

Dear mom of the boy with the loaves and fishes, This probably seems the oddest of letters, but I must write to you. I read about you today. Well, I read about your basket and your son. And, while everyone was marveling over the numbers and the leftovers, my heart reached across the centuries to find you. You, the unsung hero. You, the essence of hope in the midst of routine and dishes and to-do lists. After all, that boy with the loaves and fishes needed someone to pack his lunch, and that fact was not lost on this mama. I guess you probably don’t understand what I mean. After all, it was just a simple lunch, an ordinary day, and such average surroundings, right? Your schedule was probably so filled with countless other chores and responsibilities that you hardly imagined yourself part of a sacred, eternal plan. Not to mention, the baby was likely teething, balanced on your hip, and your nerves were probably jumping from sleepless nights and caffeine jolts. You likely kissed your son goodbye that morning, secretly relieved there would be one less person to serve for a few hours. I get it. I guess that’s why I needed to write you – to thank you for the sense of purpose you brought me today. Because, well, honestly I picture my own kitchen, my own children, and somehow the miraculous remains so far off – in another world completely. It hardly seems a fitting ending to regular food-prep chore. But here, there’s proof of something more lingering in the routine – for the natural collided...