Rudolph and Me–Misfits R Us

I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)
As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership (although, as a woman, I probably should have been more just plain servant), and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.
The perfect family. 
By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.
Until I didn’t.
Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. Mychild. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear. 

He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?
Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.

I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.

Only later did I understand that it wasn’t God’s promises that had let me fall but the words we had put in His mouth.

I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. A spiritual misfit? What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings. Everyone avoids looking at you. If only they’d avoid talking about you, too.
In fact, I’ve been something of reverse spiritual misfit. I started out conforming, not questioning whatever “they” told me I needed to be a good Christian. A weakling who believed I was strong. I look in the mirror now at a woman I didn’t know was inside during all my years of certainty, wounded where I needed to be, questioning what I always should have, strong because I know I am weak.
My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?
If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?
If you ask too many questions.
And you kind of like gray areas.
Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you looked at funny in the Christian blogosphere.
So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.
Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in drugs and any other self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”
Many of those kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids. I was the sinner who needed to get it together. Wait–hadn’t I always had it together?
Asking questions like, Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No difference except Jesus, and I didn’t earn that difference no matter how many points I stacked up in the rules column. Those get you uninvited to speak at Christian ladies’ luncheons. You’re not safe anymore.
I’m not safe. Thank God.
I accept risk where I once demanded safety. I don’t just accept it—I revel in it. It means I’m alive. It means God is alive in me. And anything—anything–is worth that.

It is a good feeling, this spiritual misfitism. I’m not sorry to have lost what I believed was my salvation to find who I know is. 

Failure is like a box of Twinkies

Failure. Oh, we’ve talked about it a lot. Talk is cheap. I can tell youto embrace failure all I want. Easy peasy. But put your money where your mouth is. Or, your picture where the world can see it.

This past week was fair week. For ordinary mortals, that is probably not an event. But we are not ordinary. We are veterans of fifteen years of 4H, which translates to roughly 326 County Fair projects, give or take. Usually, these are all completed in about a week’s time. 

Every year I tell my kids, “Let’s start early and not be stressed about fair projects at the last minute!” Which always ends up, “Let’s think about starting early but really start a week before and then spend the last two days slapping together projects like we have stock in hot glue sticks.” 

We were “that family” who carried 45 projects for three kids in six trips from the car (in 95 degrees), some of which were over three feet tall. (We still have the matchstick Eiffel Tower. It’s a classic.) We also carried super glue, duck tape, safety pins, and scissors. Because we knew the glue was not yet dry and some of the paper still needed trimming. And framing. 

We’ve had our championships, but we’ve had our failures, too.

So here, for your enjoyment, is one of our epic culinary failures.

Can you guess what they were supposed to be? 

But the best part? This. This is my daughter’s face upon her first taste of a Twinkie. Just before she took a flying leap at the garbage can to spit it out. Seriously, if the kid could run like that all the time, she’d have a track scholarship this fall.

Lest you believe, very erroneously, I am such a saintly mother that no processed snack has ever passed her lips and that is why, at this age, she had never tasted a Twinkie, um, no. There have been wholesale-size boxes of ho-hos and ding-dongs at my house. But I draw the line at eating unnaturally yellow couch cushion foam. There have be some standards.

guess I don’t have to worry about her
ever eating Twinkies again.

Child #3 and I were attempting to craft cupcakes that would win a ribbon in food decoration. Or, at least, not embarrass her too greatly. In cake decorating, that is usually the best I could hope for. In cake decorating, I use creativity to cover up for a lack of proficiency. (That may explain a lot in other areas of my life as well.) She, however, is somewhat more proficient.

Except not here.

Yes, these things were failures. FAILURES. The frosting didn’t “dip” properly. The Twinkies broke. The food coloring that was supposed to be grey-blue came out more violent violet, which is perhaps not the color of your average whale. (Though more appetizing than grey, really.) The cute licorice supposed to look like rope tying together the pier looked like . . . licorice and cookie wafers. Drunken licorice and cookie wafers.

The failed whales are now the stuff of epic family legend. 

Then we tried apples. Slightly less of a failure but not fair worthy. The third time, she tried flowers. And they were awesome. And they won a reserve champion ribbon. And they are now her signature offering at special occasions. Because everyone is incredibly impressed by the flower cupcakes. 

Failure. Is. Not. Final. 

Unless you let it be. Unless you try once and walk off muttering, “I am the worst excuse for a cupcake decorator born to man and I will never try this again.” Failure is a jumping off point to learn what you need to know to do it better. It’s either an instigator or an excuse. It’s always our call. 

 Keep trying. The law of averages is on your side, if nothing else. Plus, failure can make for some fantastic pictures and stories to tell later.

What have you learned from failure? (Other than never to buy Twinkies again.)

Any epic fails out there you’d like to share? I know you have them. I hope you do. If not, you’re doing it wrong.

on the same team

By now, most of you have probably seen this video. I love this video. I hope you have enjoyed it as well. But there is a specific reason I love it.

What do I love about this besides a) She’s a GYMNAST, or b) She’s freaking awesome, or c) She’s an inspiration to short women everywhere?

I love the crowd. They may be the best part of this video. At every moment, you can hear them. Cheering her on. Holding their collective breath when she falters. Screaming at her that she can do it and she’s amazing. And she was. And so were they.

No one put her down for being a woman in a (previously) man’s sport. No one yelled that they could do it better. No one called her out on her form or finesse. They crazily, noisily, exuberantly cheered her every effort. They held her up when she struggled. They were a community. They were one.

You go, girl.
I’ve seen this before. When my daughter and I ran (ran as in, walked, but let’s not quibble) a Mud Run, I watched a crowd of women cheer another woman, overweight and on my side of older, as she attempted to run up a muddy hill and pull herself over with a rope. She did it, too. Probably because a noisy group of complete strangers stood there cheering her from the bottom.

We’e all seen the runner who stops, potentially losing a chance at today’s glory, to help another runner in need.

The amateur athletic community knows something the church needs to know. They know they won’t run any faster or compete any stronger by criticizing someone else’s form. They know they won’t improve a personal best by wishing for someone else’s fall. They know cheering helps us all to do better.

They know they need one another to push everyone toward being their best.

They know what community really means.

Church people—we don’t.

The New Testament uses a couple words when it talks about church and believers together. One is koinonia—a term that means to be in fellowship, sharing, united, in community. Another is oikos—which basically calls the church to be an extended family. People who are there for one another through everything, even weird uncles and difficult cousins. 

The Bible also uses the phrase “one another” often when referring to how believers are supposed to do life together. Be devoted to and honor one another (Romans 12.10), serve one another, (Galatians 5.13), accept one another (Romans 15.7), encourage one another (Hebrews 3.13), be kind to one another (Ephesians 4.32).

How are believers supposed to act toward one another? Like that. Like a team. Like a community. Like runners who look at one another as people on the same track with the same goal who help each other to do their best.

How do we act all too often? Um, not so much.

If a church member offends us, we’re more likely to walk away and find someone else than to say, “Hey, you’re family. Let’s work this out. I love you.”

If we disagree with someone’s point of view, we seem all too happy to use personal insult to “prove” we know better than to listen and learn.

One of the largest reasons given among Millennials for why they are leaving the church is this one—too many Christians would rather infight than love their world together. Too many are so focused on being right that they have forgotten how to be Christlike. They want us to care more about a hurting world than about our personal preferences.

Completely lost in the ensuing madness are Jesus’ words: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Perhaps, Jesus himself is completely lost in the madness as well. That is an indictment we should not be able to live with.

I’m picturing the revolution that might happen if, instead of calling someone out when we are unhappy, we racked our brains for ways to serve and honor that person.

This is not easy. It’s certainly a personal challenge for me. I can think of a number of people I strongly disagree with that I really do not want to honor. But what if I tried? What might happen?

This isn’t to say we always agree with one another. We don’t. We can’t and shouldn’t. But we can disagree compassionately, thoughtfully, without personal conviction or vendetta entering the picture. We can offer forgiveness, even when it isn’t asked for. Because that’s what the whole “one another” thing is about. We’re supposed to be different in a culture that considers relationships disposable. What if we were?

What if you tried, today? What would it look like?

Our team. We did it–together.
Over the next few weeks, I am planning to do a series of posts on another blog I work on about the church—what it is, what it’s supposed to be, and where it’s going. Please join me. Please tell me what you think about those questions. I’d love your ideas.

Mutts, pigs, turtles, and the meaning of life

Quizzes. The world is into them, it seems. I have to admit, I’ve always loved them. I’m the one who ordered the book filled with quizzes to find out more about yourself from the junior high book fair. I don’t remember what I found out. Probably that I could not wait to get out of junior high.

So for a little fun, the results, and some thoughts on, the quiz craze.

My Life According to Buzzfeed:

I am personality-wise a wise mix of Obi Wan Kenobi, Remus Lupin, Elrond, Queen Elsa, and Cinderella. (?? That last one so does not fit.) I should be friends with Stitch and live in either Portland, Oregon, Romania, or Rivendell. (Definitely leaning toward the latter.)

Yes, it’s Washington, not Oregon. But it’s close enough
for me.
I should write for a living (how convenient) and for inspiration when writer’s block hits, turn to Langston Hughes or Joyce Carol Oates. I must be sure to write in Times New Roman font. (Which this is not.) But, I should have majored in environmental science at either Duke or Harvard, and I did not. So that might make all this career stuff moot anyway.

In my future home, I should own a pig, although I’m not sure of Rivendell homeowner association rules on that one. It would probably be quite acceptable in Portland. Especially if I fed the pig organic vegetables and composted the results.

write about environmental science?
If I were a dog I’d be a mutt, and if I were an inanimate object, I would be a bunch of dead AA batteries. Apparently, as an inanimate object, I am a huge fire hazard.

I am a Revolutionary (I do love Les Mis) and a logical thinker (which, I am guessing, most revolutionaries are not).

And my favorite thus far—my inner animal is . . . a tiny turtle on a skateboard. This is not a normal thing for anyone to even have thought about.

We love to see how we’re like other people, or unlike anyone else. It’s entertaining to see where you fit. It’s also a drive from within we can’t seem to quench.

Everyone needs to figure out where he or she fits. We find it in fun ways in Buzzfeed. We find it in serious ways in jobs or possessions. Sadly, we sometimes find it in destructive ways. We find it in ultimate ways in beliefs and relationships. But we need it. We seek it.

Where do I belong?

Why am I here?

What am I here to do?

While I definitely do belong in Portland or Rivendell, here’s where I know, after all the looking around.

“This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’” (Isaiah 44.5).

That’s where I belong. That’s to whom I belong. Simple. No quiz required. But it answers everything.

Where do you find, or seek, belonging? I’d love to hear.

back roads and mini-van lemming think

Someone else likes backroads, too.

I like to take back roads. This may seem unlikely for a person as impatient as I, but something about an unexplored road beckons me. I prefer the road less traveled by. Even when it has stop signs.

In the case of one road I travel, make that multiple stop signs. When I have the misfortune of traveling it between 2:30 and 3:30 (otherwise known as all-heck-breaks-loose because-children-are-being-unleashed-on-the-unsuspecting-world time), it’s slow. R-e-a-l-l-y slow.

Funny story here. There is a parallel road to this one with almost no traffic. But no one takes it. Not even I, who know it’s there and know it goes to the same place with much less hassle, remember to make a simple left turn and use it. It’s a two-block detour, and there we all sit, like mini-van lemmings, in the slow line of cars at multiple stop signs. Why?

I don’t have an answer for this. Other than it’s easier to mindlessly follow the lemmings than to turn left and take an alternative route to the same place. To turn left, I’d have to be conscious. Which is always a good thing to be when driving. Nevertheless, many of us are not conscious. While driving or while living  .

What if we turned left away from the lemmings in life, too? Took a different road. What if we determined to live some alternatives?

To choose to forgive the unforgivable when no one else does that.

It’s your right to hold a grudge. Staying angry makes you strong.”
Lemming words. Don’t follow them. 

No, that is not our jeep. Rental. Which was
good, because some of those backroads
had lakes in the middle of them.

Try instead the road that says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.32). And in case we need a primer, “as God in Christ forgave you” covers it all.

To willingly say “I don’t know that answer” 
when someone challenges you.

Lemmings fear the the not knowing. They bluster and fall back on repeating the same things without examining their words. Don’t follow that road.

Follow the sign that reads, “The truth will set you free” (John 8.32). Free when we admit straight up we don’t have all the answers. And we’ll work on finding them out.

To refuse the lure of calling names and creating generalizations 
instead of listening to people who don’t think like we do.

Instead, consider the road that’s marked “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1.19). Way too few folks are on that road. It’s wide open.

To live like service is more important than success. 

Not believe it or teach it. Live like it. Like we knowIf you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10.39) rather than only vaguely suspect it. That’s a signpost people will notice.

To stop controlling every moment of every day and every person in it. 

To admit—no, to embrace, the reality that we were never in control. To absolutely glory in not having the keep everything in place and spinning. Because we feel the truth deeply–”Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5.7). That highway is peacefully devoid of all jams.

To allow someone else credit when we deserve it. Cheerfully. Not because we have no choice.

To give mercy when we could extract vengeance.

There are so many more alternative routes.

The route everyone is on is really, really much more difficult. And slower. Full of uncalculated stops. Once we turn off the main road, we know the freedom of the uncrowded, unblocked passage. We can get through this thing called life easier. 

Oh, but look where those roads can take us.

But it takes consciousness. We can’t do it on autopilot. The other road has always been beside us. We just have to make the decision to turn onto it.

Five things to always apologize for

Love means often having to say you’re sorry.
Just not for this.
Last week I declared a moratorium on ten things I’ll never apologize for again. (See that post here.)

It’s freeing to realize we do not have to apologize for a lot of the things we’e spent too much of our lives apologizing for. But hold the reins. Or whatever analogy suits you. I, personally, don’t really do horses. I think it has something to do with the one that tried to knock me off her back with a tree branch when I was eight. Still have equine trust issues.

So—insert your metaphor here that means—wait a minute.

There is such a thing as too free. For instance, feel free to run around your house alone in whatever state of dress you prefer. But gong to Target like that is another matter completely. (Walmart–now there you might be able to get away with it.)

Contrary to inexplicably popular 70’s movies, love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, love means saying it often. Over and over. Because loving people up close means we’ll have conflict and miscommunication, confusion and badly applied good intentions, and mornings without enough caffeine before opening our mouths. And we’ll have to apologize.

So a new list this week.

Five things I hope I will always apologize for.

Because there is always time to chaperone a class
trip to Orlando. Always. And there is never one
more baby of the family to do it with.

Telling people I’m too busy. With what? For what? What on earth am I doing that’s more important than that person who wants my attention or presence? The Bible says to store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew6.19-21). You know what is in heaven? People. Not our job, our computer, or our zumba class. PEOPLE. They are our treasure. I need to act like it.

It’s too easy to put my agenda first without even hearing what someone is asking. Hearing sometimes requires pulling away from me and listening at a level beyond words. Life will be too busy until you die, but only if you let it be .

I can’t I can’t possibly. I just…can’t.
Oh wait. I can.

Saying I can’t. Yes, I did say just last week I would no longer apologize for not explaining why I can’t do something. But this is different. What I’m talking about is saying “I can’t” when what I really mean is, “I don’t want to take the time.“ “It’s a bother.” “I’m too afraid.” I may not choose to explain why I can’t do something, but I always want to think about why I don’t believe I can.

Because sometimes, I can. And I’m sacrificing something or someone to cover up for my fear or apathy. It isn’t so much, “I’m sorry but I can’t.” It’s “I’d rather think about my own selfish self right now, thank you very much.” Ugh. I’m tired of my own selfish self. That person isn’t very good company. I want to say yes more than I say no  .

That talking without thinking thing. Did I mention I can be a trifle . . . sarcastic? In fact, most of us do think before we use words that are hurtful. Then we go ahead and do it anyway.

Because of the latest Supreme Court decision, I’ve already read several diatribes this week using hateful, cruel language to describe people who don’t agree with the writer. They have to know some of the people they call “friends” belong in the group they’re describing–and hurting. But personal opinion and need to be right trump those feelings.

I need to say “sorry” for the times I disregard those feelings in my need to say something witty, or right, or judgmental. It’s not OK just because I believe it.

It’s easy to say, “They were only words, and they’re probably forgotten.” But probably not, because words burn themselves into our souls, and words like “I’m sorry” can tweeze hurt out and heal the scar . Why is it so easy to launch verbal Laser Weapon Systems and so very difficult to say “I’m sorry”?

Because sometimes, life is messy.

Being a bad example. Too many years of my life got spent trying to be the shining example of perfect mom, wife, and Christian. Time I could have saved by admitting earlier I couldn’t even manage a glimmer some days much less a shine. 

You know when my ministry with other people really begin to matter? When I started saying things like, “I seriously screwed up! You too? OK, why don’t we put our messes together and see what God can do to redeem it all?”

Could I please go back and apologize to all the people who saw the “I know what I’m doing all the time and, also, I know what you should be doing and how you should be doing it” woman and tell them I’m really, really sorry? And could someone smack me the next time I slip into that?

Playing the Please-Blame-Anyone-But-Me game. You know what? It’s so much more work to figure out twenty ways someone else is at fault. It takes real effort to manipulate why I’m not really responsible for the thing I clearly am. I wish I had figured this out a long time ago.

It takes three seconds to say, “Yep, I should have known better, I’m sorry” and about three days to keep defending myself with many, many creative maneuvers. It’s only scary to think about saying, “Sorry—my fault.” It’s not so bad to do it. And be done. People respect you more, too. Trust me. People know when you’re making up excuses. They really do.

Your turn again. What have you learned that we really do need to say “sorry” for? And keep saying it? And not be afraid to?

minimal willpower but serious love

Several weeks ago, I took a risk by telling the blogosphere the exact number on the scale under my feet. One hundred and sixty. I challenged readers to join me in a win-win plan—for every unauthorized extra pound on our bodies, we’d donate one pound of food to a food pantry when we lost it. You can read the whole scary story here. Plus, you can read the stories of other risk-taking women here to see the fantastic people urging me on.

Well, I’m reporting that I’m down six pounds. Great, right? Well, sort of. If I could tell you I had done this as a result of creating a healthy diet and exercise program and mustering my amazing stores of willpower, then it would be great.

Alas, I have the willpower of a mosquito in a blood bank. I have never met a piece of chocolate I didn’t like. (Except white chocolate. That is not chocolate. It is an impudent imposter that tastes like nothing humans should naturally consume.)

Instead, it’s a result of being sick for an entire month. Haven’t been able to eat. Haven’t wanted to eat. Have eaten about a third of what I usually eat and that only by sheer force because I know from freshman biology class that a body has to have some kind of fuel to ensure continued existence. Plus to ensure the house will not be overrun with dirty clothes and dishes.

It is not a diet plan I would recommend.

I’ve been thinking of the term Sheldon Vanaucken used in his book–”A severe mercy.” Something God uses when we cannot, or will not, help ourselves to be our better selves.

I am not saying God brings about illness to teach me a lesson. I am not the kind of theologian who tweets about deadly earthquakes helping us to be more like Job. But I am thinking, through this month, about how God will take a situation and use it to do for us what we are unable to do. Out of severe (defined as very great, intense) love.

I have zero willpower. No matter how many good intentions I have, I could not (read that would not, because truth–no one force fed me chocolate chip cookies at gunpoint) stop eating junk. I prayed for help. But I would not help myself.

God can sometimes love us so severely that he will answer our prayers.  

I’ve had other prayers with similar outcomes.

I’ve prayed for success and railed at the fates of the world when it didn’t come. Why, God? If everyone says I’m so good at what I do, why hasn’t that brought me where I’d like to be by this time?

And God answered recently, pretty clearly. Because you couldn’t have handled it. Your life would have spun out of control with too much packed into it, and plus, you may have had a teeeeeny bit too much pride to make that a healthy thing.

Ouch. Does he always have to be so darn right? When I think about what might have happened, it makes me so grateful for the severe mercy that denied me dreams that would have been disastrous.

God used a drug addicted child to answer my prayers that he would heal me of being so judgmental. Through those most severe years of my life, he showed me an intense depth of mercy and his heart of compassion for lives whose complications and struggles I had never understood. I learned how to love—deeper, richer, truer than I knew I could. A severe mercy indeed.

So the risk is working—just not the way I thought. It’s hard to be grateful that I haven’t been able to do all the things I wanted to do in my daughter’s last summer before college. It’s hard when I look out at my garden and all the things I’d like to be getting into out there.

But it’s easy when I think about being still and listening. Learning. Waiting for the good that pours out of severe love.

It is, I think, that we are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words, and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we don’t know at all that it is the same with others.” – Sheldon Vanaucken, A Severe Mercy