(Don’t) Clean up Your Mess

Hey, what’s wrong with messes? We look great, right?

The more I live with people instead of just coexisting in proximity, the more I recognize something—there are a of of messed up people out there. Even more messed up than I am. Yes, true story.

The other thing I’ve come to recognize is that being messed up is not necessarily a bad thing. Neat lives are often a sign of lives so carefully curated that they are museum dioramas, not lives. And the thing about museum dioramas? They’re full of dead things. Stuffed dead things. This is not appealing to most of us as an environment.
A little bit of mess signals a life that’s lived in, like a couch with graham cracker crumbs welded to the underside of the cushions. That life has taken risks, known joy, and has the stains to prove it. Some messes are dangerous, toxic spills that needs to be cleaned up out of our lives. But others? We need them to prove we’re alive.
I never wanted or imagined the mess of a loved one with mental illness and attendant self-destructive behavior. Given the choice, I’d have picked the carefully curated life. Having chosen that, I would have missed out on a lot that has made me alive.
I had no idea I was living amid dead things.
Sometimes messes just mean something better is coming.

Because of that experience, I’ve been able to share a lot with people whose lives are broken in various ways, and similar variations on a theme keep returning. It’s hard. It hurts. But we have learned so much. When you’re in the slime and mud of the mess, though, you really want to know what exactly people have learned. What could possibly make this worthwhile? What could anyone tell me to make me appreciate this wrenching time of uncertainty?

I’m not sure. I suspect that when people are slogging through those times is not always the best opportunity to offer sage advice. Most of us aren’t ready to hear it when the pain is shrieking louder than the wisdom. But people ask. What do you find out about life, and yourself, when your world is a mess? How do you even survive?
The answer to the second question is easy: God’s grace and insistent love. Nothing more or less.
The answer to the first could go on a while. But here are a few thoughts.

I learned that grace was a choice I didn’t make often enough. 

I had theoretically believed in grace, but operationally, I extended it mostly to those who didn’t look like they needed it. For those with rough edges and incomprehensible, annoying behavior? Maybe when they got themselves together. My reality of grace was not even close to God’s dream of it for me. I had no idea that grace looked a lot more like hugging a drug addict than praying for lunch at Panera.
Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

I never understood that before. I didn’t really want to. Now, I don’t want anything else.

I learned that love is always a good thing to decide. 

You might get hurt. You will be taken advantage of. But love reserved for those who deserve it and won’t tamper with it is not love at all. It’s a calculated investment. CS Lewis said, To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”
I didn’t understand that until I had to choose to love not only my loved one in a mess but the people it brought into our lives. It seemed God put them there despite what I wanted, so the only real choice was to love them. And they did, indeed, break my heart. But broken hearts are the best kind for letting others inside.   . God’s dream for me was to lavish unconditional love, as He did. My reality had been fearful half loving.

I learned to honestly believe that He loves us. 

He loves our messes. Really.
He can handle them.

Driving with a loved one to a potential prison sentence is about as messy as it gets. Until in the middle of praying you hear those words on the radio, “If His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking; oh, how He loves us so.” And you realize for perhaps the first, or at least the most profound, time that they are true. Not just for you but for the person sitting next to you. And all those other persons out there who have messes in their lives and need that grace like an ocean. He loves. Beyond our imagination.

He takes care of the messes, beyond our imagination. All the worries and terrors and anxieties about them do nothing helpful, while putting the mess in His hands and leaving it there always does. Because He Loves are the most needed and true words you will ever hear, and they are bedrock when life feels more like a mudslide than a picnic.
I don’t know if you’re feeling messy right now, and I don’t know if it helps to be told those things. Maybe you have to learn them yourself in the fire. I think, though, that at least it helps to know someone else has been in that mess, and it has not won.
Something better is still coming.
We still have not finished this mess.

Have you seen the sign some people hang in their kitchen that reads “God Bless This Mess”? Yeah. That’s about right. Ask Him to. He will.

What Tabs Do You Have Open?

It’s #FridayFive link up time! This is a new fun time for me in this space. It’s a chance to talk randomly about five things (I like random) and get to know one another better. It doesn’t have to be profound or amazing or brave or anything. Just us. I like that, too. 

This week, the bloggers chose to write on “Five open tabs.” I could go with five tabs that are often open, or five tabs I’d like you to think were often open, but I believe I’ll just go with the literal meaning here–five tabs that are currently open on my laptop. It’s a little microcosm of who I am (I cant believe I used that word in a sentence this early.)

You have to promise to be equally honest, right? I want to know who you are, too.

#1–http://www.sporcle.com/games/g/world. I like trivia. I like geography. So to unwind at night, I go to sporcle to answer questions ranging from “What are the 197 countries of the world” (I know the answers now!) to “”Can you fill in the words to this Disney song?” It’s my version of candy crush. Plus, I can answer pretty much all the Lord of the Rings and Jane Austen trivia. It offers affirmation after a long day.

#2–Do Millennial Christians Have the Strongest Faith of Any Generation? I love reading Relevant, and I love reading about my current research/book topic, Millennials and faith. So this article is a great mix of both. Basically, I’m always going to have a research window open. Because this is work, and because I’m kind of a research nerd. “Input” is one of my strengths according to the StrengthsFinders test. It means I like to learn stuff. Like, when I have a topic to study, I want to know everything I can find about that topic. It gets a little overwhelming. I need to have an emergency brake.

Not the dress. Just for fun.

#3–Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. Because wedding. Next spring. And making accommodation reservations. Now. Because wedding on Memorial Day weekend when everyone wants to be at Starved Rock State Park, apparently. So, reservations. Today. Many tabs will be open this year because wedding. 🙂 

#4–For the Love of Dixie. Because that’s where my guest blogging post was yesterday. I still have to do more social media work on it, so it is still open. I can’t even read it again. It makes me cry. What would you say to your mom in a letter if you could? 

Also, while I’m at it, the other site I guest posted on yesterday is also open, for the same reasons. Chronically Whole. Not as teary. I decided to go more for my sarcasm font. But the subject is quite real–why do we chase the illusion of a perfect body? So, #4 looks like I keep tabs open just to talk about me a lot. Sometimes I do. Writers have to. I hate that part.

#5–Facebook. Obviously. This needs no explanation.

What tabs do you have open? What are you concentrating on in this season of your life? I would love to know! Comment below. And, you can see the other linkups here to find out what interesting things other people have dug up.


Pushing Grace

Jill1Hi. I’m Jill–writer, speaker, pastor, editor, and what my business card euphemistically refers to as a “grace pusher.” We all push something, and that’s my favorite thing.

I talk about a lot of things on my blog and in my books and articles. But usually, they focus on a few main topics. Breaking through fear (and using it). Doing faith with the next generation (and loving it!). Women as half the church. Kindness in the midst of an unkind world. Using the Bible for wisdom not warfare.  Justice. Freedom. Grace. Always grace.

I’m the kids who refused to step too far into the back yard after dark. The woman who slept with a nightlight when I was twenty. The person who would still rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a close acquaintance of mine. After a few very rough years, however, I decided it wasn’t the boss of me. Fear has only the power you give it–and I wasn’t giving it anymore.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It_s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What_s next, Papa_”

Yes–there is God, telling me to live “adventurously expectant.” To look at each day and ask, “What’s next?” Even on the days when I fear what might, in fact, be next.

“Fear not” may be the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. It’s certainly been driving a lot of our national conversation, too.

I don’t want to live life as a grave-tender, so wrapped in fear of what might be that I lose the time in between. Grave tenders may live safely–there isn’t much to fear when you’re keeping up a nice, neat backdrop for dead things. They don’t demand a lot of change. But living among dead things isn’t living at all. The abundant life Jesus promised isn’t safe, but it is an adventure, if we’re willing to leave dead things behind.

I want to live an adventure for God’s kingdom, and I want to do it with you. I want to know who I am, and I want you to know who you are, because of who He is.

I want us both to know the identity God planted in us when he chose to give humans his image. That imago dei, straight outta the garden, is still there. He hasn’t rescinded the deal. He made you and me his ambassadors–shining his image in difficult, dark places. Just like my scary old back yard, only sometimes darker.

I want to see you and hear you and know you–and I want you to know He already sees and hears and knows you. If you’re tending a grave, he wants to pull you out of there into life.

So, let’s join one another. I can’t wait to see what happens here.


PS– I’d love it if you want to hit the button to subscribe or be put on my mailing list!

*I also write occasionally for Christianity Today publications, MOPS, (in)courage, A Fine Parent, and others, as well as blog regularly for Theology Mix and The Glorious Table. If you would like to view recent articles, go to my Media page.

Dirty Laundry: Questioning the Have-To’s of Our Lives

One of our cats prefers to hang out in the clean laundry basket. Whatever. I’m so used to cat hair on my clothes I don’t stress too much over the fact that he gets it there before I’ve even had a chance to put them away. 

But the other day he hunkered down in there while I was actually doing the laundry. So it happened that I began to toss clean folded laundry on top of him. Hey, if you’re going to lounge around where I’m working, expect to get buried in stuff. 

He did not move. No matter how many clean clothes I piled on top of him, on he slept. He may have opened a slightly perturbed eye now and then, but he had no plan to get out of that basket anytime soon.

Sitting in Dirty Laundry?

At first, I wondered what to make of this. I mean, wouldn’t a normal human being (read that cat) want to maybe move away if he was being suffocated in stuff? Then I thought about it a bit more. And I wondered how often that was true in my own life. How many times have I sat there while life, or other people, piled things on top of me? I just took them and slept on. When it would make sense to wake up and say, “Hey! Didn’t you notice me in here?” and then get the heck our from underneath all that junk, sometimes I don’t behave any smarter than the cat.

Comfortable Excuses Reasons

There may be lot of crap being piled on top of me, but I am comfortable. Moving is work. Moving means finding a new place to be. It means giving up the known and comfortable basket and making the effort to walk away toward other options.

Raise of hands—how many of you do that consistently? I thought so.

I know so, because I hear it all the time.

  • I’d like more time together at home but I have to take my kid to four practices this week. . .
  • I would hang out but there’s this project at work someone else was supposed to do and now. . .
  • My family expects me to host this big dinner and I can’t take the stress . . .
  • I’m going to feel so guilty if I don’t do this the way my in-laws want it done. . .
  • There are two meetings and an outreach event and a kids’ camp at church this week, and I really should be there . . .
  • It’s my three-year-old’s birthday and I have to make zoo cupcake trains. (Is that even a thing?!)

Did you notice some of the common words in those all-too-real scenarios? Expect. But. Supposed to. Guilt. Should. Have to.

Ask the Questions

There is all kinds of stuff being piled on us all the time, and we accept it because it comes with those magically guilt-inducing words: “have to.” When was the last time you looked at one of those expectations and asked, “Do I really?”

  • Do I really have to put my kid in all those sports, or can I step off that wild ride?
  • Do I really have to complete someone else’s work, or am I just controlling that it has to get done?
  • Do I really have to host a dinner for family, or can we call it a potluck?
  • Do I really have to craft a birthday party that rivals Martha Stewart and Disney combined, or will a family get together with a cake and candles do fine?

What are we afraid is going to happen if we question the have-to’s in our life? .

Hard truth–We put too much blame on what others are throwing on us and take too little responsibility for not moving out from underneath it all. Their laundry is stifling, but at least we know we’re comfortably in control of making others happy. We know we’re needed. We know it will get done right. 

Let’s be honest, more often than not, if we’re sitting under a load of stuff, we have chosen to sit there. We could get out. But we’re afraid to leave the warm security, even if it’s slowly suffocating us.

  • What’s the worst thing that can happen if I say no?
  • What terrible tragedy will take place if I decide to let something go I think I have to control?
  • What world will spin out if I choose to let others be responsible for themselves?

  • Will I still be a worthwhile, loved person if I get out from under the pile?

As Jen Hatmaker writes in For the Love,

“We no longer assess our lives with any accuracy. We have lost the ability to declare a job well-done. We measure our performance against an invented standard and come up wanting, and it is destroying our joy. No matter how hard we work or excel in an area or two, it never feels like enough. Our primary defaults are exhaustion and guilt. Meanwhile, we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope.”

Jump Out

How simple? Get out of the laundry basket. Decide now that the world will not implode if you don’t please everyone or control the outcome of everything. Start asking yourself the questions: Do I really? What’s the worst that could happen? Will I still matter?

It’s doubt on that last one that kills us. So let’s settle it now. You are a human being made in the image of God. (At least I think you’re human. If you’re not, and you’re reading this blog, pleeeease send me a video.)

That image has never been rescinded. It’s never been recalled. It’s never been contingent on how much you’ve done to earn it. It was a done deal at creation. If someone else wants to doubt that about you, that’s their big ol’ mess of laundry, not yours. Pitch it off.

That’s why we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived. It was wired into us from the beginning. Lived in the sense of knowing all the way through us that it is freer outside of the basket where the air is clear. (Especially if it’s dirty laundry being thrown on us. Eeew.) It only seems scarier just before you jump out.

Friday Five–Five Smiles

Getting our kicks . . . 
I have finally figured out my love language. I don’t do dinner parties. I don’t cook, in fact, unless under extreme duress. I don’t do social gatherings larger than 3 close friends. I’m not a great counselor (although I am a good listener, and sometimes God comes up with great things to say through and despite me). 

I don’t remember birthdays on social media and may forget those in my immediate family on occasion. So how in the world do I connect with people?

I have discovered that my “connection” language is travel. I should have known that. In the car is where most personal discussions with my kids have ever taken place. Travel memories are the ones our family returns to time and again. So other people will cook with their friends—I will travel to know you. I just have to figure out how to make that affordable.

Since this week’s link is Friday Five Smiles (click here to see more), I thought this revelation was good for today, because I’ve just been on a week-long road trip with a daughter. And we had smiles. SO many of them. Here are Five.

I let her choose our first motel. She picked this cute place authentic to Route 66. This set off an intentional detour the next day to stay on the iconic highway for a while rather than get back on zoom-zoom 44. We smiled, a lot.

Slowing down often produces smiles.

We drove off course a bit to see a giant blue whale. You could jump off it into a pond. We didn’t. But you could. And that made it super cool. Particularly in the middle of Oklahoma, where giant blue whales are not common.

Life’s detours are great chances for connection and smiles.

We set off smoke alarms in a hotel in Shreveport. This was not our fault—the air conditioning had left the room at a cozy 61 degrees when we walked in at 11 pm, and we needed some heat to stay there. Unfortunately, turning on the heat released noxious fumes that simulated (or were) something burning. The smell and noise was not smiley or fun. But the laughter afterward was. You connect when you try to torch a hotel together.

Mistakes and malfunctions create smiles, when we treat them like adventures together rather than disasters.

We did new things and found whole new worlds. Serendipitously, the two even connected.

No, that is henna. Not that adventurous.

Braving the new is an achievement worth smiling about.

We chronicled all the signs we we passed through.

Because it’s always good to smile at both where you’ve been and where you’re going.

 Happy Friday!

What are your smiles today?

HOT! A New Novel

Today I have the privilege to introduce you to a new novel by David Stearman. Now, if you know me by now, you know I’m not a huge novel reader. My favorite living writer is Malcolm Gladwell, people. 

But I have been blogging with David for a while and greatly respect his skill and desire to tell a good story that moves people toward God. So it’s exciting to hear his take on how HOT! does just that.

David, first Give us the gist of the new book without giving it away.

Hot is the story of a young Jake, whose competitiveness with his peers drives him to become a rock star. He gives his all to reach this goal, sacrificing friends and even Chloe, the girl he loves, to reach the top. But once there he discovers how lonely life can be at the top. Now all he wants is to restore the dream he lived before his dreams came true. But most of all, Jake wants reconnect with Chloe, whom he once betrayed. Can he do it? Can Jake find his way back home and into Chloe’s arms? Well, you’ve gotta read the book to find out.

How did the idea for this book start?

I used to be a recording artist, so elements of this story are autobiographical. My dream was legitimate, and God made it happen. But I’m thankful I never made it “enormously big” like Jake did. Past a certain point, a life of fame can be rife with pitfalls.
What appealed to you about the setting, history, or culture of the project?

My love of the music business. Which is not unlike the “book business,” which I love every bit as much.

What aspect of the main character makes him/her most interesting?

We can all relate to Jake’s insecurity and vulnerability. And his childlike simplicity and fascination for life makes him lovable. What makes him interesting are his choices; how he chooses poorly in the beginning but learns from his mistakes later on.

What drives you when you write?

The desire to help someone else live a happier, more fulfilled life. I know this might sound fake, and even cheesy to some people, but it’s the truth.

Just for Fun–what is the best travel experience you’ve ever had (or worst!), favorite hobby, and/or favorite place/cuisine to eat?

Best travel inexperience: I do a lot of missionary work, so seeing an entire Philippine village who had never heard the Gospel stand upon their feet and give their lives to Jesus Christ was the best thing ever.

Favorite hobby: Archery. My arms itch to shoot arrows every day. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds boring, but shooting an awesome score is just too much fun. Think if it like golf, but you get to poke things with a pointy stick.

Favorite place/cuisine: I have two, which contrast with one another. I once had canard en croute in a little restaurant in the South of France. It was every bit as awesome as it sounds. But my favorite of all are the huevos rancheros my friend Roman whips up in his humble little rooftop cafe in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What else is in the works for you?

I recently wrote a novella about cowboys, Apaches, and some supernatural goings-on. It’s a blast, but heartwarming and meaningful, too. My agent said it made her cry. Can’t wait ‘til this one’s out in print.

You can learn more about David by: 
Following him on Twitter
Finding him on Facebook
Checking out his reviews on Goodreads
Or reading his blog.
And you can order HOT! Now here.