Loving Well.

It rained on Saturday. Not a steady, all-day downpour, but an on and off drip. As we pulled into Fort Snelling, the drips subsided and the clouds thinned. Damp, colorful red and yellow leaves littered the hollowed ground as searched for the grave. We stood, three figures, remembering and missing. For four years he’s been absent from us and in the presence of the Holy. The tombstone reads: “Alive in Christ” and as I stood, I tried to imagine what that meant for Dad and what it means for me. We left the cemetery and went on with our day, enjoying each other’s company, but missing Dad’s.

As I drove home yesterday, I pondered again Dad’s life and legacy. Once again, I remembered his love, humor, intelligence and wisdom and thanked God for it. Dad loved people well. But his love came at personal cost. An introverts introvert, dad would have preferred to live his life in his home surrounded by his books and music with his lovely wife by his side. He could have easily and happily stayed within the confines and safety of his home. But he loved God and God calls us to love others. So he did. Dad loved others through kind words. He loved them through hugs. He loved them through his teaching and wisdom. He loved them through his generosity. He loved them through faithfully and skillfully practicing his trade. People experienced God’s love because Dad saw every interaction as a means of showing God’s love.

I don’t know what your day looks like today or if your life sucks right now. I don’t know what battles you face or the mountains that seem insurmountable. But I pray for you, friend. I pray if you’re not feeling loved, that someone will be God’s love to you today. And if you claim Christ, I pray you take loving others well as a serious and beautiful calling.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Healing balm

I just finished reading The Hunger Games at school with a few sophomore students. Two times, Katniss faces injury and needs medical help, once for herself and once for her partner, Peeta. In both instances, help arrives just in time. Both times, she’s provided with a goopy balm that brings both relief and healing. Both times she knew she needed help. She knew the situation was beyond her and both times she had no choice but to wait for someone to show mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind week and weekend. Graduation, parties, wedding stuff, end of the school year busyness and daily life kept us all on our toes and living moment to moment. We made it. We celebrated milestones and enjoyed it all. But honestly, most of the time, I was one step away from a wreck. Trying to hold it together emotionally and stay on top of home life and work and all the extras felt overwhelming. At each moment when I didn’t think I’d make it to the next without a meltdown, help arrived. Not in the form a beeping, parachuted tin of balm like Katniss received, but  in the form of people. Calming words, reassuring hugs, and surprise guests eased my burdens. My kids and friends and family stepped up and stepped in and provided an amazing graduation party for our daughter. My sisters and sisters-in-law threw a spectacular shower for my other daughter. My sweet mom did my laundry and dishes and held things down on the homefront. They were all a healing balm to my weary soul and I’m beyond grateful. I could not have walked through the last week without them.

And then, in the middle of it, we got the late-night call every parent dreads.  Our son and his girlfriend were in a car accident. Thankfully, mercifully, both my son and his lovely friend were miraculously unharmed but somewhere on CR 38 is a concussed deer who got the better of the 2005 Honda. In the dark, rainy night, Brad and I drove N & C back home and in the midst of relief, I worried. Although they were safe and sound, I could tell they were both shaken and my son was beating himself up over the accident. I tried to speak reassuring words. I tried to bring comfort, but it was still fresh and scary. Then, when we arrived home and walked in the door shortly before midnight, all his siblings were waiting to give hugs and listen to the stories. They provided relief that I could not. As a parent, it was an absolute joy to see and hear them surround their brother and friend with love and support and laughter. They were healing balm to an injured spirit and it was beautiful.

IMG_7078Paul says to the Roman people “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  The entire weekend was a beautiful picture of community. At every turn, friends and family were sharing our joy, lightening our load and comforting us in our pains, insecurities, and shortcomings. We experienced servanthood and mercy and generosity and grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, you beautiful souls, who lived life with us this weekend. Thank you for your selfless giving of time and talent and resources. Thank you for setting up and taking down and serving food and cleaning up and filling in the gaps and taking photos and making runs to the grocery store and planting flowers and giving hugs and speaking wisdom and for bringing joy. Thank you, my own dear children, for being there for one another and for providing a healing balm to one another in a fallen world. I love you all and thank God for you.

And to those reading, let this be an encouragement to show up for people. Be community for others. Share their burdens. Lighten their loads. Be generous with your gifts. Be a healing balm to a weary soul today.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

Firm Footing

May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. ~David

In the dim light and sleepy-ness of the before-dawn day, we hugged and said goodbye, not sure when he’d return. I remember his baseball cap slightly askew and his antsy departure. Gone six months now, he’s embracing his adventure and loving life. I’m proud of him.

The old, slightly run-down, Dairy Queen served as a strange backdrop as we said goodbye. Because of work and flight schedules, we couldn’t take her to the airport so instead, we stood on the asphalt and embraced and cried (well, I cried). Now she’s 3500 miles away, speaking a different language, experiencing a new family and finishing her degree. I’m proud of her.

We packed his car and in the dark, rainy night, said goodbye. He wanted to go alone; it’s his journey. He’s not there yet– to his final destination. Traveling the familiar highway through Nebraska, he’s over halfway to his home for the next eight months. I’m proud of him.

Although the setting was different, we said goodbye to each child the same way: huddled as a family, heads leaning in, petitioning the same God. We pray for safety. We pray for direction. We pray for blessing both for them and those they meet. But mostly, we pray the same prayer that David prayed: May your gracious Spirit, God, lead them forward on a firm footing.

I took two leaves out of the dining room table after a weekend of company, and realized (yet again) that we won’t need that big table for many many months, serving as a tangible reminder of my changing family. And as the leaves fall from the trees and we experience the drift from summer to fall, I try to embrace this changing season of life.

And the prayer remains the same: May your gracious Spirit, Lord, lead us forward on a firm footing.

At Mercy’s Door

A beggar poor at Mercy’s door, lies such a wretch as I;
Thou knowest my need is great indeed, Lord, hear me when I cry.”
~John Newton

Throughout my life of faith, grace (or rather Grace), has meant everything to me. The knowledge, belief ,and experience that Grace is real, has been my bedrock. Grace: being given something I didn’t ask for and don’t deserve that’s more than I could imagine. I’ve been given saving Grace, sustaining Grace, guiding Grace, and forgiving Grace. It’s all a gift.

Lately, another reality of God ignites my soul: Mercy.
Grace is all about Love…free, unconditional, pure, saving love.
Mercy possesses a different quality. Mercy suggests being spared from something. There’s an element of judgement in Mercy that makes it even more wonderful. I deserve “A” but am shown Mercy and get “B” instead. Beautiful.

The words above by John Newton (who also composed “Amazing Grace”) grip my heart each time I hear them.
I show up, beggar poor–nothing to offer, nothing to give–at Mercy’s door. He opens the door and instead of sending me away empty-handed or throwing me some scraps and then slamming the door in my face, He invites me in. Essentially, because of sin, we’re all strangers to Him. And yet, even as a stranger, because of His Mercy, He opens the doors wide open. He asks me to live there, in this place of Mercy.
But here’s the thing, if I leave Mercy’s door, I leave beggar-poor again. I can’t go there, fill up, and expect to distribute the wealth I’ve been given as if I were Father Christmas. No, I come a beggar, and if I leave, I leave a beggar. So often, we, as Christians, talk about being “filled” in such a superficial way. It’s as if you can tank up on God like you would gas and run for a while until you’re empty and then go back for more filling. He’s not a cosmic gas station. I come to God with nothing and I leave Him with nothing.

The only way I can share His love –the only way to be “filled”– is by staying at His Mercy Door. When we stay in His presence, we become a channel or instrument of His grace, love, forgiveness and mercy and not a distributor of it. Jesus put it this way in the book of John:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” 

Driving to work

Each morning, I climb into whatever vehicle sits vacant in the driveway. The radio off, I travel the thirty miles to work, praying as I go.  I pray for family and friends and school and lots of specifics; but today, the Creator of the Universe, brought you to mind. I may know you or not. I might be well aware of your struggle and pain or completely oblivious. Either way, I prayed for you because He wanted me to.

I prayed:

peace for the restless,

order for those in chaos,

faith for the doubting,

trust for the hurting,

security and safety for the fearful,

love for the unloved,

healing for the sick in heart, mind or body,

provision for the lacking,

forgiveness for the unforgiving,

wisdom for the perplexed,

discernment and guidance for the uncertain.

I prayed for God’s great exchanges to take place in your lives:

beauty for ashes,

grace for shame,

freedom for slavery,

peace for despair.

May you know His presence and power today, dear one.

Long day

24 hours.

1,440 minutes.

86,400 seconds.

There’s no such thing as a long day.

And yet…

It’s been a long day.

Do you have long days?

What makes a long day long?

Long because of a weary heart. Long because sometimes the burden’s we carry can’t be shared. Long because people can be jerks. Long because the dark sometimes seems bigger and more powerful than the light. Long because we desperately miss someone we’ve lost. Long because change is hard. Long because of anger or sadness or illness. Long because we have a crappy attitude. Long because we’re not sure that what we do all day is enough, or worse, that it even matters. Long because we see someone we love headed straight toward a head-on collision. Long because we’re holding bedside vigil in a hospice room. Long because chaos defines the headlines.

Long.

Just long.

What do you do with long days? What do you when there’s really nothing you can do? I cook. I eat chocolate. I pray. I pray more. I stew. I pray again. I write.

And, I listen to music. This is the first song I heard when I got home today:

And the phrase that soothed my rumpled spirit?

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

“…love’s purest joys restored.”